Keeping the attorney/paralegal relationship professional

The attorney/paralegal relationship is an intimate one, with the well-operating legal team often being compared to a dance team on this blog based on a wonderful description from another blog. Equally a subject of discussion is the need to keep that intimacy professional with posts regarding the danger of crossing the line between professional and personal intimacy. However, most frequent internet searches bringing viewers to this blog continues to indicate that paralegals are considering crossing that line. So this is for their benefit:

In April 2006, Oakland, Calif., lawyer Thomas Ostly was chatting via instant messages with a paralegal in his office.

“How do you record these i.m.s?” she asked him.

“Oh, you can’t record me,” he typed back. “I refuse to give you any evidence for the inevitable lawsuit.”

He was joking then, but four years and reams of online chats and text messages later, Ostly and the former employee, Allison Moreno, are this week battling each other in a contentious, lengthy jury trial in Alameda County Superior Court.

And at trial Tuesday in front of Judge Jo-Lynne Lee, Moreno sought to make the most of Ostly’s odd decision to personally depose her.

Moreno, 30, sued in 2007, claiming that Ostly fired her when she refused to continue a sexual relationship with him. She says she felt pressured to have sex with Ostly, and that she did so to protect her job and her plan to attend law school.

Ostly, 38, says the two dated each other, and that he never fired Moreno — that he told her to go home one day because he couldn’t deal with her belligerent attitude after he confronted her about a serious mistake she had made in a case. He says her suit is just about money.

In cross-examining Moreno on Tuesday, Ostly’s attorney, Shane Anderies of San Francisco employment law firm Anderies & Gomes, quizzed Moreno about explicit messages she sent Ostly. And he poked at her credibility, showing the jury disparities in what she said in depositions and what she testified to in court. But he kept running up against the fact that his client had taken an active role in deposing Moreno, at times questioning her and at others observing.

“Isn’t it true that Mr. Ostly never said anything to you that you found offensive?” Anderies asked Moreno.

“That is very untrue,” she replied.

Anderies then played for the jury a portion of Moreno’s videotaped deposition, in which, answering the same question, she said she couldn’t think of anything specific.

“After three years of litigation, in day three of the deposition, you still couldn’t recall anything offensive that Mr. Ostly said to you?” he asked her in court.

Moreno replied that she had been stressed out and intimidated by Ostly’s presence.

There’s a lot more and you can read it at Law.com, but the moral of the story should be clear.

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