Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Alaska Supreme Court granted the Office of Public Advocacy’s (OPA) petition for review of whether counsel provided through Alaska Legal Service Corporation’s (ALSC) pro bono program was counsel “provided by a public agency” within the meaning of Flores v. Flores, 598 P.2d 890 (Alaska 1979) and OPA’s enabling statute. The Supreme Court concluded such counsel was indeed “provided by a public agency” and affirmed the superior court’s order appointing OPA to represent an indigent parent in a child custody case. View "Office of Public Advocacy v. Berezkin f/n/a Smith et al." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a petition sought by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for expedited consideration and report of uncontested sanction following its investigation of complaints against Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne, holding that Judge Bourne's conduct warranted sanctions.Several complaints involving two counts were filed against Judge Bourne involving his conduct toward unrepresented litigants. Judge Bourne did not contest either count, waived a formal disciplinary hearing, and accepted the investigatory panel's recommended sanction of suspension without pay for ninety days, with seventy-five days held in abeyance for one year. The commission accepted the recommended sanction. The Supreme Court suspended Judge Bourne from the bench without pay for ninety days with seventy-five days held in abeyance if he agrees to, among other things, never again to hold judicial office after his current term expires, ordering that the mandate shall issue immediately. View "Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission v. Bourne" on Justia Law

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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the terms of a settlement resulted in a de facto assignment of a corporation's theoretical legal malpractice claim to Amit Shah by using the corporation as his alter ego, holding that there was no error.In 2013, Shah and another minority shareholder of Duro, Inc. brought this action against Duro and its third shareholder, alleging money laundering and racketeering. In 2015, Plaintiffs added a shareholder derivative claim of legal malpractice, nominally on behalf of Duro, against a law firm and its attorneys (May Oberfell), who had represented Defendants in the case. In 2017, Plaintiffs settled their claims, preserving any claims Duro might have against May Oberfell. Shah subsequently took effective control of Duro and transferred all of Duro's assets except the legal malpractice claim. Thereafter, Shah, through Duro, filed a complaint against May Oberfell. The district court granted summary judgment for May Oberfell, concluding that the legal malpractice claim had undergone a "de facto" assignment, and therefore, the claim was barred under Indiana law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that May Oberfell was entitled to summary judgment. View "Duro, Inc. v. Walton" on Justia Law

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Appellant a Chapter 7 debtor, was disbarred by the California Supreme Court in 2014 for violations of the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct and the California Business and Professions Code. The California Supreme Court ordered Appellant to pay restitution to 56 former clients, costs for his disciplinary proceedings, and any funds that would eventually be paid out by the State Bar’s Client Security Fund (CSF) to victims of his conduct. Appellant subsequently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and received a discharge.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the bankruptcy court’s judgment. Reversing in part, the court held that the indebtedness arising from the attorney’s obligation to reimburse the State Bar for the payments made to victims of his misconduct was not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(7), which provides that a debtor is not discharged from any debt that “is for a fine, penalty, or forfeiture payable to and for the benefit of a governmental unit, and is not compensation for actual pecuniary loss.” Considering the totality of the Client Security Fund program, the court concluded that any reimbursement to the Fund was payable to and for the benefit of the State Bar and was compensation for the Fund’s actual pecuniary loss in compensating the victims for their actual pecuniary losses. Affirming in part the court held that, pursuant to In re Findley, 593 F.3d 1048 (9th Cir. 2010), the costs associated with the attorney’s disciplinary proceedings were nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(7). View "ANTHONY KASSAS V. STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA" on Justia Law

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Robert Bolinske appealed the dismissal of his claims against former Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom and former District Court Judge Gail Hagerty (“State Defendants”) and awarding them attorney’s fees. In October 2016, Bolinske alleged in a press release that the State Defendants conspired to misfile or hide a petition for supervisory writ that he submitted in a prior case and thus tampered with public records. A few days after this press release, Rob Port published an article on his “Say Anything” blog regarding Bolinske’s press release. The article stated Port contacted Sandstrom and quoted Sandstrom as having said Bolinske’s press release was “bizarre and rather sad” and that “[a]lthough I’ve been aware of his mental health problems for years, I don’t recall ever having seen anything in his email before.” Three days after the article was published, Hagerty filed a grievance complaint against Bolinske, alleging he violated the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct. Based on the complaint, a disciplinary action was brought against Bolinske. The Inquiry Committee found Bolinske violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and issued him an admonition. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court affirmed, and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding his procedural due process rights were not violated. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Bolinske’s complaint in part, concluding the district court properly dismissed Bolinske’s claims of procedural and substantive due process, civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, governmental bad faith, and tortious outrage. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding the district court erred by dismissing the defamation claim under the statute of limitations. The award of attorney’s fees was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bolinske v. Sandstrom, et al." on Justia Law

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Realtime filed patent infringement actions against Netflix in the District of Delaware. While that action was ongoing, Netflix filed petitions for inter partes review (IPR) and moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing patent ineligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101. Following the institution of the IPR proceedings and a recommendation from the Delaware magistrate finding certain claims ineligible, Realtime voluntarily dismissed the Delaware action—before the district court ruled on the magistrate’s findings. The next day, Realtime reasserted the same patents against Netflix in the Central District of California—despite having previously informed the Delaware court that transferring the Delaware action to the Northern District of California would be an unfair burden on Realtime. Netflix then moved for attorneys’ fees and to transfer the actions back to Delaware. Before a decision on either motion, Realtime again voluntarily dismissed its case.Netflix renewed its motion for attorneys’ fees for the California actions, the Delaware action, and IPR proceedings. The district court awarded fees for both California actions under 35 U.S.C. 285, and, alternatively, the court’s inherent equitable powers. The court declined to award fees for the Delaware action or IPR proceedings The Federal Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees under its inherent equitable powers or in denying fees for the related proceedings The court did not address whether the award satisfies section 285's requirements. View "Realtime Adaptive Streaming LLC v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law

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Attorney Dennise Henderson violated several local court rules governing the timely service and filing of materials preparatory to trial. As a result, the trial court sanctioned her $950 under Code of Civil Procedure section 575.2. The trial court could have imposed a higher amount and was generous in awarding only an amount below that required to be reported by the State Bar. Nonetheless, Henderson appealed, challenging the legal basis for the sanctions on two grounds: (1) a superior court’s power to impose sanctions for violations of its local rules did not extend to violations of local rules regulating the conduct of trial; and (2) she could not be sanctioned for violating local court rules because the trial court exonerated her of acting in bad faith. The Court of Appeal rejected both arguments because the statute by its terms was not limited to pre-trial proceedings and the Legislature did not incorporate, expressly or otherwise, the section 128.5 bad faith standard into section 575.2. View "Shiheiber v. JPMorgan Chase Bank" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from mass litigation between thousands of corn producers and an agricultural company (Syngenta). On one track, corn producers filed individual suits against Syngenta; on the second, other corn producers sued through class actions. The appellants were some of the corn producers who took the first track, filing individual actions. (the “Kellogg farmers.”) The Kellogg farmers alleged that their former attorneys had failed to disclose the benefits of participating as class members, resulting in excessive legal fees and exclusion from class proceedings. These allegations led the Kellogg farmers to sue the attorneys who had provided representation or otherwise assisted in these cases. The suit against the attorneys included claims of common-law fraud, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO) and Minnesota’s consumer-protection statutes, and breach of fiduciary duty. While this suit was pending in district court, Syngenta settled the class actions and thousands of individual suits, including those brought by the Kellogg farmers. The settlement led to the creation of two pools of payment by Syngenta: one pool for a newly created class consisting of all claimants, the other pool for those claimants’ attorneys. For this settlement, the district court allowed the Kellogg farmers to participate in the new class and to recover on an equal basis with all other claimants. The settlement eliminated any economic injury to the Kellogg farmers, so the district court dismissed the RICO and common-law fraud claims. The court not only dismissed these claims but also assessed monetary sanctions against the Kellogg farmers. The farmers appealed certain district court decisions, but finding that there was no reversible error or that it lacked jurisdiction to review certain decisions, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Reid & Hellyer, APC (Reid & Hellyer) moved for sanctions against plaintiff Transcon Financial, Inc. (Transcon) and its counsel, Ronald Talkov. Reid & Hellyer filed two motions, one under California Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 and one under section 128.7. Transcon and Talkov appealed the orders granting the sanctions motions. After review, the Court of Appeal held the trial court erred by concluding that the sanctions motions could be filed on the last day of the 21-day safe harbor period, rather than on the first day after the 21-day period expired. Reid & Hellyer filed their sanctions motions on the last day of the 21-day period and therefore did not comply with the safe harbor provisions of the governing statutes. The trial court therefore erred by granting the motions. View "Transcon Financial, Inc. v. Reid & Hellyer, APC" on Justia Law

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Petitioner was ordered to be removed from the United States in absentia on June 23, 2006. On August 26, 2019, Petitioner, represented by counsel, filed a motion to reopen the removal proceedings and rescind the in-absentia removal order. The immigration judge (“IJ”) denied that motion, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) affirmed. Petitioner petitioned the court to review that affirmance, arguing that the BIA erred in determining that she was not entitled to equitable tolling of the statutory deadline for filing a motion to reopen because, although she had shown exceptional circumstances, she had not shown that she had pursued her rights diligently.   The Fifth Circuit denied Petitioner’s petition to reopen. The court explained that it has authority to review only the final decision of the BIA unless the underlying decision of the IJ influenced the BIA’s decision. Here, the court explained that even accepting arguendo that Petitioner was prevented from participating in the 2006 proceedings or seeking that they are reopened by her abusive partner and that she was traumatized and unable to seek legal help for some time after escaping the abuse, Petitioner admits that she obtained legal representation—from the very same lawyer representing her here—more than two years before filing her motion to reopen the removal proceedings. Thus, the court cannot conclude that the BIA abused its discretion in finding that Petitioner failed to act with reasonable diligence in pursuing her rights. View "Masin-Ventura v. Garland" on Justia Law