Notary Public & Legal Support Network Blog

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Be Careful Before Reporting a Case Settled to the Court

Before a case is reported settled to the court, it is important to be sure that both the clients and the attorneys are aware of all terms that will ultimately be a part of the settlement agreement. In Basis Technology Corp. v., Inc., 71 Mass. App. Ct. 29 (2008), the Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s decision to enforce a settlement agreement that consisted of an e-mail exchange between counsel on the third day of a trial. Specifically, in Basis Technology Corp., the parties reported the case settled to the court based on an e-mail exchange between counsel that outlined the terms of the settlement, but contemplated drafting an actual settlement agreement. Consequently, the trial court ended the trial and issued a dismissal nisi order. Despite the e-mail and the report of settlement, the parties were unable to agree on a written settlement agreement, and the court ultimately enforced the settlement as initially agreed in the e-mail.

In its decision, the court found that the mere fact that the parties needed to memorialize the settlement terms did not make the settlement incomplete and did not support an argument that the parties had not agreed on the essential business terms of the settlement. Thus, the Basis Technology court stood by a decision it made twenty years earlier when it stated that “if the parties have agreed upon all material terms, it may be inferred that the purpose of a final document which the parties agree to execute is to serve as a polished memorandum of an already binding contract.” Goren v. Royal Invs., Inc., 25 Mass. App. Ct. 137, 140 (1987).

A large factor in the court’s enforcement of the settlement agreement is that the parties had reported the matter settled to the court. As has been noted in several cases, enforcing settlement agreements that have been orally relayed to the court protects the integrity of the judicial process as well as the parties themselves. It allows courts to dismiss juries, clean up their dockets and prepare for the next case. It also allows parties to rely on the results of negotiations that they have had in coming to a settlement conclusion.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

SJC: Online messages can be grounds for sex charges in MA

In a ruling that should be a warning to all online predators, the state's highest court has ruled that a person can be charged with enticing a minor simply by sending online messages over the Internet.

Lawyers for Richard Disler had argued that his September 2005 conviction in Essex County for child enticement should be overturned because the online instant messages he exchanged with an undercover police officer posing as a 14-year-old girl were merely words.

Disler's lawyers argued the law requires the suspect do more such as travel to a rendezvous.

But the state Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, noting that a person can be charged with enticement, if he or she uses "words, gestures or other means" with criminal intent to induce a minor.

The court ruled there is nothing in the language of the law that indicates there must be an overt act.

The court also rejected other arguments claiming his free speech was violated and that this was entrapment because the girl didn't exist.

Disler was sentenced to three years probation with conditions that he have no unsupervised contact with children under 16 and register as a sex offender.