Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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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

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In a published order, the Ninth Circuit denied a motion for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) in a case in which the panel had previously remanded petitioner's application for relief from removal to the BIA for reconsideration in light of the en banc court's intervening decision in Bringas-Rodriguez v. Sessions, 850 F.3d 1051 (9th Cir. 2017) (en banc).The panel concluded that petitioner was not entitled to attorney's fees because the government's position was substantially justified. In this case, the government seeks a voluntary remand and the panel has already recognized that the en banc decision in Bringas-Rodriguez acted as intervening case law. The panel rejected petitioner's contentions to the contrary. Therefore, because the government's position was substantially justified, EAJA fees are not appropriate, and the panel need not decide whether petitioner was a prevailing party, or whether there are special circumstances rendering an award unjust. View "Meza-Vazquez v. Garland" on Justia Law

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Appellants, Jillian Michaels and Empowered Media, filed suit against respondents, a law firm and its shareholder partner, for nine causes of action, including legal malpractice. The legal malpractice claim involved negotiating a branding contract with a diet supplement company called ThinCare. The trial court granted respondents' motions for summary judgment on six of the nine causes of action. Appellants subsequently moved to dismiss the remaining causes of action, which the trial court granted.The Court of Appeal held that the trial court abused its discretion by excluding portions of appellants' expert witness's declaration on damages. In reviewing the evidence, the court concluded that appellants have met their burden of establishing a material factual dispute on causation and their burden of establishing materiality on damages. Furthermore, appellants are not barred from recovery under the doctrine of unclean hands. Finally, the court concluded that there is a statute of limitations question involving materially disputed facts that cannot be resolved by a summary adjudication motion. Therefore, the court reversed the trial court court's grant of summary adjudication on the causes of action for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, declaratory relief to rescind and void litigation agreement, and negligent misrepresentation. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "Michaels v. Greenberg Traurig, LLP" on Justia Law

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Tenants sued for breach of contract and bad faith retention of $4,800 from a security deposit; they subsequently moved to compel responses to requests for admission and interrogatories and requested sanctions ($3,060). Orders granting the sanctions were filed on March 20. On April 15, Tenants sought dismissal without prejudice and Landlord sought reconsideration or to set aside the sanctions, asserting that counsel was representing Tenants “pro bono,” so they incurred no legal fees, contrary to Tenants’ attorney’s representation. The clerk entered the dismissal on April 18. On May 6, Tenants filed “objections” to Landlord's motion, arguing that the court had no jurisdiction to reconsider the sanctions because Tenants dismissed their case. On May 28, the trial court granted Landlord’s motion and set aside the sanctions orders. A June 21 order states: “This matter was continued solely for the purpose of addressing the referral of Plaintiff’s counsel to the Bar. The Court determines that ... there was no intentional misrepresentation. The Court will not refer this matter to the Bar.”The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Tenants’ argument that because they filed a voluntary dismissal, the court lacked jurisdiction to reconsider and set aside the sanctions orders. Disallowing reconsideration when sanctions were based on misrepresentations would violate a reasonable sense of justice and fair play View "Manhan v. Gallagher" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to HHW and DKH in an action brought by plaintiff, alleging professional malpractice and negligence. The court concluded that the district court did not err in ruling that the "Q" deduction did not apply to the estate return in January 2013, and DKH was not professionally negligent in failing to claim the deduction. Furthermore, the district court did not err in ruling that a certified public accountant was not negligent in failing to wait to file the return until the amendment was enacted.The court also concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment on plaintiff's legal malpractice claim; the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing to sua sponte extend discovery deadlines to allow plaintiff to submit another expert affidavit; and the district court properly granted summary judgment on the aiding and abetting claim, as well as the RICO claim. Finally, the district court did not err in ruling that questions -- regarding whether an individual, who was not a party in this case, breached a fiduciary duty and whether the district court should declare specific rental rates -- were not at issue and denying summary judgment. View "Schreier v. Drealan Kvilhaug Hoefker & Co." on Justia Law