Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Applicant Lewis Birt successfully completed Vermont’s Law Office Study (LOS) Program in April 2000. Thereafter, applicant sat for the Vermont bar exam four times between 2002 and 2004, failing each time. In July 2019, applicant filed an application with the Vermont Board of Bar Examiners (BBE) to sit for the February 2020 bar exam. Licensing Counsel reviewed the application and raised concerns about both the length of time between applicant’s completion of the LOS Program, the 2019 application, and the number of applicant’s prior unsuccessful examination attempts. In light of those concerns, Licensing Counsel asked applicant if he wished to go forward with the application. Applicant elected to do so, and, in November 2019, supplied additional information directed at the concerns Licensing Counsel raised. At its December 2019 meeting, the BBE decided to deny applicant’s request to sit for the 2020 bar examination. In doing so, it relied on Rule of Admission to the Bar of the Vermont Supreme Court 9(b)(1), which requires an applicant to sit for the bar exam within five years of completing the LOS Program unless the time is extended for good cause, and Rule 9(b)(4), which limits an applicant to four attempts to pass the examination unless the BBE waives the limitation upon a proper showing. The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the BBE's finding that there was no cause to extend the five-year limit. Since his last exam in 2004, applicant worked as a musician, church residential real-estate manager, paralegal studies teacher for a for=profit school, and as a court reporter. Absent a waiver, applicant was deemed ineligible to sit for the 2020 bar examination because he did not meet the requirements of Rule 9(b)(1), and the Supreme Court concurred his application was properly denied. View "In re Lewis Y. Birt" on Justia Law

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ECT sued ShoppersChoice for infringement of its 261 patent, directed “to systems and methods that notify a party of travel status associated with one or more mobile things. ShoppersChoice challenged claim 11 as patent-ineligible, 35 U.S.C. 101. ShoppersChoice moved to join a patent eligibility hearing set in a parallel lawsuit, in which ECT alleged claim 11 infringement against other companies. The court conducted a consolidated hearing and invalidated claim 11 as directed to the abstract idea of providing advance notification of the pickup or delivery of a mobile thing. The Federal Circuit affirmed, holding that “the claim only entails applying longstanding commercial practices using generic computer components and technology.” ShoppersChoice sought attorney fees, citing evidence that ECT sent standardized demand letters and filed repeat infringement actions to obtain low-value “license fees” and force settlements. Before the court ruled, a California District Court awarded attorney fees against ECT in another case related to the patent. The Federal Circuit vacated a holding that the case was not exceptional. A pattern of litigation abuses characterized by the repeated filing of patent infringement actions for the sole purpose of forcing settlements, with no intention of testing the merits of one’s claims, is relevant to a district court’s exceptional case determination. The court clearly erred by failing to consider the objective unreasonableness of ECT’s alleging infringement of claim 11 against ShoppersChoice. View "Electronic Communication Technologies, LLC v. ShoppersChoice.Com, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied the writ of mandamus sought by a judge seeking to compel a county to pay for his outside legal counsel, holding that the judge was not entitled to compel the county to pay for his lawyer. In 2018, Greene County Probate Judge Thomas O'Diam issued two orders that sought to take control of a courtroom. The orders also sought to compel Greene County to pay for the legal expenses arising from the Greene County Board of Commissioners' failure to comply with the orders. After the Board filed a petition for a writ of prohibition attempting to stop Judge O'Diam's orders from taking effect Judge O'Diam filed the present mandamus action seeking to enforce his orders. The Supreme Court granted the writ of prohibition. At issue in this mandamus proceeding was whether Judge O'Diam was entitled to outside counsel at the County's expense when he did not use the process set forth in Ohio Rev. Code 309.09(A), 305.14(A), and 305.17. The Supreme Court denied the requested writ of mandamus, holding that Judge O'Diam did not follow the statutory process, and therefore, he was not entitled to have the County pay his attorney fees. View "State ex rel. O'Diam v. Greene County Board of Commissioners" on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiffs, African-American voters and the Terrebonne Parish NAACP, filed suit to challenge the electoral method for Louisiana's 32nd Judicial District Court (JDC), alleging that at-large elections for the judges produce discriminatory results, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and have been maintained for a discriminatory purpose in violation of that statute and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The district court upheld both claims and ordered a remedial plan breaking the 32nd JDC into five single-member electoral subdistricts. The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court clearly erred in its finding of minority vote dilution in the election of judges for Terrebonne Parish's 32nd JDC. The court held that the district court erred in holding that weak evidence of vote dilution could overcome the state's substantial interest in linking judicial positions to the judges' parish-wide jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court erroneously equated failed legislative attempts to create subdistricts for the 32nd JDC with a racially discriminatory intent. View "Fusilier v. Landry" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit denied plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The court held that 29 U.S.C. 1132(g)(1) does not provide unfettered discretion to courts to award fees. The court explained that a fees claimant whose only victory was an interlocutory ruling by the Court of Appeals that his complaint should not have been dismissed for failure to state a claim has not received any relief on the merits. In this case, plaintiff persuaded the court to reverse the district court's summary judgment ruling in favor of Humana. If plaintiff achieves some success on the merits on remand, she may then ask for fees. View "Katherine P. v. Humana Health Plan, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Regents after UCSB placed him on interim suspension pending its investigation into an allegation of dating-relationship violence and then delayed completion of the investigation, in violation of its own written policies. The superior court preliminarily enjoined the interim suspension pending completion of the administrative proceedings. Plaintiff was ultimately exonerated in the administrative proceedings. The Superior Court then dismissed plaintiff's action as moot and denied attorney's fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed the order of dismissal, but held that plaintiff satisfied the criteria for an award of attorney fees under section 1021.5. The court agreed with plaintiff that the superior court misinterpreted section 1021.5 by focusing primarily on his personal interest in bringing the litigation, as opposed to the significance of the constitutional due process rights that were enforced, and that this misinterpretation "drove the denial of fees." Accordingly, the court reversed the denial of the fee motion and remanded for a determination of the amount to be awarded. View "Doe v. The Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Their father set up a trust for the benefit of Elizabeth and Thomas, giving the siblings equal interests; if either died without children, the other would receive the remainder of the deceased sibling’s share. Thomas approached Elizabeth after their father's death, wanting to leave a portion of his share to his wife, Polly. In 1998, Elizabeth retained the defendants to terminate the trust; the representation letter made no mention of a life estate for Polly or a subsequent remainder interest for Elizabeth. The settlement agreement did not mention Polly or a life estate, nor did it restrict what either sibling could do with the trust funds. The agreement contained a liability release and stated that it was the only agreement among the parties. In 1999, Elizabeth signed the agreement and the petition to dissolve the trust. In 2000, the probate court granted the petition. Elizabeth and Thomas each received more than a million dollars. Thomas died in 2009 without children; his will devised his assets to Polly. When Polly died in 2015, she left her estate to her children. Elizabeth filed a malpractice claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants, holding that the two-year Indiana statute of limitations began running no later than 2000 and that if Elizabeth had practiced ordinary diligence, she could have discovered then that her wishes had not been followed. View "Ruckelshaus v. Cowan" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to vacate its order disqualifying the Legislative Counsel Bureau Legal Division (LCB Legal) on conflict of interest grounds, holding that the district court erred in applying Nevada Rule of Professional Conduct (RPC) 1.7 to disqualify LCB Legal. The district court granted a motion to disqualify LCB Legal from representing two defendants in the underlying action - Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Senate Secretary Claire Clift (together, Defendants) - on the grounds that LCB Legal's representation of those defendants was directly adverse to another of its clients - the eight Nevada State Senators (collectively, Plaintiffs) who sued Defendants in their official capacities for actions taken on behalf of the Legislature related to the passage of two bills. The Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs lacked standing to move to disqualify LCB Legal because (1) LCB Legal's defense of Defendants was ancillary to its defense of the bills themselves; (2) because Plaintiffs were not similarly acting on the Legislature's behalf in challenging the legislation they were not considered LCB Legal's client; and (3) therefore, Plaintiffs did not have an attorney-client relationship with LCB Legal other than in their roles as members of the Legislature acting on the Legislature's behalf. View "State ex rel. Cannizzaro v. First Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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H. Chase Dearman petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for certiorari review of the Court of Criminal Appeals' decision affirming, without an opinion, the Mobile Circuit Court's order finding Dearman in direct contempt. On August 30, 2018, Dearman, an attorney, was representing James Markese Wright at Wright's probation-revocation hearing before the circuit court. Dearman attempted to make an objection on the record when the court prevented it; the trial judge ejected Dearman from the courtroom and ended proceedings. Dearman filed a motion requesting that the circuit court vacate its August 30, 2018, order and requested a hearing on the matter. In his motion, Dearman alleged that he was not given notice of the specific contemptuous conduct and a reasonable opportunity to present evidence or mitigating circumstances as required under the Alabama Rules of Evidence. The circuit court denied Dearman's motion; the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded for the circuit court to comply with the Rules. After a hearing, at which Dearman was present, the circuit court stated that it found Dearman in direct contempt "because of the challenge [to] judicial authority as shown in the record on appeal" and that Dearman's "behavior necessitated immediate and prompt punishment; i.e., removal from the courtroom." Dearman was then given the opportunity to present evidence or argument regarding excusing or mitigating circumstances. On return to remand, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the circuit court's decision by unpublished memorandum. The Alabama Supreme Court found, after review of the circuit court record, that Dearman was appropriately attempting to prosecute his client's cause. Because the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the circuit court on a record "devoid of any evidence in support of the circuit court's finding Dearman in direct contempt," the appellate court's order conflicted with controlling case law. Judgment was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte H. Chase Dearman." on Justia Law

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UHI and Lavine, its president, sued five defendants for fraudulent transfer. Following a two-day bench trial, the court held that the transfer was made in satisfaction of an antecedent debt, and entered judgment for defendants. The defendants then moved for costs of proof attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 2033.420(a). A different judge awarded one defendant $35,595 in fees. The court of appeal held that the appeal from the judgment was not well taken and affirmed it. The court rejected an argument that a creditor whose debt is time-barred by the governing limitations period no longer has a “right to payment.” The statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that can be waived. The court struck the costs of proof award as improper. A defendant cannot, at the very inception of litigation, at a time when no discovery had taken place, and no deposition, serve requests for admission essentially seeking responses admitting that plaintiff had no case, and then, if plaintiff ultimately proves unsuccessful, recover costs of proof attorney fees. View "Universal Home Improvement, Inc. v. Robertson" on Justia Law