Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Utah Supreme Court

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Attorney Donald Gilbert represented the Utah Down Syndrome Association and several of its founders in litigation between the Association and the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation, Inc. Gilbert filed this petition for extraordinary relief challenging (1) a 2008 district court judgment ordering Gilbert to disgorge $30,000 taken from Foundation bank accounts to pay his attorney fees, (2) an injunction that originally barred Gilbert’s clients from paying him with Foundation funds, (3) an order denying Gilbert’s motion to vacate the 2008 judgment, and (4) an order denying Gilbert’s motion for relief from the 2008 judgment. The Supreme Court denied Gilbert’s petition for extraordinary relief, holding (1) Gilbert unreasonably delayed seeking extraordinary relief from the injunction, the disgorgement order, and the denial of his motion to vacate; and (2) Gilbert failed to pursue the plain, speedy, and adequate remedy of direct appeal from the denial of his motion for relief from judgment. View "Gilbert v. Third Dist. Court Judges" on Justia Law

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Attorneys in Utah representing injured workers in workers’ compensation claims receive their fees out of the compensation awarded to the worker. IWA challenged the statute delegating the authority to regulate these fees to the Labor Commission and the Labor Commission's fee schedule. The court held that the regulation of attorney fees is included within the power to govern the practice of law. Because the Utah Supreme Court is vested with exclusive inherent and constitutional authority to govern the practice of law - and the court cannot under the separation-of-powers doctrine delegate the regulation of attorney fees to the legislature or the Commission - the court held the Commission’s fee schedule and its authorizing statute unconstitutional. The court declined to enact a fee schedule regulating the fees of injured workers' attorneys at this time. View "Injured Workers Ass'n of Utah v. State" on Justia Law

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From 2009 onward, Judge Kevin Christensen was employed as a justice court judge by four Utah municipalities. Following an investigation, the Judicial Conduct Commission (JCC) found that the salary of Judge Christensen exceeded the statutory cap on the salaries of justice court judges who are employed by more than one municipality. The JCC recommended that Judge Christensen be censured and ordered to repay the excess amounts. Before the Supreme Court, Judge Christensen argued that the statutory provision he stipulated to having violated was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court adopted the recommendations of the JCC, holding (1) Judge Christensen cannot challenge for the first time in a disciplinary hearing the constitutionality of a statute he has violated; and (2) none of the mitigating factors offered by Judge Christensen would render the proposed sanctions unjust or improper, and the ordered repayments would not violate Utah law. View "In re Judge Christensen" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case was whether an attorney-client relationship that existed between a religious trust (Trust), and the Trust's attorneys at a law firm (Law Firm) continued after the Trust was reformed cy pres. Specifically, the Supreme Court was required to determine whether the district court's reformation of the Trust altered the Trust to such an extent that it could no longer be considered the same client for purposes of the attorney-client privilege and the Utah Rules of Professional Misconduct. The district court (1) ordered Law Firm to disgorge privileged attorney-client information to the reformed Trust (Reformed Trust), concluding that reformation of the Trust did not sever the attorney-client privilege; and (2) disqualified Law Firm from representing Movants in substantially related matters in which Movants' interests were materially adverse to the Reformed Trust. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Trust and Reformed Trust were not the same client, and therefore, there was no attorney-client relationship between Law Firm and the Reformed Trust; and (2) therefore, the district court erred when it disqualified Law Firm from representing Movants and ordered Law Firm to disgorge privileged attorney-client information to the special fiduciary of the Reformed Trust. View "Snow, Christensen & Martineau v. Dist. Court" on Justia Law

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After the Utah State Bar's Office of Professional Conduct began an attorney discipline proceeding against Donald Gilbert, Gilbert moved to implead the Utah Down Syndrome Foundation pursuant to Utah R. Civ. P. 14(a). The district court granted the motion. The Foundation filed a motion for summary judgment challenging the propriety of impleader and claiming that res judicata barred the causes of action in Gilbert's third-party complaint. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court reversed the district court's denial of summary judgment, holding (1) the Standards for Imposing Lawyer Discipline do not permit litigation of collateral matters in attorney discipline proceedings; and (2) therefore, impleader was improper in this case. View "In re Gilbert" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Conduct Commission recommended a reprimand against the Honorable Keith L. Stoney due to the issuance of an excessive warrant. Judge Stoney argued before the Supreme Court that the excessive amount of the warrant was a mistake not amounting to misconduct. The court agreed and declined to discipline Judge Stoney, holding (1) the record evidence did not support the Commission's conclusion that Judge Stoney issued a warrant with improper intent; (2) Judge Stoney's mistake did not violate the Code of Judicial Conduct; and (3) because parties to a judicial discipline proceeding are not required to marshal evidence, the Court did not need to dismiss Judge Stoney's brief for failure to marshal the evidence supporting the Commission's order. View "In re J. Stoney" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought suit against a law firm and its attorneys for their role in executing civil discovery orders. The orders authorized entry into Plaintiffs' home to seize electronic files from Plaintiffs' computer and other electronic devices. Plaintiffs raised several causes of action based largely on the theory that the execution of the civil discovery orders constituted an illegal warrantless search. The district court granted Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed on alternate grounds, holding (1) the judicial proceedings privilege extends to attorneys' conduct in representing their clients; and (2) as applied in this case, the privilege barred all of Plaintiffs' claims. View "Moss v. Parr Waddoups Brown Gee & Loveless" on Justia Law