O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc., and Burns Auction & Appraisal, LLC (collectively “Mossberg”), appealed a District Court order granting Luke and Stephanie Keuffers’ motion to disqualify Mossberg’s counsel. The District Court disqualified Mossberg’s out-of-state counsel, Renzulli Law Firm, and its local counsel, Tarlow & Stonecipher, pursuant to Rule 1.20(c) of the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct. The basis for the court’s disqualification order was a prospective client consultation that Luke Keuffer had with an attorney from Tarlow & Stonecipher, which was later used in a deposition of Stephanie Keuffer by John Renzulli of the Renzulli Law Firm. The court found that the continued involvement in the case by Mossberg’s counsel gave the Keuffers reason to question whether their case could proceed fairly and cause to question what they may have disclosed in the consultation to Tarlow & Stonecipher that may later be used against them in the current litigation. The court also found that Mossberg’s counsel’s actions undermine the public’s trust in the legal profession. Finding no reversible error in the District Court's disqualification order, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed. View "Keuffers v. O.F. Mossberg & Sons" on Justia Law
Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
After Sarah West was involved in a motor vehicle accident, West made a claim against her insurer, State Farm, for underinsured motorist benefits of $75,000. State Farm paid only $20,000 in benefits. Attorney Tracey Morin subsequently filed a complaint against State Farm on behalf of Sarah and her parents, Ausra and James West, for breach of contract, violation of the Montana Unfair Trade Practices Act, and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. At the conclusion of the action, the district court imposed sanctions on Morin individually under Mont. R. Civ. P. 11. Morin appealed, contending that the depth and breadth of the sanctions constituted an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the level of sanctions imposed in this case. View "Morin v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Mother and Child were seriously injured in an automobile accident. Mother and her husband (Husband) hired Viscomi & Gersh (Viscomi) to represent Mother and Child in their claims for damages resulting from the accident. Matthew O'Neill was subsequently appointed to act as guardian ad litem (GAL) and conservator for Child. After Mother's case settled, Mother and Husband agreed with Morales Law Office (Morales) that Morales would represent Child. Morales then filed a motion to disqualify counsel. The district court denied the motion because it did not contain the consent of Viscomi and O'Neill. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) when Mother and Husband consented to the appointment of a GAL and conservator to act in Child's best interests in the legal claims she had arising from the accident, they divested themselves of the right to determine who should represent Child in her personal injury claim; (2) Mont. Code Ann. 37-61-403 and Mont. Code Ann. 72-5-427 are not unconstitutional as applied in this case; and (3) section 37-61-403 does not conflict with the Montana Rules of Professional Conduct. View "In re Estate of C.K.O." on Justia Law
Plaintiff filed an action against a district court judge, seeking damages for the judge's acts or omissions while presiding over a telephone pretrial conference in a civil action then pending before him. At all relevant times the judge was acting in his official capacity as a district court judge with regard to that case and the pretrial conference. The district court granted the judge's motion to dismiss on the grounds of judicial immunity. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because the acts of which Plaintiff complained occurred while the judge was conducting the pretrial conference and were clearly within the authority and responsibility of a district court judge, the judge was immune from suit, and the district court properly dismissed Plaintiff's complaint. View "Hartsoe v. McNeil" on Justia Law
Employee filed a workers' compensation claim against Employer. Employer's Insurer accepted liability for Employee's claim. Insurer contracted with third-party Adjuster to provide services for Employee's claim. Employee and Insurer disagreed over elements of the claim, and Attorney advised Insurer on various legal matters. The claim was eventually resolved. Employee then filed the present action for unfair claims settlement practices, naming Insurer and an employee of Adjuster as defendants. Employee served Employer with a subpoena requesting, inter alia, a letter Attorney wrote to Adjuster's employee concerning the underlying case. Employer and Insurer objected to the subpoena, citing attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. The court denied the motions. Insurer then petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of supervisory control. The Court dismissed the petition, holding that the district court correctly applied the law of attorney-client privilege but incorrectly analyzed the work product doctrine. However, because the court reached the proper conclusion, supervisory control was unnecessary. View "Am. Zurich Ins. v. Dist. Court" on Justia Law
Appellants and Bank entered a loan agreement in which Bank agreed to lend Appellants $5 million. After Bank refused to disburse further funds under the loan, Appellants sued Bank. Bank was represented by the Crowley Fleck law firm (Crowley). During the ensuing litigation, an attorney that was working with the law firm representing Appellants (Lawyer) joined Crowley as an attorney. Appellants subsequently filed motions to disqualify Crowley from representing Bank in the case and to permanently enjoin Crowley from proceeding in the litigation. The trial court denied Appellants' motion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court erred in denying Appellants' motions where (1) Lawyer, who was engaged in concrete discussions of future employment with the adversary's law firm, did not promptly inform Appellant, terminate all further discussions concerning the employment, or withdraw from representing Appellant; (2) the conflict was concurrent and thus imputed to Crowley; and (3) the measures Crowley took were inadequate to preserve Appellants' confidences. View "Krutzfeldt Ranch, LLC v. Pinnacle Bank" on Justia Law
After James Patrick filed a petition for postconviction relief, the district court judge who presided over Patrick's previous trial and sentencing recused herself and ordered that Patrick's postconviction proceedings be reassigned. Patrick filed a motion to invalidate the State's judicial substitution, which the district court denied. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the district court did not err when it denied Patrick's motion to invalidate the State's judicial substitution because the substitution in this instance was permitted, Patrick received notice of the substitution, and Patrick was not denied due process when the district court issued its order denying Patrick's motion without waiting for Patrick's reply brief; and (2) Patrick should have been given the opportunity to file his own motion for judicial substitution. The Court concluded that equity demanded that Patrick be given twenty days to move for a judicial substitution.
Petitioner filed a petition for dissolution in district court and the only contested issue between the parties was the valuation and division of the marital home and surrounding acreage, which was purchased for $45,000 in the mid-1990's. Petitioner had obtained a letter from a realtor stating that the marital home could be worth approximately $250,000-275,000 if the home was in good condition. At issue was whether the district court abused its discretion when it denied petitioner's M.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6) motion, which was filed after the district court found the marital home was valued at $22,423, where petitioner alleged that her attorney grossly neglected her case when she failed to identify the realtor as an expert, or any other qualified real estate expert, and failed to prepare any evidence for trial to reflect petitioner's estimated value of the marital home. The court held that under the unique circumstances, where the district court had a statutory obligation to equitably apportion the marital estate and petitioner's counsel totally failed to present evidence on the issue, the district court abused its discretion in denying her Rule 60(b)(6) motion and should have granted the motion, thereby allowing her to present evidence regarding the value of the marital home so that the district court could make an equitable distribution. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings.