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Kansas distinguishes between legal malpractice claims: some sound in contract, others sound in tort. Plaintiff Cory Sylvia sued his former attorneys, James Wisler and David Trevino, for legal malpractice allegedly sounding in tort and breach of contract arising from their representation of Sylvia in a suit for wrongful termination against Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (“Goodyear”), his former employer. Later, Sylvia amended his complaint to add as a defendant Xpressions, L.C. (“Xpressions”), a limited liability company formerly known as the Wisler Law Office, L.C. Sylvia’s initial complaint characterized his claims as sounding both in tort and in contract. Specifically, he faulted: (1) both individual defendants for failing to include in, or to later amend, his complaint to aver a workers’ compensation retaliation claim; and (2) solely Wisler for voluntarily dismissing Sylvia’s case on the erroneous belief that all claims could be refiled, causing one of his claims to become barred by the statute of limitations. For each of these claims, Sylvia advanced both tort and contract theories of liability. This case presented a difficult question of Kansas law for the Tenth Circuit's review: when do legal malpractice claims involving a failure to act sound in tort rather than contract? After review, the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and vacated in part the district court’s judgment dismissing Sylvia’s tort-based legal malpractice claims. However, regarding the district court’s grant of summary judgment for the defendants on the breach of contract claims, the Court affirmed. View "Sylvia v. Wisler" on Justia Law

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This case was a direct appeal in a judicial discipline case that resulted in Appellant Dawn Segal's removal from office as a municipal court judge in Philadelphia. In 2014, amidst a federal investigation encompassing electronic surveillance of telephone conversations in which she participated, Appellant reported to the Judicial Conduct Board (the “Board”) that she had ex parte communications with then-fellow- Municipal Court Judge Joseph Waters about several cases that were pending before her. FBI agents and federal prosecutors interviewed Appellant on several occasions, ultimately playing tapes of the intercepted conversations. The Board, which had already opened an investigation into the matter, proceeded to lodge a complaint against Appellant in the Court of Judicial Discipline (the “CJD”). The Board asserted violations of the then-prevailing Canons of Judicial Conduct, including Canon 2B, Canon 3A(4), Canon 3B(3), and Canon 3C(1). A federal prosecution of Waters was initiated, and he entered a negotiated guilty plea to mail fraud, and honest service wire fraud. Shortly thereafter, Appellant (through counsel) self-reported to the Board that she and Waters had had ex parte communications concerning pending cases. The correspondence stated that Appellant had not previously made these disclosures to the Board on account of a request from federal authorities to maintain confidentiality. In March 2015, the Board filed its complaint with the CJD. Finding the sanction imposed by the CJD as lawful, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined it lacked authority to disapprove it. As such, the CJD's decision was affirmed. View "In Re: Dawn Segal, Judge" on Justia Law

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Appellant Angeles Roca served as a common pleas judge in the family division of the First Judicial District, Philadelphia County. Her term overlapped with those of former Philadelphia Municipal Court Judges Joseph Waters and Dawn Segal. During this period, the FBI was investigating Waters’ activities; the investigation included wiretap surveillance of his telephone communications. Several conversations between Waters and Appellant were recorded in 2011 and 2012. In 2012, Appellant asked Waters for advice on how her son, Ian Rexach, should proceed relative to a tax judgment. Appellant learned that Segal would not be presiding over these types of petitions after June 29, 2012; seeking to ensure that Segal presided over her son’s petition, Appellant called Waters to encourage him to intervene. Segal reviewed the petition for reconsideration and issued a rule to show cause why the relief requested should not be granted. Although Segal did not preside over Rexach’s case thereafter, she called Waters to advise him that she “took care of it” and to “tell her it’s done.” Waters called Appellant and discussed the matter, confirming that it had been “taken care of” by Segal. A default judgment against Rexach was ultimately vacated and the case against him was withdrawn upon his payment of $477 in taxes. In 2015, the Judicial Conduct Board sent Appellant informal letters of inquiry concerning her contacts with other judges. At the time, Appellant was unaware that her conversations with Waters had been recorded. In her written responses, Appellant made several representations which were inconsistent with the content of the recorded phone conversations. In 2016, the Board filed an amended complaint with the CJD alleging that Appellant had violated Article V, Sections 17(b) and 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution, as well as several provisions of Pennsylvania’s former Code of Judicial Conduct (the “Code”). On appeal, Appellant alleged that the CJD’s removal-and-bar sanction was unduly harsh under the circumstances. She requestd a lesser penalty. In this respect, Appellant maintained, first, that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was not bound by a state constitutional provision, which limited the Court's review of the sanction imposed by the CJD to whether it was lawful. In the alternative, Appellant proffered that the punishment was not lawful because it was inconsistent with prior decisions in cases where the misconduct was not extreme. The Supreme Court found the penalty imposed by the CJD was lawful. That being the case, the Court lacked authority to overturn it. View "In Re: Angeles Roca, Judge" on Justia Law

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DeKelaita provided legal representation for immigrants applying for asylum under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(A). Applicants for asylum must sit for an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer and must provide a translator if one is needed. DeKelaita’s clients were primarily Assyrian or Chaldean Christians from Muslim‐ruled countries, such as Iraq. Many had suffered persecution, but their eligibility was doubtful because they either had already found refuge in another county or their history failed to meet the requirements for asylum. For at least nine clients, DeKelaita concealed evidence that the applicant had obtained legal status in a safe country or fabricated information about persecution. At the interview DeKelaita was able to ensure that applicants stuck to the script by coaching interpreters. He was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government and for three false statements he either made or induced on his final (Albqal’s) application. The court vacated the three convictions related to Albqal’s application. The jury unanimously found only one false statement in Albqal’s application, but the court ruled that this statement was immaterial to his receipt of asylum. The court concluded that the government had failed to prove an element of the substantive crimes, leaving only the conspiracy conviction, which the Seventh Circuit affirmed. DeKelaita argued that the government failed to prove an overarching conspiracy. The jury had sufficient evidence to convict DeKelaita for either the charged conspiracy or a subsection of it. View "United States v. Dekelaita" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the New Jersey Supreme Court considered whether an attorney’s pledge of anticipated attorney’s fees could be considered an account receivable and secured under Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and whether the lender here complied with the requirements of the UCC to perfect its security interest. Plaintiff John Giovanni Granata retained Diane Acciavatti to bring a legal malpractice complaint against defendants Edward Broderick Jr., and Broderick, Newmark, & Grather. Acciavatti accepted a $10,000 retainer and agreed to a contingent fee arrangement. After a jury trial, Granata was awarded a judgment of $1,597,193, and the trial judge granted Acciavatti’s motions for fees, costs, and pre-judgment interest. Defendants appealed, and Granata cross-appealed. Acciavatti had an oral agreement with Granata to represent him at $350 per hour and told him she would seek counsel fees from defendants after the appeal. While the appeal was pending, Acciavatti withdrew from the practice of law. Dominic Caruso was appointed attorney-trustee for Acciavatti’s practice, and the firm of Roper & Twardowsky, LLC (the Roper firm), filed a substitution of counsel form for Acciavatti. The Appellate Division reversed and remanded for a new trial. Following a two-day mediation, the case settled for $840,000. Three of Acciavatti’s creditors then claimed liens upon any legal fees owed to her from the case. The appellate panel considered whether Acciavatti possessed an interest in her anticipated legal fees and whether one of her creditor's UCC filing granted it a perfected interest in those fees. The panel reasoned that, “[i]f both questions [we]re answered in the affirmative, [the creditor], as a perfected secured creditor, would enjoy priority over [the other creditors], who are subsequent lien creditors seeking to levy on the same collateral.” The panel expressed agreement with cited decisions and held “that, under certain circumstances, an attorney’s pledge of anticipated counsel fees can be considered an account receivable and secured under Article 9.” The panel observed that “[the appealing creditor] met the requirements of N.J.S.A. 12A:9-203 for its security interest to attach to Acciavatti’s counsel fees." Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Granata v.Broderick" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court vacated the district court's holding that production of a privilege log pursuant to an employment discrimination investigation was sufficient to establish that the attorney-client privilege protected BDO's withheld documents. The court held that by adopting the magistrate judge's recommendation, the district court erred when inverting the burden of proof, requiring that the EEOC prove that BDO improperly asserted the attorney-client privilege as to its withheld documents, and concluding that all communications between a corporation's employees and its counsel were per se privileged. The court remanded for a determination applying the correct attorney-client privilege principles and legal standards. In regard to the protective order, because the magistrate judge's incorrect application of the legal standard may have affected both her analysis of the allegedly disclosed communications and the breadth of the protections she imposed in her order, the court remanded so that BDO's request for protection may be considered under the proper legal standard for determining privilege. View "EEOC v. BDO USA, LLP" on Justia Law

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Karen Corum appealed the grant of summary judgments in two collection actions brought by American Express Centurion Bank. The North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court's summary judgments were proper as a matter of law and the district court did not err by denying Corum's request to allow her husband to be her spokesperson in court. A party who is not represented by a licensed attorney cannot be represented by another person, including their spouse, in any court of record in this state, absent authorization provided by state law or supreme court rule. The right of free speech does not encompass in-court advocacy by a non-lawyer on behalf of another person, including a spouse. View "American Express Centurion Bank v. Corum" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, members of Global Fitness gyms, believed that Global misrepresented the terms of its gym memberships and sued as a class. The parties settled: Global agreed to pay $1.3 million to the class members, class counsel’s fees as ordered by the court, and the claims administrator’s fees and costs. The court approved the agreement over the objections of some class members and ordered its implementation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari. In the meantime, Global had sold all of its gyms and funneled $10.4 million of the proceeds to its managers through “tax distributions.” The payments Global owed to the class were in escrow under the terms of the settlement agreement, which made no similar provision for class counsel and the claims administrator. Days before its payment obligation under the agreement came due, Global notified the court it could not meet its remaining obligations. The court held Global Fitness and its managers in civil contempt. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Global had no legal obligation to conserve funds to pay class counsel and the claims administrator while the appeals were pending. Its obligation to pay became definite and specific only once the appeals were exhausted. The court erred in considering any of Global’s conduct from before that date and by holding the managers jointly and severally liable. View "Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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An attorney represented a Native corporation in litigation nearly three decades ago. The corporation disputed the attorney’s claim for fees, and in 1995, after the attorney’s death, the superior court entered judgment on an arbitration award of nearly $800,000 to the attorney’s law firm, then represented by the attorney’s son. The corporation paid eight installments on the judgment, but eventually stopped paying, citing financial difficulties. The law firm sought a writ of execution for the unpaid balance, and the writ was granted. The corporation appealed but under threat of the writ paid $643,760 while the appeal was pending. In a 2013 opinion the Alaska Supreme Court held the writ invalid and required the firm to repay the $643,760. The corporation was never repaid. The original law firm moved its assets to a new firm and sought a stay of execution, averring that the original firm now lacked the funds necessary for repayment. The corporation sued the original firm, the successor firm, and the son for breach of contract, fraudulent conveyance, conspiracy to fraudulently convey assets, violations of the Unfair Trade Practices Act (UTPA), unjust enrichment, and punitive damages. The firm counterclaimed, seeking recovery in quantum meruit for attorney’s fees it claimed were still owing for its original representation. The superior court granted summary judgment for the corporation on the law firm’s quantum meruit claim and, following trial, found that the son and both law firms fraudulently conveyed assets and were liable for treble damages under the UTPA. The son and the law firms appealed, arguing the trial court erred by: (1) holding that the quantum meruit claim was barred by res judicata; (2) holding the defendants liable for fraudulent conveyance; (3) awarding damages under the UTPA; and (4) making mistakes in the form of judgment and award of costs. The Alaska Supreme Court found no reversible error with one exception. The Court remanded for reconsideration of whether all three defendants are liable for prejudgment interest from the same date. View "Merdes & Merdes, P.C. v. Leisnoi, Inc." on Justia Law

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Francisco Diaz was employed as a tree trimmer by Professional Community Management, Inc. (“PCM”) for many years. He filed his complaint against it in October 2014, stating various causes of action arising out of PCM’s alleged failure to reasonably accommodate the workplace restrictions imposed by his doctor, its alleged retaliation, and its alleged wrongful termination of his employment. PCM answered the complaint in December 2014, denying the allegations and pleading 24 affirmative defenses. The 24th affirmative defense alleged that Diaz’s complaint “and each cause of action, is barred by [his] failure to exhaust contractual remedies available to him, including, but not limited to, the grievance and arbitration procedure under the collective bargaining agreement between [PCM] and [Diaz’s] collective bargaining representative.” PCM unilaterally orchestrated the issuance of an appealable order by: (1) applying ex parte, a mere 11 days before trial, for an order shortening time to hear its motion to compel arbitration; (2) voluntarily submitting a proposed order to the trial court that not only reflected the court’s denial of the ex parte application (the only ruling reflected in the trial court’s own minute order) but also included a denial of the motion on the merits; and (3) promptly appealing that order, which then stayed the scheduled trial. The Court of Appeal concluded PCM carefully tailored the order it proposed the trial court issue, incorporating what it characterized as the trial court’s reasons for rejecting the summary judgment motion, and excluding any mention of issues that might distract from that analysis. PCM continued its aggressive strategy on appeal, contending Diaz was precluded from arguing that PCM had waived its right to compel arbitration. According to PCM, Diaz could not make that argument because the trial court’s premature denial of the motion to compel (at PCM’s request) meant Diaz never argued waiver in an opposition to the motion; and because the order PCM drafted did not reflect the trial court had relied on it as a basis for denying the motion. Instead, PCM claimed Diaz was relegated to defending the court’s ruling based solely on the analysis PCM crafted in its proposed order, and that the Court of Appeal assess the propriety of that order based solely on that analysis. The Court of Appeal concluded that PCM invited the trial court’s alleged error when it proposed the court issue the very ruling it now challenged on appeal. “By doing that, PCM won the battle - it got the court to issue the appealable order it sought, prior to trial - but it lost the war.” A party that invites the trial court to commit error is estopped from challenging that error on appeal. The Court concluded PCM and its counsel acted in bad faith, generating an appealable order they knew the trial court had not intended to issue at the ex parte hearing, for the purpose of obtaining a delay of trial. It imposed monetary sanctions against PCM and its counsel for bringing a frivolous appeal. View "Diaz v. Professional Community Management, Inc." on Justia Law