Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal held that Union was eligible for attorney fees under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) for work on the CPRA cross-petition and for attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 for its work opposing the petition for writ of mandate; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that Union met the requirements of Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 for attorney fees; Union was the prevailing party and its action resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest, conferring a significant benefit on the general public; DWP and Intervener Utilities were not exempt from attorney fees on the ground they were the equivalent of an individual who seeks a determination of only his or her own private rights and has done nothing to adversely affect the public interest; and DWP and Intervener Utilities sought far more than a simple determination of the privacy rights of a few customers. The court also held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that attorney fees were warranted for Union's initial "collusion" claims; the trial court abused its discretion in denying fees for Union's work preparing the reply briefs; the court need not and did not reach the issues in Union's "protective" cross-appeal; DWP and Intervener Utilities had standing; and the court declined Union's suggestion to find reverse-CPRA actions impermissible. Accordingly, the court affirmed with modifications. View "City of Los Angeles v. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the recommended sanctions of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) concerning misconduct by Judge Robin C. Lemonidis of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit, accepted a stipulation entered into by Judge Lemonidis and the JQC, and commanded Judge Lemonidis to appear before the Court for the administration of a public reprimand. This case arose from Judge Lemonidis's conduct in two incidents that occurred in two unrelated proceedings. The JQC charged Judge Lemonidis with violating the Code of Judicial Conduct and proposed that a public reprimand and continued participation in stress management counseling were appropriate sanctions. The parties executed a stipulation, in which Judge Lemonidis admitted to the conduct and accepted the recommended discipline. The Supreme Court concluded that the JQC's findings were supported by clear and convincing evidence and approved the JQC's recommended discipline and the parties' stipulation. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Robin C. Lemonidis" on Justia Law

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Insurance executive Menzies sold over $64 million in his company’s stock but did not report any capital gains on his 2006 federal income tax return. He alleges that his underpayment of capital gains taxes (and related penalties and interest imposed by the IRS) was because of a fraudulent tax shelter peddled to him and others by a lawyer, law firm, and financial services firms. Menzies brought claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and Illinois law. The district court dismissed all claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part. Menzies’s RICO claim falls short on the statute’s pattern-of-racketeering element. Menzies failed to plead not only the particulars of how the defendants marketed the same or a similar tax shelter to other taxpayers, but also facts to support a finding that the alleged racketeering activity would continue. A fraudulent tax shelter scheme can violate RICO; the shortcoming here is one of pleading and it occurred after the district court authorized discovery to allow Menzies to develop his claims. Menzies’s Illinois state law claims were untimely as to the lawyer and law firm defendants. The claims against the remaining financial services defendants can proceed. View "Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP" on Justia Law

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In these three judicial misconduct proceedings, the Supreme Court held that three judges engaged in judicial misconduct by appearing in public in an intoxicated state and behaving in an injudicious manner and by becoming involved in a verbal altercation. The Supreme Court issued a single opinion for all three cases because the misconduct charges stemmed from the same incident. The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed charges against Respondents after an evening of drinking led to a physical altercation and two judges being shot. One judge was criminally charged and convicted after the altercation. Respondents agreed that their respective conduct violated several provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The Supreme Court found that Respondents engaged in judicial misconduct and ordered that each judge be suspended from the office of judge without pay for thirty days. View "In re Honorable Andrew Adams" on Justia Law

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LHO's Chicago hotel underwent a branding change in February 2014 when the establishment became “Hotel Chicago,” a signature Marriott venue. Around May 2016, Perillo and his associated entities opened their own “Hotel Chicago” three miles from LHO’s site. LHO sued for trademark infringement and unfair competition under the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1125(a), and for trademark infringement and deceptive trade practices under Illinois law. After more than a year, LHO moved to voluntarily dismiss its claims, with prejudice. Defendants made a post‐judgment request for attorney fees, 15 U.S.C. 1117(a), for the prevailing party in “exceptional cases.” The parties identified two distinct standards for exceptionality: the Seventh Circuit’s standard, that a case is exceptional under section 1117(a) if the decision to bring the claim constitutes an “abuse of process” and the more relaxed totality‐of‐the‐circumstances approach under the Patent Act that the Supreme Court announced in Octane Fitness (2014). Other circuits have extended Octane to the Lanham Act. The district judge acknowledged Octane but adhered to the “abuse‐of‐process” standard and declined to award fees. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that Octane’s “exceptional case” standard controls. The court noted the legislative history, the Patent Act’s identical language, and the Supreme Court’s use of trademark law in Oc‐ tane View "LHO Chicago River, L.L.C. v. Perillo" on Justia Law

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McCurry worked at an Illinois warehouse owned by Mars, the candy maker, and operated by Kenco, a management firm. In 2015 Kenco lost its contract with Mars and laid off its Mars employees, including McCurry. A year later, she filed two “rambling” pro se complaints accusing Kenco, Mars, and several of her supervisors of discriminating against her based on her race, sex, age, and disability and claiming that Kenco and Mars conspired to violate her civil rights. The district court dismissed some of the claims. The defendants moved for summary judgment on the rest. McCurry’s response violated Local Rule 7.1(D)(2)(b)(6), under which the failure to properly respond to a numbered fact in an opponent’s statement of facts “will be deemed an admission of the fact.” Where McCurry did respond, she frequently simply stated that she “objected” to the statement without stating a basis for her objection. The judge accepted the defendants’ factual submissions as admitted and entered judgment in their favor. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. McCurry did not challenge the judge’s decision to enforce the local summary-judgment rule. As a result, the uncontested record contains no evidence to support a viable discrimination or conspiracy claim. The court called the appeal “utterly frivolous and McCurry’s monstrosity of an appellate brief” incoherent, and ordered her appellate lawyer to show cause why he should not be sanctioned or otherwise disciplined. View "McCurry v. Kenco Logistic Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Gaetanos run a cannabis dispensary. After a failed business transaction, a third party sued the Gaetanos and their attorney, Goodman, and filed a disciplinary complaint against Goodman. An ethics inquiry uncovered multiple violations. Goodman lost his license to practice law. The Gaetanos severed their relationship with him. The IRS later audited the Gaetanos’ tax returns and contacted Goodman for assistance. Goodman threatened the Gaetanos that unless they gave him a “significant down-payment” he would see them “take[n] down”. They did not oblige, Goodman sent menacing emails. The Gaetanos contacted the IRS. Goodman assured the IRS that his information was not privileged but was obtained through on-line searches and a private investigator; he discussed several aspects of the Gaetanos’ business. Goodman then taunted the Gaetanos, who again notified the IRS. The Gaetanos filed suit, seeking to stop the government from discussing privileged information with Goodman and requiring it to destroy attorney-client confidences. The IRS asserted that the court lacked jurisdiction, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a). The Sixth Circuit agreed that the Act bars the lawsuit; the “Williams Packing” exception does not apply. The exception requires that the taxpayer show that under no circumstances could the government prevail against their claims and that “equity jurisdiction otherwise exists.” The Gaetanos have not identified any privileged information that Goodman provided to the IRS and have adequate remedies at law. View "Gaetano v. United States" on Justia Law

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A law firm challenged the government's use of a "Filter Team" — created ex parte by a magistrate judge in the District of Maryland and comprised of federal agents and prosecutors — to inspect privileged attorney-client materials. The district court denied the law firm's request to enjoin the Filter Team's review of seized materials. The Fourth Circuit held that the use of the Filter Team was improper because the Team's creation inappropriately assigned judicial functions to the executive branch, the Team was approved in ex parte proceedings prior to the search and seizures, and the use of the Team contravened foundational principles that protect attorney-client relationships. Therefore, the court held that injunctive relief was warranted and the district court abused its discretion by failing to enjoin the Filter Team's review of the materials. The court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Under Seal" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's orders affirming the bankruptcy court's award of monetary sanctions pursuant to its inherent power. Appellant filed a Chapter 7 petition in bankruptcy court for his client but ultimately failed to prosecute the case. The bankruptcy court then issued multiple orders to show cause, which appellant failed to comply with, and then the bankruptcy court ultimately sanctioned him. The court held, as a matter of first impression, that bankruptcy courts possess inherent power to sanction attorneys in appropriate circumstances. In this case, appellant's challenges to the bankruptcy court's exercise of that power failed for the reasons set forth in a separately-filed summary order. View "In re: Alba Sanchez" on Justia Law

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Atwood pleaded guilty to federal drug crimes. The presentencing report calculated a Guidelines range of 188-235 months. Judge Bruce sentenced Atwood to 210 months’ imprisonment, citing the 3553(a) factors and stating, "if I have made a mistake in the guideline calculations … my sentence would still be the same.” It later became known that while Atwood’s case was pending, Judge Bruce engaged in extensive ex parte communication with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about other cases. Bruce had been a federal prosecutor at that Office before his appointment to the judiciary. A newspaper exposed that communication and published emails. Judge Bruce was removed from cases involving the Office. The ex parte communications never explicitly mentioned Atwood’s case. The Seventh Circuit Judicial Council found no evidence that Bruce’s improper communications actually affected his decision in any case but stated that his actions violated the Code of Conduct. Bruce remained unassigned to any case involving the Office until September 2019. The Seventh Circuit vacated Atwood’s sentence and remanded for resentencing by a different judge. The federal recusal statute, 28 U.S.C. 455(a), requires a judge to recuse himself from any proceeding in which his impartiality may reasonably be questioned. The disclosure of the ex parte correspondence invited doubt about Bruce's impartiality in proceedings involving the Office. Because of the judge’s broad discretion in sentencing, Bruce’s failure to recuse himself was not harmless error. View "United States v. Atwood" on Justia Law