Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Wisconsin Supreme Court

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The circuit court dismissed an action brought by Vilas County District Attorney Albert Moustakis who sought to restrain the Wisconsin Department of Justice from releasing records pertaining to Moustakis in response to a public records request by The Lakeland Times, a newspaper located in Minocqua. The request sought records of any "complaints or investigations regarding Vilas County District Attorney Al Moustakis" and records "regarding any investigation of [Moustakis's] conduct or handling of cases while district attorney." The request also sought "information related to complaints and investigations regarding Mr. Moustakis that were completed or ended without any action taken against him[,]" as well as "any communications between Mr. Moustakis and [Department of Justice] since he took office in 1995." The court of appeals affirmed the order of the circuit court. Finding no error in the circuit or appellate courts' decisions, the Supreme Court also affirmed. View "Moustakis v. Wisconsin Department of Justice" on Justia Law

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While representing a criminal defendant on appeal, the Office of the State Public Defender was sanctioned by the court of appeals in a footnote after the court found that the appendix to the assistant state public defender's brief was deficient and the attorney's certification of the appendix was false in violation of Wis. Stat. 809.19(2)(a). The Public Defender objected to the summary procedure used by the court of appeals in finding a violation of Rule 809.19(2)(a) without giving notice to counsel and without giving counsel an opportunity to be heard in writing. On review, the Supreme Court suggested that hereafter when the court of appeals considers imposing a sanction in such a situation, an order to show cause should be issued directing counsel to explain why a violation of Rule 809.12(2)(a) and (b) should not be found and why the attorney should not pay a stated amount of money to the clerk of the court as a sanction. Remanded with instructions to modify the footnote. View "State v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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After Dimitri Henley was convicted of five counts of second degree sexual assault, Henley made several attempts to seek a new trial. Henley also moved Justice Roggensack to recuse herself from the review of his case. Roggensack denied the motion. The current appeal involved a motion for reconsideration of the Supreme Court's decision reversing the circuit court's order granting Henley a new trial. Henley argued that by denying him a new trial and by providing no court procedures for reviewing Justice Roggensack's decision not to recuse, the Court denied Henley's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court held (1) the motion for reconsideration met none of the criteria for granting a motion for reconsideration and was therefore denied; (2) determining whether to recuse is the sole responsibility of the individual justice for whom disqualification from participation is sought; (3) a majority of the Court does not have the power to disqualify a judicial peer from performing the constitutional functions of a Supreme Court justice on a case-by-case basis; and (4) Henley received due process.

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Court-appointed receiver Michael Polsky filed a complaint against defendants Daniel Virnich and Jack Moores, owners and officers of Communications Products, for breach of their fiduciary duties to the corporation after Communications Products defaulted on a loan to its largest creditor. The Supreme Court accepted review but split three to three. On return to the court of appeals, the judgment was reversed. Polsky filed a petition to review, which the Supreme Court granted. The Court then affirmed the court of appeals. The current action involved Polsky's motion to disqualify Justice Roggensack, asserting that because Justice Roggensack had not participated in the case when it was previously certified to the Court and when the Court's decision remanded the matter to the court of appeals, she should have been disqualified from participation in the decision to affirm the court of appeals. The Supreme Court denied Polsky's motion, holding (1) the Court does not have the power to remove a justice from participating in an individual proceeding, on a case-by-case basis, and (2) due process is provided by the decisions of the individual justices who participate in the cases presented to the court.

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Plaintiffs filed a personal injury slip-and-fall action against defendants and defendants moved to disqualify plaintiffs' attorney. At issue was whether defendants had standing to bring a motion to disqualify plaintiffs' attorney where plaintiffs' attorney's law firm had previously represented defendants' exclusive property manager. Also at issue was whether the circuit court erred as a matter of law in applying an "appearance of impropriety" standard in deciding the motion for disqualification. The court held that defendants had standing to move to disqualify opposing counsel where defendants have shown that plaintiffs' attorney's prior representation was so connected with the current litigation that the prior representation was likely to affect the just and lawful determination of defendants' position. The court also held that the circuit court incorrectly applied the standard of law and should have determined the motion for disqualification based on an attorney's duty to a former client in SCR 20:1.9. Accordingly, the court reversed the order of the circuit court and remanded for further proceedings.