PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A circuit judge was correct in dismissing a legal-malpractice action that a man brought against lawyers who defended him in a criminal case, the South Dakota Supreme Court has decided.
In a ruling released Thursday, the justices upheld the decision by now-retired Circuit Judge Rodney Steele to dismiss the civil suit brought by Fred Slota. Judge Steele ruled the action was filed after the three-year limitation to start a legal-malpractice lawsuit had expired.
In 2014, Slota was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 30 years in prison for first-degree rape and sexual contact with a person younger than 16..
Slota appealed in September 2015, claiming ineffective representation because his original attorneys hadn’t introduced statements the seven-year-old child had made to two other counselors denying Slota had assaulted her.
Slota also argued that his original attorneys had failed to cross-examine witnesses regarding some of the child’s statements and failed to object to the prosecutor’s closing statement that the child had consistently claimed Slota had sexually assaulted her.
Slota eventually won the challenge, in a ruling the judge issued June 7, 2017. that found “but for trial counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the trial would have been different.” Slota eventually was released. Prosecutors haven’t refiled the criminal charges.
Slota in July 2017 began a suit against the Los Angeles, California-based law firm that represented him, Imhoff and Associates, its lawyer Shannon Dorval, and Sioux Falls attorneys Henry Evans and Manuel de Castro Jr.; de Castro later was dismissed from the action because he wasn’t at Slota’s criminal trial.
The California firm said the legal-malpractice claim came later than the three-year limit that the South Dakota Legislature set for bringing such action. Slota argued that he had six years under claims of fraud and deceit. The judge ruled for Imhoff.
Justice Steven Jensen wrote the Supreme Court’s decision upholding Judge Steele. “Life cannot be
breathed back into such a claim by repackaging it into a different theory of liability that may provide a longer limitation period,” Jensen stated.
The full decision is attached below.