Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
Articles Posted in Alabama Supreme Court
On rehearing, Clay C. Slagle moved the Supreme Court to "disqualify" Robert Bernard Harwood, Jr., from sitting as a Special Justice on this case on the ground, among others, that he was then-currently engaged in the private practice of law. Slagle based this argument solely on the text of Art. VI, section 147(a), Ala. Const. 1901 (Off. Recomp.). "In effect, Slagle [was] contending that, notwithstanding the provision in 12-2-14, Ala. Code 1975, for the appointment of 'member[s] of the bar' to sit as Special Justices in certain circumstances, the Constitution prevents such an appointee from engaging in the private practice of law." The Supreme Court rejected Slagle's contention and overruled his application. View "Slagle v. Ross" on Justia Law
Rodgetta Colvin Jett n/k/a Octavia R. Cantelow-Jett ("Jett") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered against her in a legal-malpractice action against attorney James M. Wooten and his law firm, the Law Offices of James M. Wooten, P.C. ("Wooten P.C."). Jett was injured when she fell down the stairs while leaving a YMCA facility in Birmingham. Jett filed a legal-malpractice action against the Wooten defendants as a result of their failure to initiate legal actions on her behalf against the YMCA before the limitations period expired on those claims. The trial court thereafter entered a summary judgment in favor of the Wooten defendants, holding that Jett's claims against them were themselves barred by the two-year statute of limitations that applied to Alabama Legal Services Act (ALSA) claims because Jett did not initiate her action until December 30, 2010, more than two years after the two YMCA incidents. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed, holding that the ALSA tolled the statute of limitations and that the two-year period in which Jett could initiate an action against the Wooten defendants based on Wooten's failure to file actions against the YMCA did not begin to run until Jett discovered that Wooten had not filed the legal actions she alleged he told her he had filed. Accordingly, her lawsuit against the Wooten defendants was timely filed. The judgment of the trial court was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Jett v. Wooten" on Justia Law
Retired district judge M. John Steensland, Jr. appealed a judgment of the Alabama Court of the Judiciary (COJ) that publicly censured him for misconduct that preceeded his retirement. In 2008, Judge Steensland had begun to serve a six-year term when the Judicial Inquiry Commission (JIC) began an investigation based on complaints of his courtroom conduct and demeanor filed by several parties that had come before the judge in prior cases. In 2010 while the JIC's investigation was ongoing, the Judge voluntarily retired from office. On appeal, Judge Steensland did not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence or the nature of the discipline imposed. He merely renewed the grounds he originally asserted in his motion to dismiss the complaint: the absence of jurisdiction and the application of the doctrine of condonation. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded the COJ did not err in entering its judgment against Judge Steensland, and accordingly affirmed that decision. View "Steensland, Jr. v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Comm'n" on Justia Law
Posted in: Alabama Supreme Court, Government & Administrative Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Barbara Roberts sued Steve Lanier and his firm Steve Lanier, PC, and Rodney Stallings and his firm Coggin & Stallings, LLC. In 2006, Ms. Roberts was arrested on murder charges and sent to the Cherokee County jail. She contacted Attorney Lanier, who then met with her and agreed to represent her in her criminal proceedings. The contract between them provided that Ms. Roberts would pay a "nonrefundable retainer" of $50,000. At that time, Ms. Roberts executed a power-of-attorney authorizing Mr. Lanier to withdraw the retainer from her bank accounts. Ms. Roberts testified at trial that she first learned that Mr. Lanier was not licensed to practice law in Alabama when she appeared for her first hearing at the district court. It was then that she was introduced to Mr. Stallings, who "associated" on her case. Seeing no need for two lawyers, she tried to terminate Mr. Lanier's representation. Mr. Stallings eventually managed Ms. Roberts' case, having all her mail sent to his office so that he could "oversee every aspect" of her personal life, including payment of all outstanding bills and expenses. Ms. Roberts alleged that instead of using her money for the purposes she intended, Mr. Stallings misappropriated approximately $100,000 of her funds. Ms. Roberts was eventually convicted of capital murder and sentenced to life without parole. She later learned that the "nonrefundable retainer" language in her contract with Mr. Lanier was unenforceable under Alabama law, and sued her former lawyers for legal malpractice. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the lawyers. Upon review, the Supreme Court reversed the circuit court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the lawyers only with respect to employment contract and the "nonrefundable retainer" and the misappropriation of Ms. Roberts' money for expenses while she awaited trial. The Court remanded the case for further proceedings.
Posted in: Alabama Supreme Court, Contracts, Criminal Law, Legal Ethics, Professional Malpractice & Ethics