- Associated Press - Monday, March 24, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A dispute that began over the placement of beehives and evolved into an issue of legal malpractice has reached the South Dakota Supreme Court.

Justices listened to initial arguments in a final appeal Monday in Vermillion at the University of South Dakota Law School.

The case goes back to 2007 with a business lawsuit over the use and registration of private property for beehives. Three beekeepers shared lawyers. When the attorneys came up with a settlement, one of the beekeepers, Roger Hamilton of northeast South Dakota, didn’t agree to comply with it.

Hamilton filed a legal malpractice suit against his original lawyers for negligence.

Those original attorneys won the case in a Roberts County circuit court. One argued Monday that this case indulges “buyer’s remorse” after settlements.

One of the beekeeper’s current attorneys, Dan Rasmus, disagreed.

“It’s not a question about a do-over; it’s a question about justice,” Rasmus said.

The testimony Monday focused on which rules the state should use to govern best practices for attorneys, and therefore to determine whether the attorneys in the original lawsuit were negligent.

Those standards govern how attorneys should deal with cases like Hamilton‘s, including how to address “conflicted representation” - such as when defendants in the case represented three beekeepers at once.

Rasmus said there should be no confusion about the standards in malpractice cases such as Hamilton’s because South Dakota’s rules align with Minnesota’s and North Dakota’s and policies across the nation.

Rasmus disputed the circuit court’s decision to throw out expert testimony arguing that South Dakota’s rules on good legal representation, or “standard of care,” align with national rules.

But Thomas Welk, speaking for the opposition, disagreed. Welk said the expert witness only read the state rule and did not investigate local rules. Welk said local rules do affect how lawyers operate.

“How should the rules be used in a legal malpractice case?” he asked the justices. “We need some guidance. I don’t think anyone in South Dakota knows what to do with these rules.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for two additional cases Monday. The justices will hear three more on Tuesday and three on Wednesday.