Strategist - The FindLaw Law Firm Business Blog

Lawyer Seeks Immunity for Lying Clients. It Fails Badly

Pancy Lin, a partner at Lynberg & Watkins, stepped into harm's way when she arrived to defend Orange County social workers who had lied in a custody case to wrest custody from the plaintiff's mother. Based on their perjured testimony, the trial judge took custody of her children away from her.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, having read the social workers' argument that they were immune from liability in the civil rights action, was ready.

The Judge Explains the Rules on Perjury

Trott: "How in the world could a person in the shoes of your clients possibly believe that it was appropriate to use perjury and false evidence in order to impair somebody's liberty interest in the care, custody and control of that person's children? How could they possibly not be on notice that you can't do this?"

Lin: "I understand."

Trott: "How could that possibly be?"

Lin: "I understand the argument that it seems to be common sense in our ethical, moral ..."

Trott: "It's more than common sense. It's statutes that prohibit perjury and submission of false evidence in court cases."

Lin: "State statutes."

Trott: "Are you telling me that a person in your client's shoes couldn't understand you can't commit perjury in a court proceeding in order to take somebody's children away?"

Lin: "Of course not, your honor."

Trott: "Of course not!"

Not Done Yet

Lin was glad to get out alive last October, but that was just the beginning of the tongue-lashing. The end would come when the court issued its opinion this month.

In an icy rebuke, a federal appeals court said the social workers are not entitled to immunity for lying. The court said that no law permits false testimony, and sharply upbraided the social workers for ignoring the obvious.

"No official with an IQ greater than room temperature in Alaska could claim that he or she did not know that the conduct at the center of this case violated both state and federal law," Trott wrote for the unanimous panel.

The case will go back to the trial judge, but the county will be pretty much dead on arrival.

In a separte case, the plaintiff's mother already sued the county and won. In that case, a jury concluded that the social workers maliciously lied, falsified evidence and suppressed exculpatory evidence to deprive her of custody.

Related Resources: