Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Georgia Supreme Court
St. Simons Waterfront, LLC v. Hunter, Maclean, Exely & Dunn, P.C.
Appellant St. Simon's Waterfront, LLC ("SSW") sued its former law firm, Appellee Hunter, Maclean, Exley & Dunn, P.C. ("Hunter Maclean"), over the firm's representation in a commercial real estate venture. During the litigation, SSW sought production of communications between Hunter Maclean attorneys and the firm's in-house general counsel, which took place during the firm's ongoing representation of SSW, in anticipation of potential malpractice claims by SSW. Hunter Maclean asserted that the materials were protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine, but the trial court disagreed and ordered their production. On appeal, the Court of Appeals vacated the trial court's order and remanded for further consideration. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the same basic analysis that is conducted to assess privilege and work product in every other variation of the attorney-client relationship should also be applied to the law firm in-house counsel situation. The Court vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "St. Simons Waterfront, LLC v. Hunter, Maclean, Exely & Dunn, P.C." on Justia Law
Villanueva v. First American Title Ins. Co.
In 2007, Appellant Derick Villanueva acted as the closing attorney for a mortgage-refinance transaction in which Homecomings Financial, LLC served as the lender supplying funds to pay off earlier mortgages on the secured property. Appellee First American Title Insurance Company issued title insurance on the transaction. Pursuant to Villanueva’s instructions, Homecomings wired funds into a specified escrow account. However, the funds were not used to pay off the earlier mortgages; instead, the funds were withdrawn and the account closed by a person not a lawyer. First American paid off the earlier mortgages and, pursuant to its closing protection letter to Homecomings, became "subrogated to all rights and remedies [Homecomings] would have had against any person or property…." First American then filed this lawsuit against appellants, the estate of another attorney, the escrow account, the non-lawyer who withdrew the funds from the escrow account, and others, seeking damages for legal malpractice and breach of a contract with Homecomings. The trial court denied summary judgment to appellants. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether a legal malpractice claims were not per se unassignable. After studying the issue, the Court agreed with the appellate court that legal malpractice claims are not per se unassignable. View "Villanueva v. First American Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Holland v. Caviness
The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia certified a question to the Georgia Supreme Court: "Is it proper for a jury to consider a defendant’s worldly circumstances when deciding the amount of damages that should be imposed under OCGA 51-12-6?" The question arose from a case in which the issue on appeal was whether admission of "worldly circumstances" evidence in a tort action where the only injury to plaintiff was to his peace, happiness or feelings. Steven Caviness was injured in a train accident and retained attorney James Holland, II to pursue an action against the train company. The attorney filed a complaint; the company raised the affirmative defense of the expiration of the statute of limitation. The client was not told of the mistake until twenty days after his attorney learned of the missed statute of limitation. Caviness sued his attorney, and the attorney was granted summary judgment on the legal malpractice claim. A breach of fiduciary duty claim was allowed to proceed, but the district court found that because the only remaining injury to Caviness's peace, happiness or feelings, OCGA 51-12-6 applied. Caviness introduced evidence of Holland's worldly circumstances, including the law firm's income, the attorney's salary, the attorney's real estate holdings and personal property. A jury awarded Caviness $700,000 in damages. Holland's motion for a new trial was denied with leave to renew pending the Supreme Court's answer to the certified question. The Supreme Court responded that OCGA 51-12-6 precludes admission of worldly circumstances when the only injury is to a plaintiff's peace, happiness or feelings. View "Holland v. Caviness" on Justia Law
Mayor & Alderman of the City of Savannah v. Batson-Cook Co., et al.
This case arose out of a contractual dispute between the city and its contractor and sub-contractor concerning the design and construction of an underground parking garage. At issue was whether the city's petition for a writ of certiorari to the court of appeals to decide whether that court erred when it determined the trial judge did not err when, having been presented with a motion to recuse him, he denied the motion rather than referred it to another judge. The court held that, since the affidavits at issue raised a reasonable question about the trial judge's impartiality that required the assignment of the motion to recuse to another judge, the court of appeals erred when it affirmed the trial judge's denial of the motion to recuse for failure to meet the requirement of USCR 23.5. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded. View "Mayor & Alderman of the City of Savannah v. Batson-Cook Co., et al." on Justia Law
Jordan v. Moses
Attorneys Jordan and Moses formed a two-member partnership in 2003 for an indefinite term and in 2006, Jordan communicated to Moses that he was contemplating ending the relationship, and later that month, stated that he was doing so. At issue was whether the Court of Appeals applied the proper legal analysis to the claim of wrongful dissolution of a partnership. Given that the Court of Appeals cited the disapproved language regarding "new prosperity" under Wilensky v. Blalock, it was unclear whether that court considered the evidence as indicative solely of Jordan's state of mind at the time he decided to dissolve the partnership, with a coincident intent to deprive Moses of some unidentified prospective business opportunity of the partnership, or whether the Court of Appeals considered the above evidence as showing that Jordan intended, through the dissolution, to retain a fee that was misappropriated from partnership funds. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings. View "Jordan v. Moses" on Justia Law
Inquiry Concerning Judge Anthony Peters
After receiving complaints about the alleged misconduct of Catoosa County Magistrate Court Judge Anthony Peters, the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) initiated an investigation and subsequently filed formal charges to have Judge Peters permanently removed from his position as a judge and barred from ever holding or seeking elected or appointed judicial office in the State of Georgia. The court agreed with the recommendation of the JQC where Judge Peters, among other things, obtained and consumed marijuana at least once a week from March to May of 2010; inappropriately used his judicial office to advance the personal interests of a family member; pointed a firearm at himself and indicated to another Magistrate Judge that he was not afraid to die; appeared on a local cable television show, made derogatory remarks about the Chief Magistrate Judge, publicly disclosed that he had filed a complaint against the Chief Magistrate Judge, and displayed a photograph of an individual and identified the individual by name as a confidential informant; made a phone call to a local cable television show after initially trying to disguise his voice with multiple foreign accents and made certain comments; and refused to work certain hours.