Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Defendant School Administrative Unit No. 55 (the SAU), appealed a superior court order denying its motion to dismiss the complaint filed by plaintiffs the Hampstead School District and Hampstead School Board (collectively, "Hampstead"), and granting Hampstead’s request for an order compelling the SAU to produce immediately an investigative report prepared by an attorney. In November 2018, the Hampstead School Board unanimously adopted a resolution “reject[ing] and disapprov[ing] . . . the inappropriate and unprofessional conduct and commentary engaged in by” Timberlane Regional School Board members regarding certain Hampstead School District representatives and SAU administrators. In the summer of 2019, a former SAU employee and a current SAU employee alleged that certain SAU board members had engaged in workplace harassment and/or had created a hostile work environment. The chair of the SAU board arranged for a lawyer to investigate the allegations. At a December 2019 public session, the SAU board chair stated that “[a]n independent, experienced employment attorney conducted an extensive investigation of a hostile work environment allegation,” and that the attorney had “found that the allegations had no merit.” Hampstead’s counsel subsequently requested to view the report pursuant to the New Hampshire Right-to-Know Law. The SAU declined the request, asserting the report was protected by attorney-client privilege. Hampstead then filed this suit, alleging that the report was a public document about public officials and, therefore, was subject to disclosure under RSA chapter 91-A. The New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court, finding that the SAU’s contention that records protected by the attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine were per se exempt from disclosure under the Right-to-Know Law rested upon "an understandable, but mistaken, interpretation of our precedent." View "Hampstead School Board et al. v. School Administrative Unit No. 55" on Justia Law

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The arbitration award at issue here involved claims by a former investment fund manager and his former employers, namely, the investment funds. All parties were sophisticated and engaged in a business - not consumer - dispute. Both law firms were frequent users of the services of the ADR provider, JAMS. The motion to vacate was based on the sole ground that the arbitrator did not disclose the extent of JAMS’s “business relationship” with O’Melveny & Myers (one of the law firms) and the arbitrator’s ownership interest in JAMS (not more than .1 percent of total revenue in a given year). Appellant contended the arbitrator failed to make required disclosures. The sole basis for the appeal was the argument the arbitrator did not disclose information that could cause a reasonable person aware of the facts to entertain a doubt that the arbitrator would be able to be impartial. The trial court granted a motion to confirm an arbitration award and denied a motion to vacate that award. Based on the facts and circumstances shown by this record, and applying the analytical framework the Court of Appeal held that the arbitrator’s and JAMS’s disclosures were sufficient, and the arbitrator was not required to disclose more information about the extent of JAMS’s business with O’Melveny & Myers, or the arbitrator’s own ownership interest in JAMS. "There is no issue of a repeat party or lawyer being favored over a non-repeat party or lawyer; the parties in this business dispute are sophisticated; and the law firms were both frequent users of JAMS to the same extent." View "Speier v. The Advantage Fund, LLC" on Justia Law

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After an employee brought a wage and hour class action against her employer and prior to certification, the parties settled. The employer paid a sum to the employee and she dismissed the class claims without prejudice, with court approval. Then the employer brought a malicious prosecution action against the employee and her counsel. The employee and her counsel each moved to strike the action under the anti-SLAPP law, which the trial court denied on the basis that the employer established a prima facie showing of prevailing on its malicious prosecution cause of action.The Court of Appeal concluded that, because the prior action resolved by settlement, the employer is unable to establish that the action terminated in its favor as a matter of law. The court explained that the class claims are not severable from the individual claims for the purposes of the favorable termination analysis. Furthermore, the entire action terminated by settlement – a termination which was not favorable to the employer as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for determination of one unadjudicated anti-SLAPP issue, and whether the employee and her counsel are entitled to an award of attorney fees. View "Citizens of Humanity, LLC v. Ramirez" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit granted a petitioner for review of the BRB's decision upholding the ALJ's award of attorney's fees and costs under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act (LHWCA), in an action brought by petitioner for death benefits.The panel held that aspects of the decisions under review constitute legal error and are not supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the panel held that the ALJ improperly rejected the fee applicant's evidence of prevailing market rates, erroneously established a paralegal's hourly rate by reference to other ALJ decisions rather than evidence of prevailing market rates in the relevant community, and improperly denied fees for hours reasonably expended. Furthermore, the ALJ and the BRB erred in concluding that the LHWCA does not authorize an award of interest on costs. Therefore, the panel remanded to the BRB for further proceedings and ordered the BRB to reassign this matter to a different ALJ on remand. View "Seachris v. Brady-Hamilton Stevedore Co." on Justia Law

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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