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Miniken v. Browne

April 14, 1997

DONALD W. MINIKEN, APPELLANT,
v.
JOHN HENRY BROWNE, RESPONDENT.



Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 94-2-03389-1. Date filed: 10/04/94. Judge signing: Hon. Robert S. Lasnik.

Petition for Review Denied September 3, 1997,

Authored by William W. Baker. Concurring: Ann L. Ellington, Visiting Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baker

BAKER, C.J. - Donald Miniken appeals a summary judgment dismissal of his legal malpractice action against John Henry Browne. Attorney Browne represented Miniken in a criminal proceeding. After he pleaded guilty to two counts and was convicted of a third, Miniken sought to withdraw his guilty pleas, claiming that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel. The criminal trial court denied the motion and entered detailed findings and Conclusions, ruling that Miniken did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. Because those detailed findings resolved the same factual issues that Miniken raised in this legal malpractice action, we hold that the trial court in this action correctly ruled that the criminal trial court's ruling collaterally estopped Miniken from relitigating the same factual issues in a civil legal malpractice action. We therefore affirm.

FACTS

Browne represented Miniken on two counts of kidnapping and one count of extortion. Miniken pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and to extortion, was convicted on the other kidnapping count, and was sentenced to prison.

Several years later, Miniken moved to withdraw his guilty plea alleging that a manifest inJustice had occurred because he had received ineffective assistance from Browne. The criminal trial court entered detailed factual findings, addressing and resolving each of the factual bases Miniken raised in support of his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. The court concluded that no ineffective assistance of counsel occurred.

Miniken then filed this civil legal malpractice action against Browne.

Miniken alleged that (1) he paid Browne for representation and investigation, (2) Browne disclosed confidential information about another suspect to the police without Miniken's knowledge or consent, (3) Browne willfully failed to use all of his investigative skills on the case, and (4) Browne coerced him to plead guilty.

Browne moved for summary judgment, asserting that the criminal trial court's ruling that no ineffective assistance of counsel occurred had collateral estoppel effect on this civil claim because the affidavits and factual allegations supporting Miniken's legal malpractice claim were considered and decided by that court.

In finding no ineffective assistance of counsel, the criminal trial court ruled on each of the allegations that Miniken raised in his malpractice claim. First, it found that revealing the name of the witness to the prosecution was a trial tactic approved by Miniken, not deficient performance. Second, it found that Browne's investigation was not deficient. Third, it found that Miniken's guilty plea was a successful trial tactic, limiting the evidence against Miniken in the trial on the remaining count. Browne argued that Miniken was precluded from relitigating these facts because they were resolved against him by the criminal trial court.

Miniken argued that collateral estoppel did not apply because the burden of proof in the two proceedings is different. He argued that the manifest inJustice standard for withdrawal of a guilty plea is a demanding standard, which requires proof of ineffective assistance of counsel.

Ineffective assistance in turn requires proof of both deficient performance by counsel and resulting prejudice. Miniken contrasted this with the less rigorous burden of proof for legal malpractice, which is proof by a preponderance of the evidence of an attorney-client relationship and negligence, i.e., duty, breach, injury, and proximate cause.

The trial court granted summary judgment dismissing Miniken's legal malpractice action because the criminal trial court had decided each of the factual issues raised in the malpractice claim. The court ruled that because Miniken had the opportunity to fully litigate those factual issues before the criminal trial ...


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