The Court of Appeals of the Seventh Circuit of the state of Illinois has affirmed a judgment in Estate of Stanley Cora v. John C. Jahrling. Attorney John Jahrling had represented Stanley Cora in a home sale with knowledge that there was a language barrier. Cora sold his home for $35,000, in spite of an approval showing fair market value was $106,000, and Jahrling also failed to include a requested life estate for Cora, which would have allowed him to reside in the upstairs apartment of the house rent-free for the rest of his life.
During the negations and sale, Jahrling could not communicate directly with Cora because Cora only spoke Polish. Jahrling relied on opposing counsel to communicate with his client. Following an attempt by the buyers to evict Cora from the upstairs apartment, he sued Jahrling for legal malpractice. Cora died in 2006 before trial, but his estate continued to pursue the case.
The Appeals Court ruled that Jahrling had acted as Cora’s attorney, relying on evidence Jahrling had received a payment from another attorney at the closing on the sale of his home. The closing documents also identified Jahrling as Cora’s attorney.
The Appeals Court also determined that Jahrling’s inability to communicate with his client, coupled with his reliance on opposing counsel for all communications was “unreasonable per se” and that the lower court had correctly relied on the discrepancy between the fair market value of the home and the sale price.
The Appeals Court also agreed that Cora was required to prove the higher standard of subjective recklessness, and could do so through circumstantial evidence. This was articulated in the rules of professional conduct for attorneys, requiring competence and diligence in communications with clients.
The Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s award to the estate of Cora for $26,000, plus costs.
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