Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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This appeal arose from a district court’s decision denying a motion for sanctions and attorney fees against Roy Gilbert’s former attorney, William Mitchell. The underlying litigation giving rise to the sanctions request stemmed from a dispute over a medical transport business and the business relationship between Gilbert and Richard Radnovich. Gilbert was the sole member of two LLCs: Resilient Transportation Leasing, LLC, and Resilient Transport LLC. According to Gilbert’s complaint, Radnovich was allegedly the owner of two business entities: Injury Care Emergency Medical Services (ICEMS) LLC and “Injury Care EMS,” as well as other entities not at issue in this appeal. In 2017, Gilbert executed an agreement purporting to sell Resilient Transport, LLC, to Injury Care EMS, LLC. According to Gilbert, Injury Care EMS, LLC, was never formed. Gilbert alleged that this “fictitious” LLC was an alter ego of Radnovich. The parties signed a supplement to the agreement which amended the business name for ICEMS, LLC to ICEMS, P.C, and clarified that Resilient Transport, LLC, would be subsumed by ICEMS, P.C. into another fictitious business called “Resilient Transport Operated by Injury Care EMS,” and that Resilient Transport, LLC would later be dissolved. Following a breakdown in both the agreement and the relationship, Gilbert sued Radnovich and the business entities. Mitchell filed the initial and amended complaint on behalf of Gilbert against Radnovich. Later in the proceedings, a second attorney substituted for Mitchell and soon after, both sides stipulated to dismiss the case with prejudice. A few weeks later, Radnovich filed a motion for sanctions and attorney fees against Mitchell. The district court denied the motion. Radnovich appealed, arguing the district court abused its discretion in denying sanctions and attorney fees against Mitchell. Finding no reversible error or abuse of discretion, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. View "Gilbert v. Radnovich" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Robert Ayerst and Justin Lewis were represented at their criminal trials by Robert Van Idour. Though a licensed attorney in Idaho, Van Idour was never admitted to practice in Washington. Accordingly, Van Idour was not authorized to practice law when he represented the petitioners, along with 100 other indigent defendants in Asotin County. Th Washington Supreme Court found Van Idour’s failure to gain admittance to the Washington bar was not just shockingly unprofessional, it was "unethical and indefensible." The issue presented here was whether a lawyer who is licensed in Idaho but not in Washington was nevertheless a lawyer for purposes of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Ayerst and Lewis contended this failure resulted in a complete denial of counsel, which constituted structural error and demanded reversal of their convictions. While the Washington Supreme Court agreed Van Idour’s actions violated state licensure rules, it disagreed that they amounted to a constitutional denial of counsel. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals’ denial of Ayerst’s and Lewis’s personal restraint petitions. View "In re Pers. Restraint of Lewis" on Justia Law

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The 2010 ACA (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act; Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act) created a three-year Risk Corridors program with the creation of new health-insurance marketplaces, which presented uncertain risks for participating health-insurance companies. Qualified health-plan issuers (QHP issuers) that offered their products in the new marketplaces were entitled to payments from HHS if they suffered sufficient losses, 42 U.S.C. 18062(b).The government failed to make those payments. QHP issuers sued under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1). In two such lawsuits, the Quinn law firm was lead counsel for classes of QHP issuers seeking payments. In the opt-in notices sent to potential class members with court approval, Quinn represented that it would seek attorney’s fees out of any recovery, that it would seek no more than 5% of any judgment or settlement, and that the Claims Court would determine the exact amount by considering how many issuers participated, the amount at issue, and a “lodestar cross-check” (based on hours actually worked). Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, in other cases, held that QHP issuers were entitled to collect ACA-promised payments.The Claims Court entered judgments in favor of the classes, totaling about $3.7 billion, then awarded Quinn 5% of the common funds, rejecting objections. The total fee was about $185 million. The Federal Circuit vacated. The Claims Court’s analysis was inconsistent with the class opt-in notices and did not adequately justify the extraordinarily high award. View "Health Republic Insurance Co. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Chen sued BMW for breach of warranty and for violating the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act (Civ. Code 1790) and the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (section 1750). After the suit was pending for about a year, the defendants communicated an offer under Code of Civil Procedure Section 998, to have a $160,000 judgment entered against them; the defendants would pay Chen’s reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, as determined by the court. Chen would return the vehicle. Chen rejected the offer as “fatally vague and uncertain. The litigation continued for another two years. The parties settled on the day of the trial. The terms of the settlement were essentially identical to the section 998 offer.Chen moved as a prevailing party for attorney fees and costs of $436,071.82. The trial court awarded only $53,509.51, including only fees and costs accrued through July 2017, 45 days after the section 998 offer was made. The court of appeal affirmed. BMW’s offer complied with the statutory requirements and Chen did not achieve a result more favorable than its terms. The statute, therefore, disallowed recovery of attorney fees and costs accrued after the offer was made. View "Chen v. BMW of North America" on Justia Law

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This case presented an issue of first impression for the Mississippi Supreme Court: whether an attorney’s representation of a general partnership created an implied attorney-client relationship between the attorney and the individual members of the general partnership, and, if so, whether the Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct prohibiting communication by a lawyer with an individual represented by other legal counsel was violated. James Pettis, III, attorney for the plaintiff, appealed a chancery court order disqualifying him for a violation of Mississippi Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2, which prohibited a lawyer from communicating with a person they know to be represented about the subject of the representation. After a careful review of the law, the Supreme Court reversed the chancery court’s order, rendered judgment in favor of Pettis, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Pettis v. Simrall" on Justia Law

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An attorney appealed from orders of the Committee on Grievances of the Board of Judges of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York (the “Committee”) finding her liable for violating various provisions of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct and imposing sanctions for these violations, including a six-month suspension from practicing law in the Eastern District. On appeal, the attorney argued that the Committee (1) deprived her of due process by failing to afford her with reasonable notice of the charges and an adequate opportunity to defend against the charges, (2) failed to substantiate each element of the charges by clear and convincing evidence, and (3) imposed a punishment that was excessive in light of the putative lack of harm to the public. She has also requested that we maintain her appeal under seal, arguing that public disclosure of her identity would cause her reputational harm.   The Second Circuit affirmed the orders of the Committee and ordered that the docket in this appeal, and all its contents, be unsealed. The court explained that the attorney violated her most basic duty to the vulnerable clients who depended on her: to provide them with diligent, competent representation. Along the way, her neglectful and discourteous conduct harmed the administration of justice itself. The Committee’s evidence establishing as much was unassailable. Further, the court wrote that to the extent that the attorney’s sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenge relies on her contention that it was improper for the Committee to consider filings and transcripts from her non-disciplinary matters in the Eastern District, it fails. View "In re Demetriades" on Justia Law

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Jail personnel search inmate mail for contraband. To preserve confidentiality, mail from an inmate to an attorney is opened in front of the inmate; the contents are visually inspected but not read. An officer noticed an envelope from Cortez addressed to his attorney; with a “bulk in the center.” It smelled of feces. Suspecting the envelope contained contraband, he opened it but not in front of Cortez. The envelope contained another envelope fashioned from the lined yellow paper, marked “do not read.” The officer opened it and found multiple "kites," each made from different colored paper and with different writing. Kites are clandestine notes, written by inmates on small pieces of paper in very small print, then rolled up to minimize their size and facilitate concealment. The officer informed his supervisor.A magistrate conducted an in-camera examination and concluded: The messages have “the teeny tiny writing ... indicative of a gang-related kite…. I did not read the substance … none of them were addressed to [Cortez’s attorney]. None of them ... appeared to even be written by Cortez…. I do not find the attorney-client privilege applies.” The court of appeal agreed. The magistrate’s findings were supported by substantial evidence. Even if the jail violated the regulation requiring legal mail to be opened in the inmate’s presence, the remedy would not automatically render everything inside the envelope—including communications intended for people other than an attorney—subject to attorney-client privilege. View "People v. Superior Court of Santa Cruz County" on Justia Law

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The case arises out of the insolvency of the Crescent Bank and Trust Company (“Crescent”) and the conduct of its customer lawyer, a manager of his law firm, Morris Hardwick Schneider, LLC (“Hardwick law firm”). In 2009, Crescent, a Georgia bank, made the lawyer a loan for $631,276.71. The lawyer, as his law firm’s manager, signed a security agreement that pledged, as collateral, his law firm’s certificate of time deposit (“CD”) for $631,276.71. When Crescent failed, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”), as receiver, took over and sold the lawyer’s loan and CD collateral to Renasant Bank. The lawyer then made loan payments to Renasant, and Renasant held the CD collateral. Landcastle sued Renasant (as successor to the FDIC and Crescent), claiming Renasant was liable for $631,276.71, the CD amount. Landcastle’s lawsuit seeks to invalidate the Hardwick law firm’s security agreement.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling. The court explained that Landcastle’s lack-of-authority claims are barred under D’Oench because they rely on evidence that was outside Crescent’s records when the FDIC took over and sold the lawyer’s loan and CD collateral to Renasant. The court concluded that the lawyer’s acting outside the scope of his authority did not render the security agreement void but, at most, only voidable. A voidable interest is sufficient to pass the CD security agreement to the FDIC and to trigger the D’Oench shield View "Landcastle Acquisition Corp. v. Renasant Bank" on Justia Law

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The primary issue, in this case, is whether Respondent Whittier Union High School District (hereinafter Respondent or the District) is required to reimburse Appellant Law Office (hereinafter Appellant or Firm) for the “cost of work product” under California Elections Code section, 10010. Appellant had sent Respondent a demand letter that resulted in Respondent changing its at-large voting system to district-based voting. This case turns on whether the trial court’s determination that Appellant did not represent a “prospective plaintiff” under section 10010 requires evidence limited to identifying a person who has formally retained the lawyer, or whether it also encompasses a law firm working on behalf of one or more persons the law firm avers it will be able to name as a plaintiff if the demand letter is unsuccessful.   The Second Appellate District reversed and remanded so that the trial court may determine the “cost of work product” recoverable by Appellant. The court concluded that the trial court’s finding that Appellant did not represent a prospective plaintiff is based on an overly restrictive interpretation of the statute. The court further concluded that the “cost of work product” for which a prospective plaintiff is entitled to reimbursement is not limited to out-of-pocket expenditures by the prospective plaintiff, but also includes costs advanced by their lawyer. View "Law Office of Carlos R. Perez v. Whittier Union High School Dist." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that Respondent, the Honorable Jeffrey F. Meade, Judge of the Gibson Circuit Court, engaged in judicial misconduct and that his misconduct warranted a seven-day unpaid suspension from office.The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed a complaint against Respondent, charging that Respondent engaged in judicial misconduct by making intemperate comments from the bench, holding an off-the-record and unrecorded child-in-need-of-services hearing, and by failing to provide all parties to the proceedings with sufficient notice and an opportunity to be heard. The Supreme Court agreed that Respondent's misconduct violated several provisions of the Indiana Code of Judicial Conduct and that the misconduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice. View "In re Meade" on Justia Law