Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

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Petitioner here was Gaddy Engineering Company, and Respondents were an individual lawyer, Thomas Lane, and a law firm in which Lane was a partner (Bowles Rice). Petitioner contended that the Lane agreed to pay Petitioner one-third of all sums Bowles Rice received in connection with its legal representation of a group of land companies in a case to be filed against a company for alleged underpayment of gas royalties. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Respondents as to all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding, inter alia, that the trial court (1) correctly applied the doctrine of impracticability as to Petitioner's breach of contract claims; (2) did not err in ruling that no attorney-client relationship existed between Petitioner and Respondents, and thus the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Petitioner's professional negligence claim; (3) correctly granted summary judgment on Petitioner's claim of fraud; and (4) did not err in granting summary judgment on Petitioner's claim seeking relief in quantum meruit. View "Gaddy Eng'g Co. v. Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, LLP" on Justia Law

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This matter involved two consolidated writs of prohibition filed under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Petitioners sought a writ of prohibition to prevent enforcement of circuit court orders that denied their motions to disqualify private attorneys from representing the State as special assistant attorneys general, contending that the fee arrangements of the special assistant attorneys general violated the West Virginia Governmental Ethics Act and the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct and that the attorney general lacked the authority to appoint special assistant attorneys general. The Supreme Court denied the writs, holding (1) Petitioners failed to establish that the special assistant attorneys general actually engaged in any improper conduct that caused an injury; (2) the Court improperly held in Manchin v. Browning, which was heretofore overruled, that the office of attorney general did not retain inherent common law powers; and (3) while the circuit courts relied on the wrong reasons for rejecting the motions to disqualify the special assistant attorneys general, those courts nevertheless were correct in denying the motions. View "State ex rel. Discover Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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William Watkins became a family court judge in 2002. In 2011, Judge Watkins became the subject of numerous complaints filed with the Judicial Investigation Commission. The Hearing Board concluded that Judge Watkins had committed twenty-four separate violations of nine separate canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Watkins conceded that he was repeatedly intemperate with litigants, showed disrespect for authority, and was unable to properly manage his office and staff. The Board recommended that the Supreme Court censure Judge Watkins on each of his violations; suspend Watkins, without pay, until his present term of office ended in four years; and require Judge Watkins to pay the costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of these proceedings. The Supreme Court adopted the Board's recommended sanctions, holding (1) the Court had the constitutional authority to impose such a lengthy suspension; and (2) the sanctions were appropriate in this case. View "In re Judge Watkins" on Justia Law

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Respondents were former employees of Verizon West Virginia, Inc. who filed wrongful termination claims against Verizon based upon alleged violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act. Petitioners were Verizon and various of its managerial and similar-positioned employees (collectively, Verizon) who were named as defendants in the underlying wrongful termination proceedings. At issue before the Supreme Court was Verizon's contention that Respondents' counsel's (Law Firm) prior representation of other former employees of Verizon in substantially related matters that were settled and dismissed required Law Firm to be disqualified. The circuit court permitted Law Firm to continue its representation of Respondents. Verizon subsequently requested the issuance of a writ of prohibition disqualifying Law Firm. The Supreme Court denied the writ, finding that Verizon was not entitled to prohibitory relief because (1) Law Firm's successive representation of its former and current clients did not constitute a conflict under the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct; and (2) moreover, the relief requested by Verizon would impermissibly restrict Law Firm's right to practice law in contravention of the Rules of Professional Conduct. View "State ex rel. Verizon West Virginia, Inc. v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was prosecuting attorney for Kanawha County. Respondent was a circuit judge in Kanawha County. Respondent was a defendant in a murder prosecution pending in the County. Petitioner requested a writ of prohibition to challenge a ruling of the Kanawha County circuit court barring the introduction of certain shell casings found at the scene of the crime and firearms and ammunition seized from a residence associated with Respondent. The evidence was suppressed as a sanction for the State's admitted failure to make the shell casings available to the defense for inspection and possible testing. The Supreme Court granted the request and prohibited the enforcement of the circuit court order excluding the materials at issue from evidence, holding that while the State's conduct was troublesome, the circuit court failed properly to analyze the necessary factors for sanctions against the State pursuant to its holdings in State ex rel. Rusen v. Hill. View "State ex rel. Plants v. Circuit Court (Webster) " on Justia Law

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By the Supreme Court's order, Magistrate Carol Fouty was suspended without pay from her position as magistrate following a finding of probable cause that Fouty had engaged or was currently engaged in a serious violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct, and further noting that Fouty previously had received a written admonishment for violating the Code of Judicial Conduct. Fouty requested a hearing on the issue of her suspension without pay, which was granted by the Court. The Court then affirmed the suspension without pay, holding that the Code of Judicial Conduct and existing case law supported Fouty's suspension without pay pending the completion of the underlying judicial disciplinary proceeding. View "In re Fouty" on Justia Law

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Employee of a railway company was accused by his Employer of stealing rail. After it was discovered that Employee was involved in the removal and sale of the rail, Employee's employment was terminated. An arbitration panel reinstated Employee's employment the next year. Employer then submitted the matter to an assistant prosecutor. Employee was never arrested or incarcerated. Employee subsequently sued Employer for malicious prosecution. During the trial, the circuit court granted Employee's motion for judgment as a matter of law on the issue of whether Employer had procured his prosecution, which was one element of his required proof. The jury then returned a verdict in favor of Employee. The circuit court denied Employer's motions for judgment as a matter of law, new trial, or remittitur. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's order denying Employer's post-trial motions, holding that the circuit court committed reversible error by determining as a matter of law that Employer procured the malicious prosecution of Employee where testimony of the assistant prosecutor directly contradicted the proposition that Employer had a level of control over the prosecution amounting to procurement. Remanded for a new trial. View "Norfolk S. Ry. Co. v. Higginbotham " on Justia Law