In the latest issue of his regular blog advising on how to misgovern housing communities, prominent California attorney Adrian Adams has yet again let his need for cash flow overpower his ethics.
Adams’s clients are managers and directors of common interest developments (CIDs) in California, such as condominium associations and housing cooperatives. CIDs house about 25% of California’s population. They are prone to conflict, because they control aspects of their members’ home lives, ranging from the money they have to pay for maintenance through the amount of water they may use to irrigate their plants to the times of day when they may play a harmonica at home.
Adams loves to hurl sneer words at his clients’ enemies. This time the epithets include “dysfunctional elements”, “little band of crazies”, and “abusive”. In Adams’s imagination, these pests “torment boards”, “hover over each ballot count”, “wear down directors”, “do not care that they disrupt operations and burden the membership with needless expenses”, “make repeated demands”, and even “threaten lawsuits” in order to “coerce people into giving them what they want”.
All this, mind you, in just a single entry of Adams’s blog. He really wants you to know how odious these scoundrels are.
Adams seems to regret that such wreckers can’t be summarily lynched. He’s an attorney, so he knows not to advise his clients to do that. Instead he advises them to adopt rules that will entrench embezzling, wasting, do-nothing, and other harmful directors in office no matter how horrible their conduct. And the acts that he advises are borderline illegal, making it likely that his clients will get sued for following his advice and Adams, of course, will rake in fees.
In this case Adams advocates changes in the election rules that will give directors absolute immunity from recall for several months at a time. He claims that the applicable law says nothing to oppose such a limitation on the rights of the members. Well, folks, the Corporations Code says that the members have the right to remove directors. Do directors have the power to nullify this right, protecting themselves from being tossed out, for months at a time? Adams is telling his clients to go ahead and assume they have that power, even though, in his view, rabid members are salivating for something to sue them over.
Recently, Adams’s firm (Adams Kessler) did the same thing to one of its clients, telling it to gamble on an aggressive interpretation of the law governing CID elections. The firm told Beachwalk Homeowners Association’s board of directors it was OK to monopolize the Beachwalk newsletter to advocate a yes vote on amendments to the governing documents, denying opponents any newsletter space for “no” arguments. An opponent sued Beechwalk to nullify the election. Adams’s firm fought this suit all the way to the Supreme Court of California, but lost big. Beechwalk had to pay the suing member about $200,000 to reimburse his attorney fees, and Beechwalk’s insurance didn’t cover that. If Adams’s firm had advised Beechwalk to play it safe and give equal space to opponents, the outcome of the vote would probably have been the same, since the opponents had few supporters. There would have been no basis for litigation. Beechwalk would have saved $200,000. But the law firm would have had to forego lucre.
Adams’s advice amounts to an incitement to liability.
A responsible, ethical attorney would never mock and denigrate those who disagree with his clients. He would, on the contrary, advise his clients to respect their dignity and intelligence, listen tolerantly, and aim for cooperative compromises that bring conflicts to graceful conclusions. He also would never advise his clients to recklessly expose themselves to the risk of litigation by adopting rules that arguably contravene applicable law. Responsible, ethical attorneys do exist. Adrian Adams isn’t one of them.
The Adams formula: Demean dissidents to make your client hopping mad. Advise your client to test the outer limits of the law by adopting abusive rules. When a dissident sues, say “We told you so”, while the fee clock spins out of control. What a racket.