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I fought the law and the law won

I fought the law and the law won

July 25
09:15 2019

I fought the law and the law won

Christopher Mansfield was licensed as an attorney in the state of Oklahoma. He regularly received court appointments in probate, adoption, and guardianship matters. In 2009 a court appointed Mansfield as special administrator of the estate of Elizabeth S. Cox, to which David Cox was an heir. In 2010 the same court appointed Mansfield as personal representative of the Cox estate. On January 16, 2014, the Oklahoma Bar Association filed a complaint against Mansfield, alleging misconduct with regard to his management of the Cox estate. Adopting the recommendation of the Professional Responsibility Tribunal, the Supreme Court of Oklahoma found that Mansfield violated the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct by diverting funds from the Cox estate without authorization. The court suspended Mansfield from the practice of law for 18 months starting April 13, 2015.

After the suspension of his law license, Mansfield was accused of similar misconduct regarding other estates. Mansfield entered into agreed judgments in at least five disputes regarding these other estates, totaling in excess of $1 million in judgments against him. The Supreme Court accepted Mansfield’s resignation from the Oklahoma Bar effective January 1, 2016.

In addition to the professional misconduct proceedings, the United States brought criminal charges against Mansfield for his conduct in managing one of the estates, alleging bank fraud and unlawful monetary transactions. Mansfield pleaded guilty and agreed to a 41-month prison sentence. Mansfield also agreed to pay approximately $400,000 in restitution to the victimized estate, as well as another $131,000 in restitution to other allegedly victimized estates, including the Cox estate. A criminal judgment was entered against Mansfield on March 16, 2017.

David Cox filed suit against Mansfield on September 12, 2014, alleging negligence, gross negligence, breach of duty by personal representative, deceit/fraud, and unjust enrichment, and seeking punitive damages. The Cox suit is ongoing. The other defendants filed suit against Mansfield on August 4, 2017, alleging breach of fiduciary duty/legal malpractice and negligence, and claiming respondeat superior (“let the master [employer] answer”) on the part of Mansfield’s employer. The court granted a default judgment against Mansfield in the other defendants’ suit (the McGough suit) on November 13, 2018.

Prior to the allegations of misconduct, Mansfield had purchased a claims-made lawyers professional liability policy from Oklahoma Attorneys Mutual Insurance Company for the period of July 13, 2013 to July 13, 2014 (Policy 1). Policy 1 was canceled when Mansfield’s law license was suspended. Mansfield then purchased a three-year extended reporting endorsement effective June 1, 2015 (Policy 2). The insurer was notified of the Cox suit during the effective period of Policy 1 and of the McGough suit during the effective period of Policy 2.

On September 18, 2017, Oklahoma Attorneys Mutual sought a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend or cover Mansfield in the Cox or McGough suits. The insurer moved for summary judgment on February 5, 2018, alleging that there was no dispute as to material fact and it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The insurer asserted that Mansfield’s conduct that gave rise to the Cox and McGough suits was excluded under the crime/fraud exclusion in the policies. The insurer also obtained a stay of discovery while the motion for summary judgment was pending. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer on July 11, 2018, and issued an order on September 24, 2018. Cox appealed.

On appeal, Oklahoma Lawyers Mutual argued that the claims in the Cox suit were excluded from coverage because Mansfield’s conduct that gave rise to the claims fell under the policies’ crime/fraud exclusion. The exclusion stated that coverage did not apply “to any claim arising out of any dishonest, fraudulent, criminal, malicious or knowingly wrongful act or omission or deliberate misrepresentation committed by, at the direction of, or with the knowledge of [Mansfield].” The insurer maintained that Cox’s claims for negligence, gross negligence, unjust enrichment, and breach of duty “arose out of” Mansfield’s fraudulent and/or criminal conduct.

The court found no ambiguity in the exclusion and stated that the evidence David Cox presented in his motion for summary judgment failed to demonstrate that he suffered an injury from Mansfield’s conduct that was separate from that which was deemed fraudulent or criminal by the suspension of Mansfield’s law license and his criminal conviction.

The judgment of the trial court was affirmed.

Oklahoma Attorneys Mutual Insurance Company v. Cox-Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma, Division No. 1-May 5, 2019-No. 117480.

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