Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Civil Rights
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The case involves two attorneys, Jeffrey Peterzalek and Molly Weber, who sought to quash subpoenas for their depositions in a civil rights case brought by Charis Paulson against her employers, the State of Iowa and the Iowa Department of Public Safety (DPS). Paulson alleged gender-motivated discrimination and retaliation. Weber had represented DPS in its response to Paulson's civil rights complaint before the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (ICRC), while Peterzalek had represented DPS and its leaders in various other matters over the years. The district court declined to quash the subpoenas but ordered that the depositions be sealed. The attorneys then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court of Iowa.The Supreme Court of Iowa granted the writ and retained the case. The attorneys argued that the court should adopt the Shelton test, which narrowly limits the circumstances in which opposing counsel may be deposed. They also argued that they should not be deposed or, alternatively, that substantial limitations should be imposed if their depositions were allowed.The Supreme Court of Iowa agreed with the attorneys' argument to adopt the Shelton test. Applying the test, the court concluded that Weber's deposition should be quashed as she was opposing counsel in the ongoing dispute and the information sought could be obtained by other means and was protected by the work-product doctrine. However, the court affirmed the district court's refusal to quash the subpoena for Peterzalek's deposition, as he was not opposing counsel in the ongoing dispute. The court remanded the case for further proceedings, including the entry of an order quashing the subpoena for Weber's deposition. View "Peterzalek v. Iowa District Court for Polk County" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit examined the constitutionality of Cook County, Illinois's use of cameras to record holding cell toilets in courthouses throughout the county. The plaintiffs, pretrial detainees, claimed that the cameras infringed upon their Fourth Amendment privacy interests and also constituted an intrusion upon seclusion under Illinois law. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, Cook County and Sheriff Thomas J. Dart, and the plaintiffs appealed.The Court of Appeals held that the plaintiffs did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy when using the toilets in courthouse holding cells. While it acknowledged that there are questions around the extent to which detainees have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their bodies while in a holding cell, it found that any privacy rights are substantially diminished. The court further held that Cook County's use of cameras in courthouse holding cells was reasonable due to the security risks inherent in the setting. The court also determined that one of the plaintiffs, Alicea, had standing to sue, but the other plaintiffs did not.Furthermore, the court affirmed the district court's decision to grant summary judgment on the plaintiffs' claim for intrusion upon seclusion. It held that the plaintiff had not met his burden on the fourth element of the claim, anguish and suffering.Lastly, the court affirmed the district court's decisions related to discovery and attorneys' fees. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in these decisions. Thus, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "Alicea v. County of Cook" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's decision, finding that the Middle Republican Natural Resources District (NRD) violated the due process rights of two landowners, Merlin Brown and Uhrich & Brown Limited Partnership, by having the same attorneys act as both prosecutors and participants in the adjudicatory process of the case. The court held that such a combination of prosecutorial and adjudicatory functions in the same individuals posed an intolerably high risk of actual bias, thus, infringing on the landowners' right to a fair trial by an impartial tribunal. In this case, the NRD had accused the landowners of violating certain ground water management rules. The case was initially heard by the Board of Directors of the NRD, whose decision to impose penalties on the landowners was informed by the same attorneys who had prosecuted the case on behalf of the NRD. The landowners appealed the Board's decision under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), leading to the district court's reversal. The NRD then appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's ruling. View "Uhrich & Brown Ltd. Part. v. Middle Republican NRD" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit in federal district court against Judge Goldston and others present at the search. Plaintiff claimed that the warrantless search and seizure of his property violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, that the restrictions on recording the incident violated the First Amendment, and that Judge Goldston’s practice of conducting “home visits” violated the Equal Protection Clause by disadvantaging pro se litigants like himself. He sought compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, as well as attorney’s fees and injunctive and declaratory relief. Judge Goldston moved for summary judgment, claiming she was entitled to absolute judicial immunity. The district court denied her motion. At issue on appeal is whether Judge Goldston is entitled to judicial immunity.   The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that judicial immunity protects only judicial acts. It does not shield the conduct of judges who step outside their judicial role, as Judge Goldston did when searching Plaintiff’s home. The court explained that while Judge Goldston might have had the authority to order a search, the proper authority to conduct the operation was the local sheriff’s department or some other appropriate law enforcement agency. The court explained that just as “judges do not do double duty as jailers,” so too they do not do double duty as sheriffs. View "Matthew Gibson v. Louise Goldston" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Salem received a license to practice law in New York. He applied for but was denied a license to practice in Illinois, where he resides, but maintained an Illinois practice, from 2004-2019, by obtaining permission to appear pro hac vice. The Illinois Attorney Disciplinary and Registration Commission (IARDC) charged him with falsely representing that he was licensed in Illinois and successfully requested that the Illinois Supreme Court prohibit Illinois courts from allowing him to appear pro hac vice for 90 days. Salem filed suit, 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Salem’s suit and ordered him to show cause why he should not be sanctioned. The court first rejected Salem’s argument that every Illinois district judge should be disqualified and the case transferred to Michigan. The court then held that the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court cannot be collaterally attacked in civil litigation. The court noted that the defendant, the IARDC, did not deprive Salem of liberty or property and that there was a rational basis for the Supreme Court’s decision. The court described the litigation as frivolous and noted Salem’s history of “preposterous” behavior in federal court. View "Salem v. Illinois Attorney Registration and Discipinary Commission" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued her employer, Defendant Montefiore Medical Center, and two of its employees, asserting claims of sexual harassment during and retaliatory discharge from her employment. Following the district court’s grant of partial summary judgment in their favor, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s remaining claims and sought sanctions against Plaintiff and her counsel, Appellant Daniel Altaras and his firm, Appellant Derek Smith Law Group, PLLC (“DSLG”), contending that Plaintiff’s text message evidence was a forgery. The district court found by clear and convincing evidence that Plaintiff had fabricated the text messages, falsely testified about their production, and spoliated evidence in an attempt to conceal her wrongdoing. The district court also found that Altaras had facilitated Plaintiff’s misconduct. The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s remaining claims with prejudice and imposed a monetary sanction of attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses incurred by Defendants. On appeal, Appellants challenged various aspects of the district court’s conduct.   The court vacated the portion of the district court’s judgment imposing a sanction on Altaras and DSLG and remanded for further proceedings consistent. The court affirmed the judgment of the district court in all other respects. The court held that the district court erred by failing to expressly make the finding of bad faith required to support the sanction it imposed against Altaras and DSLG.  The court directed that on remand, the district court may assess in its discretion whether Altaras’s misconduct—including his insistence on defending a complaint founded on obviously fabricated evidence or other actions—amounted to bad faith. View "Rossbach et al. v. Montefiore Medical Center et al." on Justia Law

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Appellant Attorney Kezhaya represented The Satanic Temple, Inc., in its lawsuits against the City of Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The Temple sued the City, claiming that the City opened a limited public forum for a Christian monument, but closed the forum to exclude a Satanic monument. The City sought $33,886.80 in attorney’s fees incurred by responding to the complaint in the second lawsuit and preparing the motion for sanctions. The court determined that the rates charged by the City’s counsel were reasonable but observed that a portion of the work was duplicative of the first lawsuit and that the issues unique to the second lawsuit were not complex, novel, or difficult. The court thus reduced the requested amount by fifty percent and ordered the Temple’s counsel to pay the City $16,943.40 under Rule 11(c). Kezhaya appealed the sanctions order. He argues that the district court abused its discretion by (i) imposing sanctions, (ii) failing to consider non-monetary sanctions, and (iii) granting an arbitrary amount of sanctions.   The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the circumstances, it disagreed with Kezhaya’s contention about the righteousness of a second lawsuit. For the claims dismissed “without prejudice” in the first lawsuit, Kezhaya and the Temple made a strategic choice to seek leave to amend the complaint to correct the deficiencies identified in the dismissal order. Further, the court found that even if the City’s insurance carrier ultimately paid the fees, the fees were “incurred” for the motion and could be awarded under Rule 11(c)(2). View "Matthew Kezhaya v. City of Belle Plaine" on Justia Law

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Doe, a University of Michigan student, was accused of sexual assault in 2018. Before the University’s investigation had concluded, he sued. alleging that the University’s disciplinary procedures for cases involving sexual assault violated his due process rights. The district court granted him a preliminary injunction preventing the disciplinary process from proceeding. The Sixth Circuit remanded for reconsideration in light of “Baum,” in which it held that the University’s disciplinary procedures violated due process and in light of the University’s new disciplinary policy implemented in response to that decision.The district court granted in part and denied in part the University’s motion to dismiss and granted in part Doe’s motion for partial summary judgment. The University appealed again, renewing its jurisdictional arguments. Before the appeal was heard, the complainant decided she no longer wished to participate. The Sixth Circuit determined that the appeal had become moot and vacated the summary judgment order. Doe then sought attorney fees, which the district court granted.The University appealed again. The Sixth Circuit vacated, noting that issues of ripeness, standing, and mootness have gone unaddressed through more than five years of litigation. Doe had standing to sue to seek the release of his transcript but that the district court lacked jurisdiction over his remaining claims. Doe was the prevailing party only as to his due process claim seeking the release of his transcript. View "Doe v. University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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White. convicted of four counts of aggravated murder, two counts of attempted murder, two counts of felonious assault, one count of aggravated burglary, three counts of aggravated robbery, and one count of having a weapon while under disability, was sentenced to life in prison without parole. On appeal, White argued that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel because his attorney, Armengau, was under indictment in Franklin County, Ohio, for serious criminal offenses and “would have been conflicted over whether to devote time to preparing his own defense or that of his client”; “would have been reluctant to vigorously represent White" for fear of angering the prosecutor; and might have failed to engage in plea-bargaining in White’s case out of a desire to gain a victory over the prosecutor. The Ohio Court of Appeals declined to consider White’s claim because the record lacked necessary facts.In White's federal habeas proceedings, the district court found that Armengau had told White about Armengau’s indictment but White had decided to retain Armengau anyway. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. Because White’s claim depends on facts outside the state court record, the Supreme Court’s 2022 "Shinn" decision likely precludes relief. Even considering the new facts introduced in federal habeas court, White’s claim fails. White failed to show that the alleged conflict adversely affected counsel’s performance. White and Armengau’s cases were handled by different judges and were prosecuted by different authorities. View "White v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Addison was convicted, in absentia, of unlawful possession of a motor vehicle, unlawful possession of a converted motor vehicle, forgery, and two counts of theft, arising out of his alleged use of counterfeit money to purchase a motorcycle, and was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. Having failed to appear for trial, he was subsequently arrested.Addison’s appellate counsel did not file a brief and determined that there are no meritorious issues, except concerning credit that should be applied toward the prison sentences. Addison filed a postconviction petition, contending that trial and appellate counsel were deficient. Appointed postconviction counsel filed an amended petition, alleging trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress based on improper Miranda warnings, for failing to object to expert testimony regarding counterfeit currency when no expert was disclosed, and for failing to argue sufficiency of the evidence where there were discrepancies; and that the court erred in giving an accountability instruction. The petition did not assert ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The trial court dismissed the petition.Addison appealed, arguing that postconviction counsel rendered unreasonable assistance in failing to argue ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The Illinois Supreme Court agreed. Addison did not forfeit collateral review of his conviction by failing to appear at trial. While any postconviction claims that could have been raised on direct appeal are generally forfeited that forfeiture could have been overcome by framing the issues as ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for failing to raise the issues on direct appeal. The appellate court properly remanded for compliance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 651(c) without considering the merits. View "People v. Addison" on Justia Law