In the last two weeks, the NH Supreme Court has issued two decisions that remind us of the importance of hiring a competent, skilled, knowledgeable and experienced lawyer in the first place. Why is it important? Because in many instances, if you choose wrong, there is nothing that a great lawyer can do to "un-do" the first lawyer's screw-ups.
The Britton v. Britton decision (Jan. 6, 2022) is mind-blowing: In 1988, alimony orders were required by law to expire after 3 years if not renewed. But a marital practitioner allowed his/her client to be ordered to pay alimony indefinitely, rather than for three years. Result? Mr. Britton paid $400/week alimony for TWENTY YEARS. Even more surprising is that Britton's lawyer didn't realize the error even at the 18-year mark (following 15 years of unnecessary alimony payments). No, instead, the lawyer signed Mr. Britton up for 3 more years of alimony payments.
So Mrs. Britton owes Mr. Britton a lot of money, right? No. The Court held that the 15 years of payments that the Court should not have ordered could not be recouped: "Absent fraud, money voluntarily paid under a mistake of law cannot be recovered."
In State v. Fitzgerald, (Jan. 11, 2022), a lawyer's mistake did much more harm. The lawyer committed ineffective assistance of counsel by not adequately advising client regarding a plea offer to serve 2 years in jail for stealing from his elderly father. After the jury convicted Fitzgerald, the court sentenced him to nine-and-one-half years. Fitzgerald won his appeal, but gained nothing. In a new sentencing hearing, the lower court once again sentenced him to serve 9-1/2 years. If he had a good lawyer, he would be free by now, having served the 2 year sentence that his lawyer should have steered him to in the first place.
Stories like these are examples of why, most of the time, we want to get involved in a criminal case right from the very beginning. Ideally, when it's still just an investigation, and no charges have been brought yet. Because sometimes coming in late in the game, means coming up short -- because mistakes already made cannot be unwound.
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