Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
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In 2016, McLaughlin, the head of a business, was arrested based on an alleged domestic dispute with his former girlfriend, Olivia. In 2018, an Illinois court ordered all records in that case expunged, and the destruction of McLaughlin’s arrest records and photographs. McLaughlin sought an order of protection against Olivia. The terms of the parties’ subsequent settlement were incorporated in a judgment, which was sealed. Doe nonetheless posted multiple Twitter messages about McLaughlin’s arrest with McLaughlin’s mugshot, tagging McLaughlin’s business contacts and clients, and media outlets. Twitter suspended Doe’s accounts. The Illinois court issued a subpoena requiring the production of documents related to Doe’s Twitter accounts and issued “letters rogatory” to the San Francisco County Superior Court. Under the authority of that court, McLaughlin's subpoena was to be served on Twitter in San Francisco, requesting information personally identifying the account holders. In a motion to quash, Doe argued he had a First Amendment right to engage in anonymous speech and a right to privacy under the California Constitution. Doe sought attorney fees, (Code of Civil Procedure1987.2(c))The court of appeal affirmed orders in favor of McLaughlin. No sanctions were awarded. Doe failed to establish he prevailed on his motion to quash or that “the underlying action arises from [his] exercise of free speech rights on the Internet.” Doe presented no legally cognizable argument that McLaughlin failed to make a prima facie showing of breach of the settlement agreement. View "Doe v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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601 Main sued Frym, its tenant, to collect $145,211.29 in unpaid rent, taxes, and insurance premiums. Frym filed a cross-complaint against 601, DeCarli (601’s principal), and their attorney, Leoni, for fraud, extortion, and breach of contract, alleging that 601, DeCarli, and Leoni entered Frym’s office “without announcement or an appointment and placed a blank promissory note in front of [him] and berated him and yelled at him to sign a blank promissory note or he would be evicted.” 601, DeCarli, and Leoni each filed a separate anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion, Code Civ. Proc. 425.16. The court granted DeCarli’s motion and awarded $6,310 in attorney fees and costs. Frym dismissed the cross-complaints against Leoni and 601. The court stated that “there is no reason that all three of these motions could not have been brought as one" and, although Leoni and 601 prevailed, or would have prevailed absent the dismissals, no further fees were merited.The court of appeal reversed. The trial court erred in not employing the lodestar method when it denied 601 and Leoni’s requests for attorney fees and costs; they were prevailing parties to their anti-SLAPP motions. Since the court found that the three motions contained similar or identical arguments, it could have reduced the lodestar figure based on duplicative work. View "Frym v. 601 Main Street LLC" on Justia Law

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Attorney Dennise Henderson violated several local court rules governing the timely service and filing of materials preparatory to trial. As a result, the trial court sanctioned her $950 under Code of Civil Procedure section 575.2. The trial court could have imposed a higher amount and was generous in awarding only an amount below that required to be reported by the State Bar. Nonetheless, Henderson appealed, challenging the legal basis for the sanctions on two grounds: (1) a superior court’s power to impose sanctions for violations of its local rules did not extend to violations of local rules regulating the conduct of trial; and (2) she could not be sanctioned for violating local court rules because the trial court exonerated her of acting in bad faith. The Court of Appeal rejected both arguments because the statute by its terms was not limited to pre-trial proceedings and the Legislature did not incorporate, expressly or otherwise, the section 128.5 bad faith standard into section 575.2. View "Shiheiber v. JPMorgan Chase Bank" on Justia Law

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Defendant Reid & Hellyer, APC (Reid & Hellyer) moved for sanctions against plaintiff Transcon Financial, Inc. (Transcon) and its counsel, Ronald Talkov. Reid & Hellyer filed two motions, one under California Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 and one under section 128.7. Transcon and Talkov appealed the orders granting the sanctions motions. After review, the Court of Appeal held the trial court erred by concluding that the sanctions motions could be filed on the last day of the 21-day safe harbor period, rather than on the first day after the 21-day period expired. Reid & Hellyer filed their sanctions motions on the last day of the 21-day period and therefore did not comply with the safe harbor provisions of the governing statutes. The trial court therefore erred by granting the motions. View "Transcon Financial, Inc. v. Reid & Hellyer, APC" on Justia Law

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Appellant, then proceeding pro se, brought an action against Respondent, her brother, alleging he had falsely accused her of committing crimes against him and their elderly parents. Respondent emailed the attorney in this matter (“Attorney”), who was Appellant’s husband since June 2015, her former coworker at his law firm, and later her counsel in this action, warning that if Appellant did not settle the action, Respondent would file a cross-complaint the next day.   The court subsequently dismissed Respondent’s cross-complaint. Appellant retained Attorney to represent her pro bono or at a discounted rate, having been advised by Attorney that he would likely need to testify at trial, and having executed informed written consent to Attorney’s representation notwithstanding his expected dual role as advocate and witness   Two months before trial, Respondent moved to disqualify Attorney as Appellant’s counsel under California’s advocate-witness rule, viz., rule 3.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 3.7). The trial court disqualified Attorney from all phases of the litigation.   The Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s disqualification order, holding that the trial court failed to apply the proper legal standards, and thereby abused its discretion, in disqualifying Attorney from representing Appellant under the advocate witness rule. The court explained that the trial court failed to apply Rule 3.7’s informed-consent exception. Indeed, the trial court failed even to cite Rule 3.7, instead applying the ABA Rule, which is not binding and lacks any informed-consent exception. The trial court further abused its discretion in failing to apply Rule 3.7’s limitation to advocacy “in a trial.” View "Lopez v. Lopez" on Justia Law

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Wang sued her former attorney Nesse, alleging professional malpractice in his representation of Wang in her marital dissolution action. Following Nesse’s death, his estate moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Wang’s complaint, filed on December 21, 2015, was barred by the one-year statute of limitations, Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6. According to Nesse’s estate, although Wang and Nesse filed a substitution of attorney form on December 30, 2014, Nesse’s representation of Wang had actually ended earlier, on December 3 or December 17 at the latest, when Wang “discharged” Nesse or “consented” to his withdrawal. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. The court of appeal reversed. There is a triable issue of material fact as to whether Nesse continued to represent her on December 21, 2014, so Nesse’s estate failed to establish that the statute of limitations bars her complaint as a matter of law. View "Wang v. Nesse" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Floyd Chodosh appealed the dismissal of his case against defendants the Commission on Judicial Performance (the Commission), the Department of Justice, and former Attorney General Xavier Becerra (together with the Department of Justice, the Attorney General; and with the Commission, defendants) after the trial court sustained defendants’ demurrer to Chodosh’s second amended complaint. Chodosh was a resident or owner of property in a senior-owned mobile home park. Prior to bringing this action, Chodosh was one of several plaintiffs involved in litigation concerning the mobile home park in Orange County Superior Court. The Honorable Robert Moss, Judge of the Orange County Superior Court, was assigned to the case. Chodosh submitted a complaint to the Commission in April 2016, alleging Judge Moss committed judicial misconduct in the mobile home park case by reassuming jurisdiction over the case after being disqualified. The Commission acknowledged receipt of the complaint. Chodosh alleged he heard nothing further from the Commission about it, leading him to conclude no action was taken with respect to Judge Moss. Chodosh then pressed his complaint to the Attorney General. The Attorney General likewise acknowledge the complaint, but replied it could not investigate further. Chodosh thereafter filed this lawsuit, alleging Judge Moss committed judicial misconduct by “fixing” the mobile home park case against Chodosh and the other plaintiffs thereto. Having carefully considered the record and the parties’ arguments, The Court of Appeal concluded Chodosh failed to state facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action against any defendant. View "Chodosh v. Commission on Judicial Performance, et al." on Justia Law

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For about 10 years Victaulic and three of its insurers, members of the American Insurance Group (AIG), have been engaged in litigation. One case is this lawsuit filed by Victaulic in 2012; in 2013, the Pillsbury law firm became counsel for Victaulic and has represented it since, ultimately winning a $56 million judgment. In 2018, that judgment was reversed based on a combination of errors by the trial judge. Following remand, Victaulic filed an amended complaint; the vigorous litigation continued. In 2021 the insurers learned that two attorneys who had done work for a claims-handling arm of AIG had recently joined the Pillsbury firm, about six years after they left employment at the earlier firm. The insurers moved to disqualify the lawyers and the Pillsbury firm, generating thousands of pages of pleadings, declarations, and exhibits, and two hearings.The trial court concluded that the insurers failed to meet their burden. The court of appeal affirmed. There was no showing that the two attorneys had any confidential information and no “direct professional relationship with the former client in which the attorney personally provided legal advice and services on a legal issue that is closely related to the legal issue in the present representation.” View "Victaulic Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law

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Russo contracted to build four airport firefighting trucks for the city. The contract provided that Russo would pay the city’s attorney fees in the event of litigation involving the trucks. Under a performance bond, Specialty agreed to be liable to the city for any losses if Russo failed to perform the contract. The city accepted and paid for two trucks, but subsequently terminated the contract and refused to pay for the remaining two trucks before they were delivered. Alleging problems with the first two trucks and Russo’s failure to timely deliver the other two, the city made a claim under the performance bond, then sued Russo for breach of contract and sought enforcement of the performance bond against Russo and Specialty, demanding the return of the payments it had made for the first two trucks. Russo sued the city for breach of contract. The city won judgments on all claims; a jury awarded the city $1. B.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Specialty’s application for attorney fees, rejecting Specialty’s argument that, despite losing on contract liability, it is entitled to fees as the prevailing party because the jury awarded the city only nominal damages rather than the $3.4 million that the city sought. The trial court had discretion to find that neither party prevailed. View "City of Los Angeles Department of Airports v. U.S. Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Lynne filed suit against her mother, individually and as trustee of a family trust, and her sisters (collectively Respondents), alleging that they forged trust instruments purporting to divide her parents’ estate upon the death of her father. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the Respondents after determining the trust instruments were not forgeries. On Respondents’ motion for attorneys’ fees, the trial court ordered Lynne to pay over $829,000, finding there was no merit to the position Lynne pursued at the trial, and that Lynne “acted without basis in filing any of her claims.” In addition, the court ordered Lynne to pay over $96,000 in costs.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting Lynne’s arguments that the trial court’s jurisdiction was limited to the property of the trust estate, such that she could not be personally liable for any amount of attorneys’ fees over and above her interest in the trust and that because she had a reasonable and good faith belief in the merits of her claim, there was insufficient evidence to support the issuance of the fee award. View "Bruno v. Hopkins" on Justia Law