Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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John B. Richards, an attorney, appeals from the trial court's order finding him in contempt and the order to pay monetary sanctions for his lack of candor with the trial court about the fact that settlement funds had been paid.The Court of Appeal dismissed the attempt to appeal from the contempt finding and affirmed the sanctions order. The court held that a trial court's judgment or order in a contempt matter is final and conclusive, and the court declined to construe the notice of appeal as a petition for an extraordinary writ. However, the order directing payment of monetary sanctions is directly appealable because it exceeds $5,000. In this case, counsel's decision to not tell the trial court that he had received "word" from opposing counsel, was concealment and a half-truth, violating the attorney's obligation as an officer of the court to be candid with the court. The court rejected the attorney's contention that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to award sanctions and that he received inadequate notice of the factual basis for the requested order to show cause. Finally, the court held that the trial court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over the attorney. View "Levine v. Berschneider" on Justia Law

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In 2016, an unidentified driver struck a flagpole owned by 100 Renaissance, LLC, causing $2,134 in damage. Renaissance filed a claim with its insurance company, Travelers Property Casualty Company of America. Renaissance sought coverage under its automobile liability-insurance policy, which included uninsured-motorist(UM) coverage. Travelers denied the claim, determining there was no coverage under the UM policy because the flagpole was not a covered "auto." Renaissance's attorney sent an email to Travelers' claims handler, setting forth the Renaissance's legal arguments as to why coverage should be afforded under Mississippi's UM statute. The claims handler forwarded the email to Travelers' in-house counsel. When the claim was still denied, Renaissance filed suit on a bad-faith failure-to-pay theory. Renaissance took the claim handler's deposition, and asked her to explain the reasons Travelers denied the claim. In an effort to resolve the matter, Travelers paid the full amount for damage to the flagpole. Renaissance, however, continued to litigate its bad-faith claim. Travelers moved for summary judgment. Renaissance responded by asking for a continuance to conduct additional discovery. The additional discovery Renaissance claimed it needed was a production of the emails between the claims handler and the in-house counsel. The trial court granted the request for Travelers to produce the emails for in camera review. After that review, the trial court found that “Travelers ha[d] waived the attorney-client privilege as it relates to attorney Jim Harris.” The trial court ordered Travelers to produce the emails and to produce Harris (in-house counsel) for a deposition. Travelers filed a petition for interlocutory appeal, which the Mississippi Supreme Court granted. The Supreme Court did not disagree with the trial court's determination that the privilege was waived, and affirmed its judgment. View "Travelers Property Casualty Company of America v. 100 Renaissance, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order amending its opinion and denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, and (2) an amended opinion dismissing as untimely plaintiff's appeal from the district court's judgment and affirming the district court's post-judgment denial of attorneys' fees in an action under the Lanham Act.Under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(1)(A), a notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after entry of the judgment or order appealed from. In this case, because appellant did not file a notice of appeal within 30 days of the district court's judgment or obtain a Rule 58(e) order extending the time to appeal, the notice of appeal was untimely as to the district court's underlying judgment. However, the panel held that the notice of appeal was timely as to the district court's later order denying attorneys' fees. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying fees. View "Nutrition Distribution LLC v. IronMags Labs, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-Respondents were Cornerstone Realty Advisors, LLC (CRA) and Cornerstone Ventures, Inc. (CVI). Respondent Winget Spadafora & Schwartzberg, was counsel for Plaintiffs during most of the trial court litigation, referred to as WSS. Defendants-Appellants were Summit Healthcare REIT, Inc. (Summit), Paul Danchik, Daniel Johnson, Dominic Petrucci, Kairos Partners, Inc., and Kent Eikanas. Defendants sought production of CRA’s and CVI’s financial and accounting records, including their general ledgers. Plaintiffs had access to the financial and accounting records, and could and should have produced them without objection or delay. Instead, Plaintiffs carried out a protracted and costly campaign of discovery abuse, which included disobeying several court orders to produce the documents, "with the successful aim of never, ever, producing the requested documents." The trial court responded to this misconduct by imposing monetary sanctions and ordering Plaintiffs’ complaint be dismissed as a terminating sanction. Imposition of terminating sanctions, though significant, was not the subject of this appeal; plaintiffs’ appeal challenging the terminating sanctions was dismissed. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was the monetary sanctions imposed by the trial court. Defendants contended the trial court did not award them enough to cover their attorney fees and costs incurred as a result of plaintiffs’ discovery abuses and erred by not making plaintiffs’ trial counsel jointly and severally liable for the monetary sanctions imposed. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) the trial court's decision to impose monetary sanctions was a reasonable exercise of the court's discretion; and (2) substantial evidence supported the trial court's finding that WSS did not advise the misconduct resulting in the discovery sanctions: [t]he trial court read and considered the discovery referee’s report, which had recommended making WSS liable for the monetary sanctions, but exercised its authority to reach a different conclusion based on the court’s own assessment of the credibility of the declarants and the weight of the evidence. The court did not err in so doing." View "Cornerstone Realty Advisors, LLC v. Summit Healthcare etc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's denial of plaintiff's motion for leave to amend. In this case, plaintiff sought to amend his complaint to include allegations that the Brewer & Pritchard attorneys assured him during a brief recess during bankruptcy proceedings that they would treat the bankruptcy court's proposed fees as part of plaintiff's "Gross Recovery" under his written agreement with Brewer & Pritchard.The court held that had plaintiff been granted leave to amend his complaint, his proposed claims—whatever their merit—would not have been subject to dismissal under the doctrine of res judicata. The court explained that the "conduct" plaintiff seeks to challenge is the alleged breach of fiduciary duty—the failure to follow through on the new representations supposedly made to him during the November 2017 hearing. Furthermore, at the time of the hearing, plaintiff could not have even known that the attorneys' assurances were misrepresentations, let alone that he should challenge them as such. The court remanded with instructions that plaintiff's motion for leave to amend be granted. View "Rohi v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a dispute between two sets of lawyers who provided legal work for a mutual client. Thomas Tufts and the Tufts Law Firm, PLLC appealed the district court's order granting a motion to dismiss on grounds of subject matter jurisdiction. Edward Hay and Pitts, Hay & Hugenschmidt, P.A. also filed a second motion to dismiss Tufts's action against them on the additional ground that the district court lacked personal jurisdiction over them. After the district court found personal jurisdiction, Hay and his firm cross appealed.The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Barton Doctrine. In this case, Tufts counsel initiated their action against Hay—court-approved counsel—and Tufts did not obtain leave of the bankruptcy court before doing so. The court held that the Barton doctrine has no application when jurisdiction over a matter no longer exists in the bankruptcy court. Thus, the bankruptcy court was properly vested with jurisdiction to consider this action if it could conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate. Here, the action could not conceivably have an effect on the client's bankruptcy estate and thus the Barton doctrine does not apply. The court also held that the district court properly exercised personal jurisdiction over Hay. The court reversed the district court's ruling on subject matter jurisdiction and remanded. View "Tufts v. Hay" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the determination of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct that Petitioner, a Judge of the Family Court, Broome County, committed certain acts of misconduct and should be removed from office, holding that Petitioner's pattern of misconduct warranted removal.The Commission unanimously determined that Petitioner's actions violated sections 100.1, 100.2(A), 100.2(C), 100.3(B)(3), 100.3(C)(1) and 100.4(H)(2) and 100.4(I) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. A majority of the Commission members concluded that removal from office was the appropriate sanction under the facts. On appeal, Petitioner challenged the sanction of removal. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) considering Petitioner's misconduct in the aggregate along with his prior disciplinary history, Petitioner exhibited a pattern of injudicious behavior that cannot be viewed as acceptable conduct by one holding judicial office; and (2) therefore, the determined sanction should be accepted. View "In re Miller" on Justia Law

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Attorney Craig Wise appealed a district court’s determination that he breached a duty of care owed to Billy Kyser, Jr., as a beneficiary of Carolyn Kyser’s will. Wise represented Billy’s mother, Carolyn, in divorce proceedings from Bill Kyser, Sr., and in preparing a will that bequeathed her entire estate in equal shares to Billy and his brother Brent Kyser. As part of the divorce proceedings, and before Carolyn’s will was completed, Carolyn and Bill Sr. executed a property settlement agreement in which Bill Sr. and Carolyn agreed to retain sequential life estates in the family home, with the remainder going to Brent and Billy as tenants in common upon the death of the last surviving parent. Wise prepared a deed memorializing the terms of the property settlement agreement. After Bill Sr. and Carolyn both passed away, Brent retained Wise to represent him as the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate. Brent also hired Wise independently to prepare a quitclaim deed transferring Billy’s interest in the home to Brent. Wise sent the deed to Billy, who then executed it. David Kalb, Billy’s court-appointed conservator, then filed a malpractice suit against Wise. After a court trial, the district court held Wise breached the duty he owed to Billy as a beneficiary of Carolyn’s will by preparing the deed because it frustrated Carolyn’s testamentary intent that her estate be divided equally between her two sons. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the district court’s legal determination that Wise owed Billy a duty of care when Wise was acting as counsel for the personal representative of Carolyn’s estate, Brent. "Although Wise owed Billy a duty of care in drafting and executing Carolyn’s will, the district court impermissibly extended that duty by requiring that Wise ensure an asset outside the probate estate complied with Carolyn’s intent in her will." View "Kalb v. Wise" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's grant of respondent's motion to disqualify appellant's attorney, who is also appellant's mother and respondent's ex-wife, from representing appellant in all phases of tort litigation based primarily on the advocate-witness rule. In this case, appellant alleged that respondent sexually abused her from the time she was nine to 13 years old.The court held that the trial court reasonably concluded that the attorney is nearly certain to be a key witness at trial and thus the trial court acted within its discretion by effectuating the advocate-witness rule's purpose of avoiding factfinder confusion. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in applying the rule to disqualify the attorney not only at trial, but also in depositions and pretrial evidentiary hearings at which the attorney is likely to testify. The trial court also acted within its discretion in disqualifying the attorney from representing appellant in all other phases of the litigation on the ground of the attorney's potential misuse of confidential information obtained through her 17-year marriage with respondent. View "Doe v. Yim" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court extended an August 27, 2020 order for first circuit criminal matters, which was extended pursuant to a September 11, 2020 order, until November 16, 2020, determining that changing conditions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic required flexibility and vigilance regarding the need to protect the health and safety of court users and Judiciary personnel.In July 2020, there was a surge of COVID-19 cases in Hawaii, included cases in community correctional centers and facilities, particularly at the O'ahu Community Correctional Center. As a result, the time requirements for preliminary hearings under Haw. R. Pen. P. (HRPP) 5(c)(3) was impacted. In August 2020, the Supreme Court entered an order providing that the first circuit may temporarily extend the time requirements for preliminary hearings no longer than reasonably necessary to protect public health and safety. In September, the order was extended. Because the transports of custody defendants from all O'ahu correctional facilities remained suspended and the exponential number of citations issued for Haw. Rev. Stat. ch. 127A violations remained high, the Supreme Court extended the August order for first circuit criminal matters until November 16, 2020. View "In re Judiciary’s Response to COVID-19 Outbreak" on Justia Law