Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

by
In this case, Mike Austin Anderson, the defendant, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and using a gun during a crime of violence. These charges stemmed from an incident that took place on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Mississippi, where Anderson shot Julian McMillan after an argument. On appeal, Anderson contested that the district court erred in ruling that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for the jury to return guilty verdicts, despite the court's self-defense instruction. He also argued that the district court wrongly denied his pretrial motion to recuse the lead prosecutor and the entire United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi due to a conflict of interest. Anderson claimed that the lead prosecutor had previously represented him and his father while working as a public defender in Choctaw Tribal Court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the evidence against Anderson was sufficient and that the district court did not err in denying his recusal motion. The appellate court found no substantial relationship between the prosecutor's prior representation of Anderson and the current federal prosecution against him. View "USA v. Anderson" on Justia Law

by
The case involves Jennifer Garcia, who was charged with multiple counts, including making threats to a public officer, disobeying a court order, possessing a weapon in a courthouse, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon. After her counsel declared doubt as to Garcia's mental competence, the trial court suspended the criminal proceedings for a determination of Garcia's mental competence. Based on the evaluations of a licensed psychiatrist and a licensed psychologist, the court found Garcia mentally incompetent to stand trial and lacking capacity to make decisions regarding the administration of antipsychotic medication. Garcia appealed the court's order authorizing the state hospital to involuntarily administer antipsychotic medication to her, alleging errors with the order and ineffective assistance of her trial counsel. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, affirmed the trial court's order. The appellate court found that substantial evidence supported the trial court's order, the psychologist did not exceed the scope of her license in her evaluation, and the psychiatrist's opinion did not lack statutorily required information. The appellate court also found that the error in the trial court's form order was harmless and Garcia was not prejudiced by any ineffectiveness of her counsel. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of Ohio denied a request from Jeryne Peterson, the mayor of Buckeye Lake, for writs of prohibition and mandamus against the Licking County Board of Elections and its members, the Fairfield County Board of Elections and its members, and the village of Buckeye Lake and its council president, Linda Goodman. Peterson was seeking to prevent a scheduled recall election from taking place.The court found that Peterson failed to show that she was entitled to a writ of prohibition preventing the village from setting the recall-election date or preventing the respondent boards of elections from conducting that election. She also failed to show that she was entitled to a writ of mandamus ordering the respondent boards of elections to remove the recall election from the ballot. The court also denied Peterson’s motion to disqualify the village’s attorney. View "State ex rel. Peterson v. Licking County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado ruled in favor of the petitioners, GHP Horwath, P.C.; Nadine Pietrowski; Bohn Aguilar, LLC; Michael G. Bohn; and Armando Y. Aguilar, in their request to permanently enjoin respondent Nina H. Kazazian from proceeding without legal representation (pro se) in Colorado state courts. The court found that Kazazian, a disbarred attorney, had consistently abused the legal system by pursuing numerous frivolous lawsuits and appeals, often targeting the attorneys involved in her cases. This behavior, the court held, caused unnecessary strain on judicial resources and was often aimed at harassing the opposing parties. Therefore, while Kazazian retained the right to access the courts, she could only do so through an attorney. View "Horwath v. Kazazian" on Justia Law

by
In the Supreme Court of Georgia, the appellant, Belinda Lopez, was convicted of malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in relation to the shooting death of her husband, Noel Lopez. The court presented evidence of a night out involving Belinda, Noel, and Belinda’s friend Angelica Juarez, which culminated in Noel being shot in the head. Belinda called 911 to report the incident. Throughout her interviews with investigators, Belinda maintained that she was defending herself from Noel's attack when the gun accidentally discharged. However, her account of the incident shifted over time.In her appeal, Belinda contended that the evidence presented at her trial was insufficient to support her convictions and that her trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. She claimed that the State failed to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt her theories of self-defense and accident, and alternatively, suggested that Juarez may have shot Noel.The court rejected Belinda's claims, affirming that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support her convictions. The court found that Belinda's shifting accounts of the incident, combined with expert testimony and physical evidence, allowed the jury to conclude that she was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of malice murder and the related firearm possession count.Regarding Belinda's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the court found that her trial counsel's decision not to pursue requests for certain jury instructions and his failure to object to the prosecutor’s closing argument did not constitute deficient performance. The court concluded that Belinda failed to establish that her trial counsel's performance was deficient or that she suffered prejudice as a result of his actions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions. View "LOPEZ v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

by
In this Georgia Supreme Court case, the defendant, Darnell Rene Floyd, was convicted of felony murder predicated on possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and other related charges in connection to the shooting death of Telmo Ortiz. Floyd argued he was acting in self-defense during the incident. On appeal, Floyd's main contention was that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective due to their handling of the interplay between self-defense and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.The Supreme Court of Georgia agreed with Floyd and reversed his conviction. The Court concluded that Floyd's trial counsel failed to request a jury instruction about self-defense under OCGA § 16-11-138, which provides that self-defense can be an absolute defense for a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Additionally, the court determined Floyd's trial counsel didn't clearly explain that self-defense applied to felony murder based on felon-in-possession and agreed with the trial court's response to the jury's question, which didn't clarify the application of self-defense to felony murder and felon-in-possession.The court held that these failures constituted deficient performance by counsel and resulted in prejudice to Floyd's case. However, since the evidence against Floyd was constitutionally sufficient to authorize the conviction, he may be retried. The court also reversed Floyd's conviction for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, as it was only supported by the reversed felony murder conviction. View "FLOYD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of New Hampshire ruled in a case where the defendant, Jean M. Maxi Jr., was convicted and sentenced for two crimes: attempted felonious sexual assault (FSA) and certain uses of computer services prohibited. Maxi appealed, arguing that the two charges constituted the same offense for double jeopardy purposes, thereby violating his constitutional rights. The defendant also argued pro se that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because the appellate defender failed to consider his research or argue a double jeopardy violation under the U.S. Constitution.The court found that, as charged, the two offenses required different evidence to prove different elements and did not constitute the same offense for double jeopardy purposes. The court also dismissed the defendant's pro se arguments as insufficiently developed for review. Therefore, the court upheld the lower court's decision and affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence for both charges. View "State v. Maxi" on Justia Law

by
In Minnesota, a district court removed Brian Lipschultz as a trustee from the Otto Bremer Trust. This decision was based on his violation of Minnesota Statutes section 501C.0706(b)(1), which allows for the removal of a trustee for a “serious breach of trust.” The breaches included Lipschultz's misuse of trust resources for personal purposes, offensive behavior during a stock dispute, manipulation of a grantee, and failure to disclose his successor. Lipschultz appealed this decision, arguing that the district court and court of appeals applied an incorrect legal standard for removal and that they abused their discretion in removing him under section 501C.0706(b)(1). However, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals, stating that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion when it determined that Lipschultz committed “a serious breach of trust” under section 501C.0706(b)(1). The court concluded that Lipschultz breached the duty of loyalty and the duty of information, demonstrating a pattern of placing his personal priorities over the duties he owed to the Trust. View "In the Matter of the Otto Bremer Trust" on Justia Law

by
In a legal malpractice case in North Dakota, a couple, Kenneth and Carol Pinks, sued attorney Alexander Kelsch and his professional corporation, along with associated partners, alleging negligence in representing them in a quiet title action against the State of North Dakota. The District Court, South Central Judicial District, bifurcated the malpractice action to first determine the element of causation, specifically whether the Pinks would have achieved a more favorable outcome in the quiet title action but for the alleged negligence of the defendants. The court denied cross-motions for summary judgment, finding there were genuine issues of material fact.Following a bench trial on the causation element, the district court concluded that had the evidence of the Pinks’ ownership of the disputed land been presented in the quiet title action, they would have established their ownership claim was prior and superior to the State’s claim of title. The court concluded the Pinks proved the element of causation and ordered a jury trial be set on the remaining issues of the legal malpractice claim. The defendants appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of North Dakota, however, dismissed the appeal, ruling that the defendants were attempting to appeal from an interlocutory order, and the defendants did not seek certification under Rule 54(b) of the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule requires that, in cases with more than one claim or multiple parties, a final judgment on one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties can only be directed if the court expressly determines there is no just reason for delay. The court found that the district court only ruled on the causation element of the legal malpractice claim, and other elements, such as the existence of an attorney-client relationship, a duty by the attorney to the client, a breach of that duty by the attorney, and damages were still left to be adjudicated. The defendants' failure to comply with Rule 54(b) led to the dismissal of the appeal. The court also denied the Pinks' request for costs and attorney’s fees, determining that the defendants' appeal was not frivolously made. View "Pinks v. Kelsch" on Justia Law

by
Duane Burchill was convicted of two counts of robbery, one count of conspiracy to commit deceptive practices, and one count of possession of dangerous drugs in 2017. Following his conviction, Burchill filed a petition for postconviction relief, asserting that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s misconduct during his trial. The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the denial of Burchill's petition for postconviction relief.Burchill's claim of ineffective assistance centered on two main arguments. First, he argued that the prosecutor repeatedly asked him to comment on the credibility of other witnesses by asking "were they lying" questions. Second, he alleged that the prosecutor posed questions suggesting his personal opinion that Burchill's testimony was not truthful.The court, however, found that the "were they lying" questions were not improper because they had probative value in evaluating the credibility of a defendant who is claiming that everyone else is lying. The court also disagreed that the prosecutor had expressed personal opinions on Burchill's credibility. The court concluded that the prosecutor's questions were within the scope of permissible questions allowed on cross-examination. Therefore, the court found that Burchill's counsel's failure to object did not constitute ineffective assistance.The court did not find it necessary to address Burchill's claim of prejudice due to the failure of his counsel to object, as it had already determined that his counsel's performance was not deficient. Thus, Burchill's petition for postconviction relief was denied. View "Burchill v. State" on Justia Law