Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New York Court of Appeals

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The Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the Appellate Division affirming Supreme Court’s dismissal of the claims in this case, holding that failure by a nonresident attorney admitted in New York to comply with the requirement to maintain a physical office in the state in order to practice law in New York at the time a complaint is filed does not render that filing a nullity. In dismissing the remaining claims against Defendants without prejudice, Supreme Court found that Plaintiff’s counsel resided in Pennsylvania and there was no evidence that counsel maintained an office of phone in New York when the action was filed. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding (1) a violation of N.Y. Jud. Law 470 does not render the actions taken by the attorney involved a nullity; and (2) instead, the party may cure the section 470 violation with the appearance of a compliant counsel or an application for admission pro hac vice by appropriate counsel. View "Arrowhead Capital Finance, Ltd. v Cheyne Specialty Fin. Fund L.P." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals upheld the determination of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct sustaining four charges of misconduct against Petitioner, a Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Queens County, and the conclusion that Petitioner should be removed from office, holding that the charges were sustained by the evidence and that the sanction of removal was appropriate. The Commission determined that Petitioner violated the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, including rules 100.1, 100.2(A), 100.2(B), 100.3(B)(1), and 100.3(B)(3). The Court of Appeals held that the Commission’s determined sanction of removal was warranted, considering Petitioner’s conduct as a whole and all of the relevant circumstances, and ordered that Petitioner be removed from office. View "In re O'Connor" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals accepted the State Commission on Judicial Conduct’s recommendation that Petitioner Leticia D. Astacio be removed from her judicial office as a Judge of the Rochester City Court, Monroe County, holding that Petitioner’s actions violated sections 100.1, 100.2(A), 100.2(C), 100.3(B)(3), 100.3(E)(1)(a)(i), and 100.4(A)(2) of the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. Before the Court, Petitioner did not challenge the Commission’s findings of fact and determination to sustain all charges of misconduct, but, rather, asked the Court to reduce the sanction from removal to censure. After considering the full spectrum of Petitioner’s behavior and its impact on public perception of the judiciary, the Court of Appeals held that the Commission’s determination should be accepted and that Judge Astacio be removed from office. View "In re Leticia D. Astacio" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals sustained the findings of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct regarding Petitioner, a non-lawyer Justice of the Conklin Town Court, Broome County, sustaining charges of misconduct and accepted the determined sanction of removal from the office of justice of the town court. The Commission issued a formal written complaint containing two charges. The Commission ultimately concluded that Petitioner’s actions violated the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and removed Petitioner from office. Petitioner commenced this proceeding to review the Commission’s determination. The Court of Appeals accepted the determined sanction of removal, without costs, and ordered that Petitioner be removed from office. View "In re Ayres" on Justia Law

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The State Commission on Judicial Conduct sustained six charges of misconduct against Petitioner and recommended that he be removed from his judicial offices. Petitioner sought review, conceding his misconduct but challenging the Commission’s recommendation that he be removed. Petitioner specifically argued that the Court of Appeals direct that he be censured and restored to his judicial offices. The Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner’s contention and accepted the determined sanction of removal, holding that Petitioner’s conduct was “truly egregious” and could not be viewed as acceptable conduct by one holding judicial office. View "In re Simon" on Justia Law

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Ambac guaranteed payments on residential mortgage-backed securities issued by Countrywide. When those securities failed during the financial crisis, Ambac sued, alleging fraud. Ambac named Bank of America (BoA) as a defendant, based on its merger with Countrywide. Discovery ensued, and in 2012, Ambac challenged BoA's withholding of approximately 400 communications between BoA and Countrywide after the signing of the merger plan in January 2008 but before its closing in July. BoA claimed they were protected by the attorney-client privilege because they pertained to legal issues the companies needed to resolve jointly in anticipation of the closing. Although the parties were represented by separate counsel, the merger agreement directed them to share privileged information and purported to protect the information from outside disclosure. A Referee concluded that the exchange of privileged communications waives the attorney-client privilege and that the communications would be entitled to protection only if BoA could establish an exception, such as the common interest doctrine, which permits limited disclosure of confidential communications to parties who share a common legal (as opposed to business or commercial) interest in pending or reasonably anticipated litigation. The court held that the doctrine applies only if there is "reasonable anticipation of litigation." The Appellate Division reversed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed, reinstating the trial court order holding that privilege did not apply because the communication did not relate to pending or anticipated litigation. View "Ambac Assur. Corp. v Countrywide Home Loans, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant was charged with attempted rape and was represented by his first attorney. Defendant retained his second attorney, Long, in 2009. Long represented defendant throughout a significant portion of the pre- and post-indictment proceedings, including plea negotiations and a Huntley hearing. In September 2009, defendant fired Long and retained a third attorney, who represented him for the remainder of the prosecution. Defendant was convicted and subsequently made successive CPL 440.10 motions to vacate the conviction based on newly discovered evidence relating to the credibility of witnesses. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction and the denial of both CPL 440 motions. In 2014, defendant moved to vacate his conviction pursuant to CPL 440.10, asserting that attorney Long had simultaneously represented the Albany County District Attorney Soares, that evidence of the conflict was newly discovered, that his conviction was obtained in violation of his right to counsel, that the conviction was based on misrepresentation or fraud by the prosecutor, and that Long had provided ineffective assistance. Four months before defendant retained Long, Long had written a letter in connection with Soares' reelection campaign, asking the Board of Elections asking to examine the machine ballots. In 2011-2012, Long was counsel of record for Soares in a disciplinary proceeding and in Soares' divorce. County Court denied the motion without a hearing. The Appellate Division and New York Court of Appeals affirmed, determining that there was no support for the assertion that there was an actual conflict and that defendant failed to show that any potential conflict had operated on the defense. View "People v Wright" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and resisting arrest. Robert Fisher, an attorney employed by New York County Defender Services (NYCDS), was assigned to represent defendant. It was later revealed that a different attorney from NYCDS had represented another person, Toi Stephens, who was involved in the incident forming the basis of Defendant’s charges. Based on a potential conflict of interest, the court relieved Fisher as Defendant’s attorney and assigned a new attorney, who represented Defendant at trial. The Appellate Division reversed on the ground that the trial court had abused its discretion in relieving Fisher because Fisher did not represent Stephens, and the relationship between NYCDS and Stephens did not constitute a conflict. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Supreme Court did not abuse its discretion by relieving Defendant’s assigned counsel and appointing conflict-free counsel to represent him. View "People v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were two limited liability companies that made loans to Goldan, LLC. Goldan failed to repay the loans. Plaintiffs later discovered that their mortgages had not been recorded as agreed upon. Plaintiffs sued Goldan and its two principals, Mark Goldman and Jeffrey Daniels, alleging a number of claims. One claim was asserted against Daniels, a lawyer, for legal malpractice for failing to record the mortgages. Daniels' malpractice carrier, American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company (American) refused to provide defense or indemnity coverage. Daniels defaulted in Plaintiffs' action against him. Daniels assigned to Plaintiffs his rights against American. Plaintiffs subsequently brought an action against American for breach of contract and bad faith failure to settle the underlying lawsuit. Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs' motions as to the breach of contract claims and dismissed the bad faith claims. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) by breaching its duty to defend Daniels, American lost its right to rely on policy exclusions to escape its duty to indemnify; and (2) the lower courts properly dismissed Plaintiffs' bad faith claims. View "K2 Inv. Group, LLC v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner served as family court judge for twenty-seven years. The catalyst for Petitioner's resignation was the allegation that, in 1972, Petitioner engaged in sexual misconduct involving a five-year-old girl. Petitioner admitted to sexual contact with the child. In these post-resignation removal proceedings, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct sustained the charge of judicial misconduct against Petitioner and determined he should be removed from office. The Court of Appeals accepted the determined sanction of removal, holding that Petitioner engaged in misconduct warranting removal from office by committing an act of moral turpitude involving a child. View "In re Hedges" on Justia Law