Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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In 2016, Hill pleaded no contest to felony possession of a firearm by a convicted felon (case CR940896). The court suspended imposition of sentence and placed Hill on three years' felony probation. In 2019, a Clearlake police officer noticed Hill outside of a liquor store, approached, obtained Hill’s name, and conducted a records check, which revealed that Hill was on postrelease community supervision. As the officer returned, Hill “produced” a knife and placed it on a pole. Hill said he needed the knife “for protection” and that he had it shoved down his sleeve. Hill pleaded no contest to concealing a dirk or dagger (case CR953084) and admitted a probation violation in case CR940896. The plea was open with a maximum possible sentence of 32t months.The trial court revoked his probation in case CR940896 and sentenced Hill in both cases to an aggregate term of 32 months. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Hill’s argument that his attorney was ineffective for failing to request a hearing on his eligibility for mental health diversion under Penal Code section 1001.36. Because Hill’s appeal did not attack the validity of his plea but challenged the court’s sentencing discretion relating to section 1001.36, no certificate of probable cause was required. Hill's counsel was not deficient in failing to request an eligibility hearing nor was Hill prejudiced by counsel’s failure to do so. View "People v. Hill" on Justia Law

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In 2005-2007, Merchant purchased Michigan hotel properties from NRB and financed the purchases through NRB, using corporate entities as the buyers. Merchant sold interests in those entities to investors. The hotels had been appraised at inflated amounts and sold for about twice their fair values. When the corporate entities defaulted on their loan payments, NRB foreclosed in 2009. Merchant claimed that NRB’s executives colluded with an appraiser to sell overvalued real estate to unsuspecting purchasers, wait for default, foreclose, and then repeat the process.In 2010, an investor sued Merchant, Merchant’s companies, NRB, and 12 others for investor fraud. In 2014 the FDIC took NRB into receivership and substituted for NRB as a defendant. Merchant and his companies brought a cross-complaint, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state laws. A Fifth Amended Cross-Complaint raised 14 counts against 10 defendants, including two law firms that provided NRB’s legal work. The district court dismissed several counts; others remain active.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims against the law firms. The counts under state law are untimely under Illinois’s statute of repose. The cross-complaint effectively admits that one firm played no role in NRB’s alleged fraud perpetrated against Merchant in 2005-2007. The cross-complaint failed to allege that either law firm conducted or participated in the activities of a RICO enterprise; neither firm could be liable under 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). View "Muskegan Hotels, LLC v. Patel" on Justia Law

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James-Cornelius sought compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, alleging that her 17-year-old son, E.J., had suffered dysautonomia, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and other symptoms as a result of receiving three shots of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil®. While there are no records of medical visits between his first and second vaccinations, the records document his medical visits, symptoms, and diagnoses after his third vaccination. The petition identified medical articles hypothesizing that HPV vaccines can cause dysautonomia and POTS and alleged that the increasing severity of his symptoms is “evidence of re-challenge” and that the pattern of worsening reactions is “strongly probative of a causal relationship” between the vaccine and E.J.’s symptoms, some of which were listed as potential Gardasil® side effects.James-Cornelius unsuccessfully attempted to obtain medical records relating to urgent care visits that she believed occurred before E.J.’s second vaccination. She eventually dismissed her petition, explaining that “she [would] likely be unable to prove" entitlement to compensation. James-Cornelius sought $17,111.12 in attorneys’ fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. 300aa-15(e)(1), asserting that she had filed her petition in good faith and with a reasonable basis. . The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of the petition. The Special Master failed to consider relevant objective evidence. E.J.’s medical records support for James-Cornelius’s reasonable basis claim even without an express medical opinion on causation. The Special Master erroneously concluded that petitioners’ affidavits are categorically “not ‘objective" for evaluating reasonable basis. View "James-Cornelius v. Secretary of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a property tax refund action brought by Chinese Theatres against the County. After remanding to the Los Angeles County Assessment Appeals Board to reduce the value of real property owned by Chinese Theatres and to correct the tax roll, the trial court awarded Chinese Theatres attorney fees under Revenue and Taxation Code section 1611.6.The Court of Appeal reversed the postjudgment order awarding Chinese Theatres fees, holding that Chinese Theatres was not entitled to attorney fees under section 1611.6. The court explained that, under a plain reading of section 1611.6, attorney fees are permitted in a tax refund action where: (1) a county board fails to make requested findings; or (2) the court concludes the board's findings are so deficient that it remands the matter with directions for the board to make findings that "fairly disclose [its] determination" on the point at issue, including a "statement of the method or methods of valuation used in appraising the property." In this case, neither of these circumstances exists and thus Chinese Theatres is not entitled to attorney fees under section 1611.6. View "Chinese Theatres, LLC v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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The trustees of the Delaware Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection (the “LFCP”) requested an advisory opinion from the Delaware Supreme Court regarding whether the trustees had discretion to consider paying claims involving misconduct by attorneys who were not members of the Delaware bar, but who were admitted pro hac vice or who had in the past received limited permission to practice. The question arose from the language of Supreme Court Rule 66(a)(ii), which stated that the purpose of the trust fund was to address “losses caused to the public by defalcations of members of the Bar;” subsections 1 and 2 of Rule 4(1) of the LFCP Rules, which provide that the Trustees will consider for reimbursement from the fund certain claims involving “a member of the Delaware Bar;” and subsection 3 of Rule 4(1) of the LFCP Rules, which provides that the trustees will consider for reimbursement certain claims involving a “member of the Bar.” The Supreme Court held that the trustees’ discretion was not limited to paying claims for reimbursement involving an attorney who was a member of the Delaware bar at the time of the defalcation that gave rise to the claim. View "IN RE: Request of the Trustees of the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection for an Advisory Opinion" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, trustees and beneficiaries of a trust established in 1982 by their now deceased parents, filed suit against Alice, Shahen, and Arthur Minassian, asserting four causes of action arising out of alleged fraudulent transfers. The trial court sustained defendants' demurrers to two causes of action and plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the remaining causes of action.The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that plaintiffs pleaded facts sufficient to constitute a fraudulent transfer cause of action under Civil Code section 3439.04, subdivision (a)(1). In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Shahen made the subject transfers with an actual intent to hinder, delay or defraud any creditor of the debtor within the meaning of the Uniform Voidable Transactions Act, and alleged with particularity the existence of several badges of fraud. Furthermore, the litigation privilege does not bar plaintiffs' cause of action. In regard to plaintiffs' third cause of action against Arthur for aiding and abetting Shahen's fraudulent transfer, the court held that Arthur was not entitled to immunity for his involvement in the sham divorce and fraudulent scheme, and rejected Arthur's argument that he is protected by the litigation privilege; even if plaintiffs had alleged an attorney-client conspiracy, the allegations are sufficient to satisfy the exception to the pre-filing requirement under section 1714.10, subdivision (c); and the disclosed agent is inapplicable in this case. View "Aghaian v. Minassian" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Shahrokh Mireskandari alleged four causes of action against Joseph Scoma, M.D., based on the reports and opinions Scoma provided at the request of a disciplinary tribunal in London, England, as part of the tribunal’s formal proceedings involving Mireskandari, his legal practice, and his license to practice law in the United Kingdom. Mireskandari qualified as a solicitor in 2000, and by 2006 he was the managing partner of a London firm with mostly “black, minority, or ethnic origin” (BME) solicitors and staff. In 2007, Mireskandari publicly disclosed to a member of Parliament problems BME solicitors experienced “at the hands of the Legal Society of England and Wales (‘LSE’) and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (‘SRA’).” In retaliation, the LSE/SRA began a campaign to discredit Mireskandari: the LSE/SRA hired a Los Angeles law firm; a paralegal working for the firm obtained Mireskandari's education records; and within two weeks of being advised of those records, LSE/SRA launched an investigation into his “educational and work background.” More than two years later, in early April 2011, the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) “initiated the proceedings against [Mireskandari] regarding the intervention of [Mireskandari’s] legal practice and his license to practice law in the United Kingdom” (SDT proceedings). At that time, Mireskandari travelled to California. He became seriously ill and requested that the SDT proceedings be adjourned. In support of his request, Mireskandari submitted evidence from California physicians of his illness, his inability to travel to England, and his inability to participate in the SDT proceedings. In response, at the request of the LSE/SRA, the SDT appointed Scoma “as an independent expert (not the expert of the LSE/SRA),” who reported back to the LSE/SRA "I see no reason why he is unable to travel by plane from the USA to the UK.’ ” Based on the SDT proceedings, the SDT struck Mireskandari from the roll of solicitors, thereby preventing him from practicing law in the United Kingdom. This resulted in the permanent closing of the law firm of which he was a partner. Mireskandari suffered damages in excess of $500 million. The trial court sustained without leave to amend Scoma’s demurrer to the complaint and entered judgment in favor of Scoma and against Mireskandari. On the record presented by Mireskandari, the California Court of Appeal found California’s litigation privilege (codified at Civil Code section 47) barred each of Mireskandari’s causes of action. Thus, the Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Mireskandari v. Gallagher" on Justia Law

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O’Donnell, represented by attorney Horn, challenged the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) denial of her application for disability insurance benefits. A magistrate remanded the case, awarding O’Donnell $7,493.06 in Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(b), fees, paid to Horn. On remand, an ALJ found that O’Donnell was disabled. SSA determined that she was eligible for benefits dating back several months and withheld 25% of O’Donnell’s past-due benefits, $14,515.37, for possible future payment of fees under 42 U.S.C. 406(a), which authorizes SSA to award a “reasonable fee” to persons who successfully represent claimants in administrative proceedings.Horn filed an unopposed motion for authorization to collect $14,515.37 in section 406(b) fees; having already received the $7,493.06 EAJA award, Horn proposed to keep the EAJA fee, with SSA to pay the balance ($7,022.31), leaving $7,493.06 with SSA for future payment of section 406(a) fees. The magistrate’s order stated that Horn was awarded $14,515.37 under section 406(b), payable by the SSA from the past-due benefits and that “Horn will refund" to O'Donnell $7,493.06, equal to the EAJA award, so that Horn would have to look to O’Donnell, not SSA, to satisfy any future section 406(a) fees. An ALJ subsequently awarded Horn $4,925.21 under section 406(a); he had to seek that amount from O’Donnell. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. No statute requires that the court order netting; the Savings Provision contemplates a refund by the attorney. View "O'Donnell v. Saul" on Justia Law

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When a plaintiff requests entry of judgment by default, a request for attorney fees must be made at the same time or the fees are forfeited. But attorney fees are not forfeited absent such request when defendant contests a default judgment.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's denial of plaintiff's motion for attorney fees in her lawsuit against defendants. The court concluded, among other things, that plaintiff was not entitled to attorney fees incurred for the period before she obtained the default judgment against defendants because she did not include a request for fees at the time the default judgment was entered. However, the trial court erred by denying attorney fees for plaintiff's successful post-judgment efforts to respond to and defeat defendants' motions to vacate the default judgment. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Vincent v. Sonkey" on Justia Law

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On remand from the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit reaffirmed the district court's order granting CFPB's petition to enforce the law firm's compliance with the Bureau's civil investigative demand (CID) requiring the firm to produce documents and answer interrogatories. The Supreme Court held that the statute establishing the CFPB violated the Constitution's separation of powers by placing leadership of the agency in the hands of a single Director who could be removed only for cause. The Court concluded, however, that the for-cause removal provision could be severed from the rest of the statute and thus did not require invalidation of the agency itself.The panel concluded that the CID was validly ratified, but the panel need not decide whether that occurred through the actions of Acting Director Mulvaney. After the Supreme Court's ruling, the CFPB's current Director expressly ratified the agency's earlier decisions to issue the civil investigative demand to the law firm, to deny the firm's request to modify or set aside the CID, and to file a petition requesting that the district court enforce the CID. The new Director knew that the President could remove her with or without cause, and nonetheless ratified the agency's issuance of the CID. Therefore, this ratification remedies any constitutional injury that the law firm may have suffered due to the manner in which the CFPB was originally structured. The panel explained that the law firm's only cognizable injury arose from the fact that the agency issued the CID and pursued its enforcement while headed by a Director who was improperly insulated from the President's removal authority. The panel concluded that any concerns that the law firm might have had about being subjected to investigation without adequate presidential oversight and control have now been resolved. The panel rejected the law firm's remaining contentions. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Seila Law LLC" on Justia Law