November 13, 2018
to recover damages for, inter alia, conversion, and for other
relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial
district of Fairfield where the court, Radcliffe,
J., bifurcated the case as to the defendant Barbara A.
Parnoff; thereafter, the matter was tried to a jury; verdict
and judgment in part for the plaintiff, from which the named
defendant appealed to this court. Affirmed.
R. Williams, for the appellant (named defendant).
Kenneth M. Rozich, for the appellee (plaintiff).
Keller, Prescott and Pellegrino, Js.
defendant, Laurence V. Parnoff(Parnoff), appeals
from the judgment rendered, following a jury trial, in favor
of the plaintiff, Darcy Yuille, on the counts of Yuille's
complaint alleging conversion and statutory theft. On appeal,
Parnoff claims that (1) the trial court abused its discretion
by ordering him to commence trial on extremely short notice,
(2) the verdict in Yuille's favor on counts one and two
is irreconcilably inconsistent with the verdict in
Parnoff's favor on count three, and (3) the court
improperly declined to submit any of the special defenses to
the jury. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment
of the trial court.
following facts, as set forth in the prior opinions of this
court in Parnoff v. Yuille, 139 Conn.App. 147, 57
A.3d 349 (2012) (Parnoff I), cert. denied, 307 Conn.
956, 59 A.3d 1192 (2013) and Parnoff v. Yuille, 163
Conn.App. 273, 136 A.3d 48 (Parnoff II), cert.
denied, 321 Conn. 902, 138 A.3d 280 (2016), and procedural
history are relevant to our resolution of the defendant's
claims.In 1998, Yuille retained Parnoff to
represent her in an action against Bridgeport Hospital.
Parnoff I, supra, 152. The parties' fee
agreement provided for a contingent fee of 40 percent.
Id. On June 29, 2004, an arbitration panel awarded
Yuille $1, 096, 032.93 in damages. Id., 153. Parnoff
sent an invoice to Yuille that included an attorney's fee
representing 40 percent of the gross settlement proceeds.
Id. Yuille objected to the fee and Parnoff
subsequently brought an action against Yuille to recover the
fee. Id., 154. Parnoff's action alleged breach
of contract, quantum meruit and bad faith. Id.,
154-55. Following a trial, the jury found in favor of Parnoff
on the breach of contract counts and, thus, did not reach the
quantum meruit count. Id., 157-58.
appeal, this court held that the parties' fee agreement
exceeded the cap contained in General Statutes § 52-251c
and, therefore, was unenforceable as against public policy.
Id., 169, 172. This court reversed the judgment in
favor of Parnoff on the breach of contract counts and ordered
that those counts be dismissed on remand. Id., 173.
The trial court later rendered judgment for Yuille on the
quantum meruit count, which this court affirmed on appeal,
concluding that an attorney ‘‘who is barred from
contract recovery because of the contract's failure to
comply with the fee cap statute cannot recover under the
doctrine of quantum meruit.'' Parnoff II,
supra, 163 Conn.App. 275, 277.
2013, Yuille commenced the present action alleging that
Parnoff had misappropriated funds that had been held in
escrow pending resolution of the parties' fee dispute.
The operative amended complaint alleged conversion, statutory
theft pursuant to General Statutes § 52-564,
breach of fiduciary duty. At the conclusion of the evidence,
the court denied Parnoff's motion for a directed verdict.
The jury returned a verdict in favor of Yuille on the counts
alleging conversion and statutory theft, and for Parnoff on
the count alleging breach of fiduciary duty. The court
subsequently rendered judgment for Yuille on the conversion
and statutory theft counts in the total amount of $1, 480,
336.37. Parnoff then filed the present appeal. Additional
facts will be set forth as necessary.
first claims that the court abused its discretion by ordering
that he commence trial after allowing his attorney to
withdraw, without affording him time to obtain new counsel.
first set forth our standard of review. ‘‘The
trial court has a responsibility to avoid unnecessary
interruptions, to maintain the orderly procedure of the court
docket, and to prevent any interference with the fair
administration of justice. . . . In addition, matters
involving judicial economy, docket management [and control
of] courtroom proceedings . . . are particularly within the
province of a trial court. . . . Accordingly, [a] trial court
holds broad discretion in granting or denying a motion for a
continuance. Appellate review of a trial court's denial
of a motion for a continuance is governed by an abuse of
discretion standard that, although not unreviewable, affords
the trial court broad discretion in matters of
continuances.'' (Citations omitted; internal
quotation marks omitted.) Peatie v. Wal-Mart Stores,
Inc., 112 Conn.App. 8, 12, 961 A.2d 1016 (2009).
following facts are necessary for the resolution of this
claim. Yuille commenced this action in 2013. There was little
activity in the case between December 4, 2013, when Parnoff
filed his answer and special defenses, and January 26, 2017,
when the court, Bellis, J., ordered that
trial was to begin on January 31, 2017.On January 30,
2017, Yuille filed a reply to Parnoff's special defenses.
Also on January 30, 2017, counsel for Yuille filed a motion
to continue the case until March 1, 2017, on the ground that
he had only recently been retained by Yuille. The court
denied Yuille's motion, stating: ‘‘The
defendants, indeed all parties were fully aware that their
case was exposed to trial on one hour's notice as their
counsel at the time were all told and agreed to same when the
court granted yet another continuance in a very old case. As
it turned out, the parties were given [five] days notice of
their trial date rather than the one hour's
January 30, 2017, Attorney Michael S. Lynch, on behalf of the
law firm of Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey, P.C. (law
firm), filed a motion to withdraw the law firm's
appearance as counsel for Parnoff and Barbara A. Parnoff. The
basis for the motion was that ‘‘the
attorney-client relationship [did] not exist in that there
[was] a severe breakdown in communication between attorney
and clients and the attorney is not authorized to represent
or act on behalf of the clients.'' Specifically,
after noting the complicated history between these parties
and the disputed attorney's fees, the motion indicated
that in December, 2016, Parnoff had advised in writing that
the law firm was required to obtain his authorization prior
to performing any further work on his file. After attending
the status conference in which the matter was ordered to
trial, Lynch indicated that he repeatedly requested
authorization from Parnoff to work on the file; Parnoff,
however, did not provide the necessary authorization. Under
these circumstances, Lynch and the law firm requested
permission to withdraw their appearance in this matter.
hearing on the motion to withdraw on February 2, 2017, the
court, Bellis, J., stated: ‘‘[B]efore I
hear from either or both of the Parnoffs, I just want to
point out that the case is very old, that there's been
four trial dates in it, and there will not be a continuance
of the trial date. I do note that . . . there was a motion
for stay that was filed back in September, 2015, asking for a
stay for the purposes of the Parnoff v. Yuille case
to be decided as opposed to any other case, and so there was
a brief stay but that was years into the case.
when the case was last continued, counsel at the time on both
sides were informed that I would reluctantly grant . . . that
latest continuance but that when the decision was issued by
the Connecticut Supreme Court, that the case would be on one
hour's notice and it would . . . immediately proceed to
trial because, quite frankly, I did not want to continue the
case the last time.
here we are. The case is on trial. It will not be continued
again due to the age of the case and the many continuance
requests . . . .''
the course of the hearing on the motion to withdraw, Lynch
reiterated what he had stated in his motion, namely, that he
did not have the ability to defend Parnoff because Parnoff
had not authorized him to do the work. The court questioned
Parnoff regarding whether he would cooperate with counsel;
Parnoff, however, did not provide a clear response to the
court's questions. The court considered a letter from
Parnoff to Attorney Charles Fleischmann of the law firm,
dated December 14, 2016, in which Parnoff notified the law
firm that it should not perform any further work for which he
would be billed without his written approval. The court also
considered a series of emails from Lynch to Parnoff in which
Lynch notified Parnoff of the court's January 26, 2017
order setting deadlines for the filing of trial management
reports and proposed stipulations of fact. Parnoff, however,
had not authorized Lynch to proceed.
conclusion of the hearing on the motion to withdraw, the
court stated: ‘‘Well . . . I'm going to find
good cause to grant the motion. I'm going to find that
there is a breakdown in the relationship and communications,
and I'm going to find further that it was caused,
Attorney Parnoff, by your refusal to cooperate with your
attorney based on the information and evidence before me, and
that you put Attorney Lynch in a no-win position where he was
not given-where he was attempting to do what was required to
do to defend you properly, and that you-your instructions to
him were to not do anything and you did not respond, so there
is not any way that he can properly represent you based on
all this information.'' Before court adjourned on
February 2, 2017, Parnoff indicated that he was going to try
to find an attorney to represent him during the trial but
that he did not know how long it was going to take. In
response, the court stated that ‘‘[i]t was your
choice not to cooperate with your attorney and not to give
him authorization to do what needed to be done, so because of
that I'm not going to continue the case.''
February 3, 2017, Parnoff informed the court that he was on
medication and was not practicing as a commissioner of the
Superior Court. The court stated that it had previously
informed all counsel that, with respect to a continuance, it
would consider a current letter from a medical provider
indicating that it would jeopardize Parnoff's physical or
mental well-being to appear in court. Such a letter was not
provided to the court. The court also noted that Parnoff had
an active law license and remained a commissioner of the
February 7, 2017, Barbara A. Parnoff filed a motion for a
continuance in which she requested that the matter be removed
from the trial list in order for her to find an attorney to
represent her in the matter. The same day, Parnoff filed a
motion to remove the case from the trial list to allow
reasonable time for trial preparation. In his motion, Parnoff
stated that he had worked on this case with Attorney Paul
Pollock of the law firm, who had retired, and Fleischmann,
who had not responded to his December, 2016 letter. He
indicated that he first learned that this case was ordered to
trial on January 26, 2017, when he was in court on an
unrelated matter. Parnoff did not state in the motion,
however, that he was going to find another attorney to
represent him. He stated, rather, that
‘‘[n]either the undersigned nor his wife have any
experience as defense attorneys or in defense litigation and
both have long-standing medical conditions for which
treatment is continuing . . . .'' Parnoff attached,
as an exhibit to his motion, a letter from an outpatient
mental health treatment coordinator indicating that Parnoff
had a medical appointment scheduled for February 7, 2017.
to jury selection on February 7, 2017, the court,
Radcliffe, J., considered Parnoff's motion to
remove the case from the trial list. At that time, Parnoff
described this motion as ‘‘a motion to get the
thing off the trial list; to stop with the proceedings and .
. . have [this matter] placed on a trial list in a period of
time that unrepresented people who thought they were being
represented for the last three or four years have an
opportunity to get trial counsel.'' Judge Radcliffe
initially referred both motions to Judge Bellis, as she had
previously ruled on these issues. After consulting with Judge
Bellis, however, Judge Radcliffe bifurcated the matter as to
Barbara A. Parnoff and ordered that jury selection would
begin that afternoon in the case against Parnoff. The
evidence in the case against Parnoff commenced on February
14, 2017, almost two weeks after the date that Judge Bellis
had set for the commencement of trial.
support of his argument that the trial court abused its
discretion by ordering him to commence trial on extremely
short notice, Parnoff points out that this was a complex case
and both sides had promptly requested that the matter be
continued. He contends that the case was old because of the
many collateral appeals and that the prior continuance
requests were appropriate. He further argues that a
continuance would not have had an adverse impact upon the
witnesses or the reliability of the evidence, and that he had
submitted medical evidence demonstrating his inability to
cope with the complexity of the matters at hand. Finally,
Parnoff contends that the denial of the continuance had a
devastating impact upon his ability to defend the action.
Specifically, Parnoff contends that throughout all of the
lawsuits and appeals over the years originating from this set