Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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On January 23, 2015, Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, issued an order declaring unconstitutional both the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, as violating the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, the federal court entered an injunction prohibiting the Alabama Attorney General from enforcing any Alabama law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The injunction was to allow time for an appeal of that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 27, 2015, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent a letter, on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, to then Governor Robert Bentley regarding Judge Granade’s orders, expressing "legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." In his three-page letter, Chief Justice Moore laid out his arguments as to why Judge Granade’s federal-court orders were not binding upon the State of Alabama, and ultimately directed Alabama’s probate judges not to recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Months later, the Alabama Supreme Court released a per curiam opinion ordering the probate judges named as respondents to discontinue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Alabama law. Chief Justice Moore’s name did not appear in the vote line of this opinion, nor did he author or join any of the special writings. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in “Obergefell,” holding that "same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States" and that "there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character." The Court of the Judiciary ultimately suspended Chief Justice Moore for his defiance of the laws. He appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined it was “obligated to follow prior precedent” that it had no authority to disturb the sanction imposed by the Court of the Judiciary: “[b]ecause we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.” View "Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance charged Montgomery County Justice Court Judge Keith Roberts with misconduct for failing to follow the law in a case before him. Because the Supreme Court found that Judge Roberts committed judicial misconduct, and agreed that the recommended sanctions were appropriate, the Court ordered that Judge Roberts be publicly reprimanded, fined $3,000, and taxed with the costs of these proceedings. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a Formal Complaint charging Charles Vess, Justice Court Judge, South District, Adams County, with willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration ofjustice which brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission and Judge entered into a Stipulation of Agreed Facts and Proposed Recommendation, which was accepted unanimously by the Commission, providing that Judge had violated Canons 1, 2(A), 3(B)(2), 3(B)(4), and 3(B)(5) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution, and recommending that he be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office without pay for a period of thirty days, fined $1,100, and assessed costs of $200. After conducting a mandated review of the Commission’s recommendation consistent with Section 177A of Article 6 of the Mississippi Constitution, Rule 10 of the Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, Rule 10 of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure, and Mississippi caselaw, the Mississippi Supreme Court adopted the recommendation of the Commission and ordered that Judge be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office without pay for a period of thirty days, fined in the amount of $1,100, and assessed the costs of this proceeding in the amount of $200. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Vess" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against its former attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty arising from defendants' representation of plaintiff in an earlier breach of contract action. In the published portion of this opinion, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of nonsuit on plaintiff's breach of fiduciary claim because plaintiff did not adduce any evidence in support of that claim beyond the evidence offered in support of its malpractice claim for professional negligence. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Broadway Victoria, LLC v. Norminton, Wiita & Fuster" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the issues presented for the Court of Appeal’s review related to a confidential attorney-client communication. The trial court found that plaintiff and real party in interest Richard Hausman, Sr. (Dick), did not waive the attorney-client privilege by forwarding a confidential e-mail he received from his personal attorney to his sister-in-law because Dick inadvertently and unknowingly forwarded the e-mail from his iPhone, and therefore lacked the necessary intent to waive the privilege. The trial court also impliedly found that Dick’s sister-in-law did not waive the privilege when she forwarded the e-mail to her husband, who then shared it with four other individuals, because neither Dick’s sister-in-law nor his brother-in-law could waive Dick’s attorney-client privilege, and Dick did not consent to these additional disclosures because he did not know about either his initial disclosure or these additional disclosures until a year after they occurred. In a separate order, the trial court disqualified Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Gibson Dunn) from representing defendants-petitioners McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Jonathan Lurie (collectively, Defendants) in the underlying lawsuits because Gibson Dunn failed to recognize the potentially privileged nature of the e-mail after receiving a copy from Lurie, and then analyzed and used the e-mail despite Dick’s objection that the e-mail was an inadvertently disclosed privileged document. The Court of Appeal denied the petition in its entirety. Substantial evidence supported the trial court’s orders and the court did not abuse its discretion in selecting disqualification as the appropriate remedy to address Gibson Dunn’s involvement in this matter. “[R]egardless of how the attorney obtained the documents, whenever a reasonably competent attorney would conclude the documents obviously or clearly appear to be privileged and it is reasonably apparent they were inadvertently disclosed, the State Fund rule requires the attorney to review the documents no more than necessary to determine whether they are privileged, notify the privilege holder the attorney has documents that appear to be privileged, and refrain from using the documents until the parties or the court resolves any dispute about their privileged nature. The receiving attorney’s reasonable belief the privilege holder waived the privilege or an exception to the privilege applies does not vitiate the attorney’s State Fund duties.” View "McDermott Will & Emery v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Wise Regional, a Texas municipal hospital authority, filed suit against Aetna, an insurance plan administrator, in state court over a dispute regarding medical insurance claims Wise Regional submitted on behalf of its patients. Aetna removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1442, but the district court remanded to state court, awarding attorneys' fees. The court concluded that it had appellate jurisdiction over the remand order because Aetna relied upon the federal officer removal statute in its notice of removal; remand was proper because Aetna's notice of removal was untimely; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees where Aetna lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal of this action almost five months after expiration of the thirty-day deadline for removal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Decatur Hospital Authority v. Aetna Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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The court filed an order denying Appellant Blixseth's counsel's motion and amended motion for reconsideration of the Commissioner's orders awarding attorneys' fees and non-taxable costs; denying requests for recusal, appointment of a new panel, conversion of the matter to a criminal proceeding, transfer of the matter to the U.S. Attorney, and holding of the awards in abeyance; and denying counsel's suggestion for reconsideration. The court concluded that the Commissioner correctly declined to award attorneys' fees and non-taxable costs under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 against Blixseth and his attorney Michael J.Flynn for preparing appellees' statements regarding Blixseth's pro se response and Flynn's response to the court's order to show cause against Blixseth and Flynn ("fees-on-fees"), and correctly awarded fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. 1927 against Flynn for preparing the statements regarding Flynn's response. The court also concluded that Rule 38 is a damage provision authorizing award of "just damages;" the award of fees and costs under Rule 38 thus must be limited to appellees' direct fees and costs for defending against the frivolous appeal, and may not include the fees and costs incurred regarding the imposition of sanctions; and section 1927 is a fee-shifting provision allowing an award of fees-on-fees. View "Blixseth v. Yellowstone Mountain Club" on Justia Law

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The Haegers sued Goodyear, alleging that the failure of a Goodyear G159 tire caused their motorhome to swerve and flip over. After years of contentious discovery, marked by Goodyear’s slow response to repeated requests for internal G159 test results, the parties settled. Months later, the Haegers’ lawyer learned that, in another lawsuit involving the G159, Goodyear had disclosed test results indicating that the tire got unusually hot at highway speeds. Goodyear conceded withholding the information. The district court exercised its inherent power to sanction bad-faith behavior to award the Haegers $2.7 million—their legal fees and costs since the moment, early in the litigation, of Goodyear’s first dishonest discovery response. The court held that in cases of egregious behavior, a court can award all attorney’s fees incurred in a case, without any need to find a causal link between the expenses and the sanctionable conduct. The court made a contingent award of $2 million, to take effect if the Ninth Circuit reversed the larger award, deducting fees related to other defendants and to proving medical damages. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the $2.7 million award. The Supreme Court reversed. When a federal court exercises its inherent authority to sanction bad-faith conduct by ordering a litigant to pay the other side’s legal fees, the award is limited to fees that the innocent party would not have incurred but for the bad faith. The sanction must be compensatory, not punitive. The Haegers did not show that this litigation would have settled as soon as Goodyear divulged the heat-test results and cannot demonstrate that Goodyear’s non-disclosure so permeated the suit as to make that misconduct a but-for cause of every subsequent legal expense. View "Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger" on Justia Law

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Wilfred I. Aka appealed the Tax Court's decision to disbar him and, alternatively, its failure to include in its disbarment order instructions for his reinstatement. The court held that it has jurisdiction to review Tax Court disbarment orders and that the court will review the Tax Court's factual findings for clear error. Nonetheless, the court considered de novo Aka's argument. On the merits, the court concluded that Aka offered no legal authority for his contention that the Tax Court violated his due-process rights, and neither procedural nor substantive due process provided a basis for reversing the Tax Court's order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the disbarment order and declined to order the Tax Court to propose additional steps for reinstatement. View "Aka v. United States Tax Court" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a dispute over which California government entity would be responsible for funding the education of K.G. pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A). The School District contended that the district court erred in granting K.G. relief from its original judgment denying attorneys' fees. The court concluded that the district court did not apply the incorrect legal rule in evaluating whether to grant relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1) where the district court's determination that K.G.'s delay in pursuing Rule 60(b) relief was understandable in light of the original attorney's poor mental and physical health; K.G. was the prevailing party entitled to attorney fees because K.G.'s prayer was answered in full when the ALJ designated the School District as the responsible agency and granted K.G.'s requested relief; K.G. qualified as a prevailing party under the IDEA, and this victory was not trivial or merely technical; but it was not clear from the district court's award that it took into account forgoing considerations in reducing the fees originally requested. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Irvine Unified School District v. K.G." on Justia Law