Court Doesn’t Need to Revisit Settlement

     (CN) – A Washington man whose conviction for allegedly participating in a “sex ring” was reversed is not entitled to additional legal malpractice damages, the state appeals court ruled.
     Manuel Hidalgo was accused of raping and molesting his wife’s two younger half-sisters, and he was eventually convicted of molesting the younger sister.
     The allegations of the girl and her sister led to 32 criminal cases in what became known as the “Wenatchie sex ring.”
     However, the improper investigative techniques of detective Robert Perez, who became the girls’ foster parent, led to doubts about the girls’ accusations.
     The older sister ran away from Perez’ home and recanted her allegations in an interview with a television reporter, stating that Perez had pressured her into making the accusation. This led to several post-conviction challenges. The Washington Court of Appeals overturned Hidalgo’s conviction.
     Hidalgo sued public defenders Jeffrey Barker and Edward Stevensen for legal malpractice, along with their law firm, Barker & Howard PS Inc.
     The parties came to a settlement agreement, but after the lawyers hit their legal malpractice insurance limit, Stevensen agreed with Hidalgo on a $3.8 million judgment that Hidalgo could only collect against his insurance company, Westport Insurance Corp.
     Hidalgo asked the trial court to certify $3.8 million as the correct amount for his action. Hidalgo and Westport swamped the court with 3,100 pages of documentation before the trial court ruled that the settlement amount was excessive and reduced it to $688,875.
     Hidalgo and Stevensen came to a new settlement agreement, but Westport successfully convinced the trial court to throw it out.
     Hidalgo appealed, arguing that the trial court must reconsider its amount if the parties reach a new settlement agreement. The Washington Court of Appeals disagreed, affirming the trial court ruling in an opinion written by Judge Siddoway.
     “If two parties renegotiate the terms of a settlement agreement after the trial court determines a reasonable settlement amount, then, no further hearing should be required unless a different issue ‘of the reasonableness of the amount to be paid’ is presented,” he wrote.

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