Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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After a trial before a three-member land commission, the district court awarded compensation to Landowners after the government took an easement on their land. The district court awarded Landowners $4.4 million, apportioned attorney's fees and litigation costs, and split the cost of the commission.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of just compensation and the splitting of the commission costs. The court concluded that the district court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence and to determine that the Landowners had shown a non-speculative demand for industrial and residential development in the reasonably near future. Therefore, the court could not say that the district court clearly erred in calculating its award of just compensation. The court also concluded that the district court has broad discretion in apportioning commission costs, and upheld its decision to do so. However, the court concluded that identifying the "prevailing party" for purposes of the attorney's fee award is a legal question that the court reviewed de novo. The court found that the district court erred in making that determination, concluding that because the government's $937,800 value is closer to the district court's final award of $4.4 million, the government, not the Landowners, is the "prevailing party" in this litigation. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "United States v. 269 Acres Located in Beaufort County" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees in this Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) action against the DOJ. The panel concluded that plaintiff obtained relief through a judicial order that changed the legal relationship between the parties, and thus he is eligible for a fee award under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E)(ii)(I). In this case, plaintiff initially submitted a FOIA request for records related to the alleged electronic surveillance of President Trump and his advisors during the 2016 election. The DOJ responded with a Glomar response. After plaintiff filed suit, President Trump declassified a memorandum that divulged the existence of responsive records and the DOJ then agreed to turn over any newly revealed, non-exempt documents by a specific date.The panel explained that Congress passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which provided that a plaintiff may establish eligibility for FOIA attorneys' fees in one of two ways: (1) where the relief sought resulted from a judicial order or consent decree and (2) where a voluntary change in position afforded the plaintiff relief. The panel remanded to the district court to determine whether plaintiff is entitled to fees given the unique circumstances underlying the government's change of position. View "Poulsen v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ordered that Respondent William F. Brooks be suspended without compensation from office as a Judge of the General Court of Justice, District Court Division, Judicial district Twenty-Three, for thirty days from the entry of this order, holding that Respondent violated Canons 1, 2A, 5D, and 6C of the North Carolina Code of Judicial Conduct and for conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.The Judicial Standards Commission recommended that Respondent be censured for violations of Canons 1, 2A, 5D, and 6C amounting to conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that constituted willful misconduct in office. Respondent accepted responsibility for his actions, acknowledging they were wrong, and the Commission found that Respondent cooperated, admitted error and showed remorse. The Supreme Court concluded that the Commission's findings of fact were supported by clear and convincing evidence and that the Commission's conclusions of law were supported by those facts and then determined that a one-month sanction was appropriate. View "In re Brooks" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Wendy was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and arranged for her boyfriend, Mirenda, to care for her six-year-old daughter, Br. Br. came to the attention of DCFS in 2013 based on pending allegations that Mirenda sexually abused a previous partner’s daughters. The court conducted a hearing. Wendy and Assistant State’s Attorney Filipiak were present. Assistant Public Defender Bembnister was appointed as counsel for Wendy, and Assistant Public Defender Drell was appointed as guardian ad litem (GAL) for Br. Proceedings concerning Br. continued for several years.At a 2018 status hearing, Wendy appeared with a new, privately retained attorney, Drell. Drell’s appearance as Br.’s GAL at three hearings on the 2013 neglect petition before the same judge was not mentioned. In 2019, Drell withdrew and the public defender represented Wendy. The trial court terminated Wendy’s parental rights. The appellate court reversed, holding that a per se conflict existed because Drell served as Br.’s GAL before she served as Wendy’s attorney. Wendy had not raised the conflict-of-interest issue.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. A “ ‘realistic appraisal’ ” of Drell’s professional relationship with Br. indicates that Drell was not associated with the victim for purposes of the per se conflict rule when she acted as Br.’s GAL. An allegedly neglected minor is not a victim but “the subject of the proceeding” under the Juvenile Court Act; such proceedings are not adversarial. Drell was never associated with the prosecution. Drell acted at the behest of the court, not the state. View "In re Br. M. & Bo. M." on Justia Law

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A military commission was convened to try al-Tamir, apprehended in Turkey in 2006 and held at Guantanamo Bay for seven years without charges, for war crimes. Captain Waits presided over al-Tamir’s commission for two and a half years. A DOJ prosecutor was the first attorney to speak on the record. Weeks later, Waits applied to be a DOJ immigration judge. In his applications, he identified the al-Tamir commission. He received no interviews. In 2017, Waits was hired by the Department of Defense's Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General Criminal Law Division, after again mentioning his role in the commission.In 2019, the D.C. Circuit held that a military judge’s application for an immigration judge position created an appearance of bias requiring recusal, Waits disclosed his employment applications to al-Tamir and the commission. Rubin and Libretto later served on al-Tamir’s commission, Blackwood was a civilian advisor for all three judges and applied for outside employment while assisting Rubin. Libretto denied al-Tamir's motions to dismiss based on Waits’s and Blackwood’s job applications and to disqualify Libretto based on Blackwood’s continued assistance. Libretto declared that he would reconsider any of Waits’s decisions that al-Tamir identifies. The Court of Military Commission Review upheld that decision. The D.C. Circuit denied mandamus relief. The government’s offer affords al-Tamir an “adequate means” to attain the relief he seeks; Blackwood’s job search did not “clear[ly] and indisputabl[y]” disqualify the judges he served. View "In re: al-Tamir" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit held that a private settlement does not constitute a "successful action to enforce . . . liability" under the fee-shifting provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees in this case, concluding that the district court did not commit reversible error in refusing plaintiff's fee application under the FDCPA. The court explained that a "successful action to enforce the foregoing liability" means a lawsuit that generates a favorable end result compelling accountability and legal compliance with a formal command or decree under the FDCPA. In this case, plaintiff settled before his lawsuit reached any end result, let alone a favorable one. Furthermore, by settling, Portfolio Recovery avoided a formal legal command or decree from plaintiff's lawsuit. The court stated that plaintiff's alternative interpretation requires rewriting the FDCPA's fee-shifting provision.The court also concluded that, at most, plaintiff's FDCPA suit was the catalyst that spurred Portfolio Recovery to settle. Therefore, the catalyst theory does not make plaintiff's action a successful one under 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3) and thus plaintiff is not entitled to fees. View "Tejero v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to determine whether the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine could be invoked by a trustee to prevent the disclosure to a beneficiary of communications between the trustee and counsel pertaining to attorney fees expended from a trust corpus. To reach that issue, the Court had to first address the question of whether the Superior Court erred in disclaiming jurisdiction on the basis that the trial court’s order rejecting the privilege claim was not a collateral order, and immediately reviewable as such. The Supreme Court held unanimously that the Superior Court had immediate appellate jurisdiction to review the privilege question on the merits, and therefore erred in concluding otherwise. As to the privilege issue itself, the Superior Court indicated that, notwithstanding its perceived lack of jurisdiction, there was no evidence by which to substantiate a claim of privilege on the merits, nor any argument presented to the trial court in support thereof. For those reasons, the court was left to conclude that the privilege was unavailable under the circumstances and that the communications at issue were subject to disclosure. The Supreme Court did not reach a consensus on whether the privilege may be invoked in the trust context. Because disclosure would nevertheless result from the competing positions set forth by a majority of Justices, the lower court’s alternative ruling was affirmed by operation of law. View "In Re: Estate of McAleer" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the order of the district court imposing a sanction against Appellant under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion.Appellant was a Massachusetts lawyer who brought suit on behalf of Gerald Alston, a black man who formerly worked as a firefighter. Defendant Stanley Spiegel eventually moved to dismiss and for sanctions. The magistrate judge recommended that the district court dismiss the claims against Spiegel with prejudice and ruled that sanctions were in order. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that because Appellant persisted in pursuing claims against Spiegel without an adequate basis in law or fact and despite a warning from the magistrate judge, sanctions were in order. View "Ames v. Spiegel" on Justia Law

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The Board of County Commissioners of Harmon County, Oklahoma, filed an action against the Association of County Commissioners of Oklahoma Self Insured Group (ACCO-SIG). ACCO-SIG sought to disqualify the Board's lawyers, alleging one of the Board's attorneys had a conflict of interest because he had previously represented ACCO-SIG in a substantially similar matter four years earlier. ACCO-SIG sought to have the lawyer, and his entire law firm, disqualified from representing the Board. After the trial court held a disqualification hearing, it denied ACCO-SIG's request to disqualify. ACCO-SIG appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that under the facts presented, disqualification was not required. View "Bd. of County Comm'rs v. Assoc. of County Comm'rs of Okla Self-Insured Grp." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Lexington Law and its vendor, Progrexion, for purportedly perpetrating a fraud in which the firm failed to disclose that it was sending letters to the companies in its clients' names and on their behalves. After a jury agreed that defendants violated Texas law in committing fraud and fraud by non-disclosure, the district court set aside the verdict and issued judgment in favor of defendants as a matter of law.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs have not shown that defendants committed fraud. In this case, the district court concluded that defendants did not make any false representations (material or otherwise) when signing and sending the dispute letters because Lexington Law had the legal right to sign its clients' names on the correspondence it sent on their behalf to data furnishers who reported inaccurate information about the clients' credit. Furthermore, Progrexion cannot be liable for fraud since it, like Lexington Law, did not make any material misrepresentations. The court also concluded that plaintiffs' fraud by non-disclosure claim must be dismissed because they did not justifiably rely on any failure of defendants to disclose material facts, and plaintiffs have not shown that defendants had a duty to disclose that they were the ones actually sending the dispute letters. Additionally, plaintiffs have not shown that Progrexion disclosed any facts—material or otherwise—and so cannot be liable for fraud by nondisclosure. The court explained that the fact that Lexington Law had the legal right to send dispute letters on their clients behalves and in their names suggests that the firm did not make any false representations, and thus the firm did not create any false impressions requiring disclosure. Finally, plaintiffs waived their conspiracy claim by failing to move for judgment as a matter of law on the claim before and after the case was submitted to the jury or for a new trial. View "The CBE Group, Inc. v. Lexington Law Firm" on Justia Law