Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Milan and Dmitry Piterman were married in 1990. In 2013, Milan filed a petition for legal separation. Korchemny, a close friend of Dmitry’s, sued Dmitry, Milan, and Milan’s Trust based on two promissory notes. Dmitry filed a cross-complaint against Milan and the trust. After years of extensive litigation, Milan and the trust obtained summary judgment against Korchemny based on their affirmative defense of usury. They were later awarded $318,000 in attorney fees. Korchemny appealed both the judgment and the attorney fee order. On Dmitry’s cross-complaint, Milan and the trust obtained judgment on the pleadings against Dmitry.The court of appeal affirmed. When the payments made under the promissory notes are applied to reduce principal in accordance with California usury law, the result is that a 2000 note was fully paid off by May 2011 and the 2001 note fully paid off by January 2017. The attorneys’ fees award was fully supported. There was nothing for which Dmitry could be indemnified or get contribution; if Dmitry had acted like a defendant typically does, and fought against plaintiff Korchemny, Dmitry too, would have proven usury, and would thus not be liable to Korchemny. He would have been the prevailing party, entitled to his costs. View "Korchemny v. Piterman" on Justia Law

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Robbins defaulted on a debt to a hospital for services provided to her children. After MED-1, hired to collect the debt, filed a small-claims action, Robbins paid the $1,499 debt but refused to pay $375 attorney’s fees as required by the agreement she signed with the hospital. MED-1 then incurred more attorney’s fees (fees-on-fees) attempting to recover the initial attorney’s fees. The Indiana small-claims court ordered Robbins to pay both the initial attorney’s fees and the fees-on-fees. Robbins’s appeal initiated a de novo proceeding, so MED-1 filed a new complaint.Robbins filed a federal suit against MED-1 under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692–1692p. A magistrate stayed the case pending the outcome of the state case, which was eventually dismissed for failure to prosecute. In federal court, Robbins raised res judicata, arguing that the state court’s dismissal precluded MED-1 from claiming that the contract required her to pay attorney’s fees and fees-on-fees. Alternatively, she advanced an argument that she was not required to pay fees-on-fees and that MED-1 violated the Act by trying to collect sums she did not owe. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment for MED-1. The Indiana court’s dismissal does not have preclusive effect. Because Robbins’s contract with the hospital required her to pay all collection costs, including attorney’s fees, MED-1 did not violate the FDCPA by attempting to collect fees-on-fees. View "Robbins v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Colorado Supreme Court enjoined Robert Francis, whether acting individually or on behalf of a trust or some other entity, from ever again proceeding pro se as a proponent of a claim (i.e., as a plaintiff, third-party claimant, cross-claimant, or counter-claimant) in any present or future litigation in the state courts of Colorado. "While the Colorado Constitution confers upon every person an undisputed right of access to our state courts, that right isn’t absolute. A party’s constitutional right of access to the courts must sometimes yield to the constitutional right of other litigants and the public to have justice administered without denial or delay. Such is the case when courts are called upon to curb the deleterious impact that duplicative and baseless pro se litigation has on finite judicial resources." Francis abused the judicial process for the purpose of harassing his adversaries "for the better part of a decade." State courts warned, reprimanded, and sanctioned Francis. Even the suspension of his law license failed to deter his "appalling conduct." Under the circumstances, the Supreme Court concluded "the extraordinary injunction requested is amply justified. Of course, Francis may still obtain access to judicial relief—he just may not do so without legal representation." View "In re Francis v. Wegener" on Justia Law

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Judge Mark Watts of Jackson County, Mississippi acknowledged he made appearances or filed motions in nine cases in Jackson County Chancery Court more than six months after assuming office. He joined in the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance’s motion recommending a public reprimand and a fine of $2,500. To this, the Mississippi Supreme Court agreed and granted the Commission’s recommendation. View "Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance v. Watts" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff John Hayes prosecuted his employment discrimination case to a favorable verdict and judgment. During trial, two instances of misconduct prompted Defendant SkyWest Airlines, Inc. to request a mistrial. But it was Defendant’s own misconduct. Thus, the district court tried to remedy the misconduct and preserve the integrity of the proceedings, but did not grant Defendant’s request. After the trial, exercising its equitable powers, the district court granted Plaintiff’s request for a front pay award. Following final judgment, Defendant moved for a new trial based, in part, on the district court’s handling of the misconduct incidents and on newly discovered evidence. The district court denied that motion. Defendant appealed, asking the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse and remand for a new trial or, at the very least, to vacate (or reduce) the front pay award. Finding the district court did not abuse its discretion or authority in this case, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the front pay award. View "Hayes v. Skywest Airlines" on Justia Law

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After the en banc court held unlawful a Texas statute requiring voters to present photo ID in order to vote, the only issue in this appeal is whether plaintiffs are prevailing parties and thereby entitled to recover attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988(b) and 52 U.S.C. 10310(e).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that plaintiffs are prevailing parties under Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 604 (2001), and the district court's award of attorneys' fees. In this case, plaintiffs successfully challenged the Texas photo ID requirement before the en banc court, and used that victory to secure a court order permanently preventing its enforcement during the elections in 2016 and 2017. Furthermore, the court order substituted the photo ID requirement with a mere option—which of course defeats the whole purpose of a mandate, and the state cannot go back in time and re-run the 2016 and 2017 elections under a photo ID requirement. Finally, defendants' claims to the contrary under Sole v. Wyner, 551 U.S. 74, 82 (2007), and Dearmore v. City of Garland, 519 F.3d 517 (5th Cir. 2008), are unavailing. View "Veasey v. Abbott" on Justia Law

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Attorney Conn represented Plaintiffs and thousands of other claimants in seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Conn bribed doctors to certify false applications and bribed an ALJ to approve those applications. After Conn’s scheme was uncovered, the SSA identified over 1,700 applications for redetermination of eligibility. Years of litigation ensued. Both Plaintiffs sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Both courts awarded fees less than the amounts requested.The Sixth Circuit vacated the awards. Courts can award attorney’s fees for work performed during “all phases of successful civil litigation addressed by” the EAJA; one district court erred by holding that the EAJA does not authorize fees for work performed after the judgment becomes final. Both district courts abused their discretions by awarding below-market hourly rates. Plaintiffs’ unrefuted evidence established a market range of $205-500 but the courts concluded that the relative simplicity of the actions justified rates of only $125 and $150, although there is no evidence that any lawyer in the relevant communities would accept these rates for any kind of service. The complexity of the action is relevant to determine where the particular attorney’s representation lies along the spectrum of the market for legal services. It cannot be invoked to justify a rate below the established spectrum. View "Doucette v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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Vega, a Hispanic woman, sued the Park District based on its investigation and termination of her employment for allegedly falsifying her timesheets, citing national origin discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and Title VII. A jury returned a verdict for Vega on the discrimination claims, but not the retaliation claims, and awarded $750,000. The judge reduced the award to Title VII’s statutory maximum of $300,000, ordered the District to reinstate Vega, pay backpay, provide her with the cash value of lost benefits, and pay prejudgment interest and a tax component. The Seventh Circuit affirmed except for the tax-component award,Vega submitted a fee petition totaling $1,073,901.25, with a 200-page document listing details. Vega’s counsel submitted evidence to support her current hourly rate of $425 for general tasks and $450 for in-court work. The district court granted Vega’s petition in the amount of $1,006,592, noting the District’s “scorched-earth litigation approach.” Vega filed a second fee petition totaling $254,635.69 for work following the first petition. The district court awarded $218,221.69 and granted Vega a tax-component award of $49,224.30. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that the award was “rather high for the type of litigation and monetary and equitable relief that Vega achieved,” but that the district court’s analysis and reasoning demonstrate an appropriate exercise of its discretion. View "Vega v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law

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Rozanova, self-represented, sued her neighbors, the respondents, in 2019. Rozanova had previously asserted claims involving the same property in 2013. The respondents unsuccessfully moved to have Rozanova declared a vexatious litigant and to require her to post bond or dismiss the action. The trial court later granted their motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding the action was “barred by res judicata/collateral estoppel and the statute of limitation.”Respondents filed a memorandum of costs, seeking $2,905.69 from Rozanova: $1,080 in filing and motion fees, $90 in court reporter fees, $1,253.04 for preparing photocopies of exhibits, and $482.65 in electronic filing or service fees. Among her objections, Rozanova claimed that recovery for photocopies “is limited to trial exhibits” under Code of Civil Procedure section 1033.5(a)(13). The trial court reduced the amount for electronic filing and service fees and approved an award of $2,743.04. The court found the motions to declare Rozanova a vexatious litigant and for an order restricting discovery “were made in good faith.” The court of appeal affirmed. The costs are recoverable outside the context of trial under section 1033.5(a)(13), View "Rozanova v. Uribe" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Sayedeh Sahba Amjadi appealed the dismissal entered after a settlement was entered by her attorney on her behalf and over her objection with defendant Jerrod West Brown, and appealed an order denying her subsequent motion to vacate the judgment. The settlement was entered by plaintiff’s attorney pursuant to a provision in the attorney’s contingent fee agreement, which purported to grant the attorney the right to accept settlement offers on the client’s behalf in the attorney’s “sole discretion,” so long as the attorney believed in good faith that the settlement offer was reasonable and in the client’s best interest. The Court of Appeal determined such a provision violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and was void to the extent it purported to grant an attorney the right to accept a settlement over the client’s objection. Accordingly, the Court held the settlement to be void and reversed the resulting judgment. The Court also referred plaintiff’s former attorneys to the State Bar for potential discipline, as required by law and by Canon 3D(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics. View "Amjadi v. Brown" on Justia Law