Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
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The case revolves around Justin Lee Camperud, who was accused of sexually abusing a child in 2016. The child's mother reported the incident to the Fargo police department in July 2021. The child was later interviewed by the Red River Children's Advocacy Center, a non-governmental organization. In October 2021, Dr. Anna Schimmelpfennig, the director of mental health services at the Center, participated in a mental health assessment for the child. The State notified Camperud in November 2022 that it intended to call Schimmelpfennig as an expert witness. However, the State failed to disclose that Schimmelpfennig was married to a Cass County Assistant State’s Attorney and that she had participated in the child's mental health assessment.The case was initially heard in the District Court of Cass County, East Central Judicial District. On the day before the trial was to start, Camperud learned about Schimmelpfennig's marriage and her participation in the child's assessment. He moved to exclude Schimmelpfennig’s testimony due to the State's failure to provide him with this information. The district court allowed Camperud to question Schimmelpfennig about her relationship with the Assistant State’s Attorney and her involvement in the child's assessment. The court also delayed the start of the trial by a day. Despite Camperud's attempts to impeach Schimmelpfennig over her marriage, a jury found him guilty of gross sexual imposition.The case was then reviewed by the Supreme Court of North Dakota. Camperud argued that the district court abused its discretion by not granting a continuance after he and the court learned about the undisclosed evidence. The Supreme Court acknowledged that the State had committed discovery violations. However, it ruled that the district court had chosen the least severe sanctions to rectify the non-disclosure, including requiring the production of the assessment, limiting the expert’s testimony, permitting two voir dire sessions of the expert, and delaying the start of trial. Therefore, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that it did not abuse its discretion by denying Camperud’s motion for a continuance. View "State v. Camperud" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Alvin Brown, who pleaded guilty to two counts of endangerment of a child. After serving his sentence, he was put on probation. However, the State filed a petition to revoke his probation after he violated its terms. The court ordered Brown to wear an alcohol SCRAM bracelet and remain in custody at the Lake Region Law Enforcement Center until a spot was available at a halfway house. Brown was warned that leaving the halfway house would be considered an escape, which would result in additional charges. Despite these warnings, Brown absconded from the Center and was subsequently charged with escape, to which he pleaded guilty.Brown later filed a petition for postconviction relief, arguing that his conviction was invalid and his trial attorney was ineffective. He claimed that he was not in official detention when he left the Center, and therefore, the State could not charge him with escape. The district court denied his petition, finding that Brown was indeed in official detention and that he failed to establish the second prong of the Strickland test, which requires showing a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.The Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the district court's decision. The court found no error in the lower court's determination that Brown was in official detention when he left the Center. It also agreed with the lower court's finding that Brown did not meet the second prong of the Strickland test. The court concluded that Brown's arguments were either unnecessary for the decision or without merit. View "Brown v. State" on Justia Law

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Glenn Solberg, representing himself, appealed against orders denying his motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration. He also moved for a jury trial and disqualification of the Court, alleging bias and conflict of interest. Solberg's claims of bias were based on prior decisions that were adverse to him. Greg Hennessy, the defendant, argued that the appeal was frivolous and requested attorney’s fees and double costs.The District Court of Williams County had denied Solberg's motions for relief from judgment and for reconsideration. Solberg then appealed these decisions to the Supreme Court of North Dakota.The Supreme Court of North Dakota denied Solberg's motion for a jury trial and disqualification, stating that the law presumes a judge is unbiased and not prejudiced. The court also noted that adverse or erroneous rulings do not, by themselves, demonstrate bias. For recusal to be warranted, a judge must be partial or there must be some external influence that creates an appearance of impropriety. The court found that Solberg failed to allege facts showing bias or the existence of an external influence creating an appearance of impropriety. The court also concluded that Solberg's request for a jury trial was frivolous as the Supreme Court reviews the rulings of the district court and does not engage in fact finding. The court affirmed the orders of the district court under N.D.R.App.P. 35.1(a)(1) and (4), finding the appeal to be frivolous and completely without merit. The court also awarded Hennessy double costs and attorney’s fees in the amount of $15,697.50 for defending this frivolous appeal. View "Solberg v. Hennessy" on Justia Law

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In a legal malpractice case in North Dakota, a couple, Kenneth and Carol Pinks, sued attorney Alexander Kelsch and his professional corporation, along with associated partners, alleging negligence in representing them in a quiet title action against the State of North Dakota. The District Court, South Central Judicial District, bifurcated the malpractice action to first determine the element of causation, specifically whether the Pinks would have achieved a more favorable outcome in the quiet title action but for the alleged negligence of the defendants. The court denied cross-motions for summary judgment, finding there were genuine issues of material fact.Following a bench trial on the causation element, the district court concluded that had the evidence of the Pinks’ ownership of the disputed land been presented in the quiet title action, they would have established their ownership claim was prior and superior to the State’s claim of title. The court concluded the Pinks proved the element of causation and ordered a jury trial be set on the remaining issues of the legal malpractice claim. The defendants appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of North Dakota, however, dismissed the appeal, ruling that the defendants were attempting to appeal from an interlocutory order, and the defendants did not seek certification under Rule 54(b) of the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule requires that, in cases with more than one claim or multiple parties, a final judgment on one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties can only be directed if the court expressly determines there is no just reason for delay. The court found that the district court only ruled on the causation element of the legal malpractice claim, and other elements, such as the existence of an attorney-client relationship, a duty by the attorney to the client, a breach of that duty by the attorney, and damages were still left to be adjudicated. The defendants' failure to comply with Rule 54(b) led to the dismissal of the appeal. The court also denied the Pinks' request for costs and attorney’s fees, determining that the defendants' appeal was not frivolously made. View "Pinks v. Kelsch" on Justia Law

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In this case, Jerome Wesseh Koon, Jr. appealed from a district court judgment that denied his application for postconviction relief. Koon had been convicted of reckless endangerment, tampering with physical evidence, unlawful possession of a firearm, and terrorizing. His postconviction relief application was based on two main claims. Firstly, he argued that the district court erred by considering evidence outside the record, specifically the clerk's trial notes. Secondly, he claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.The Supreme Court of the State of North Dakota affirmed the district court's judgment. The court rejected Koon's first argument, finding that the district court did not err in considering the clerk's trial notes. The court noted that the district court had provided notice to the parties of its intent to judicially notice the clerk's trial notes, and ultimately did not rely on the notes in its findings. The court also rejected Koon's argument that the district court's review of the clerk's notes automatically created a biased factfinder.Regarding Koon's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the Supreme Court found that Koon had failed to show that there was a reasonable probability that the result of his trial would have been different had his counsel acted differently. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of postconviction relief. View "Koon v. State" on Justia Law

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In the case before the Supreme Court of North Dakota, the appellant Jean-Michael Kisi appealed from orders dismissing in part and denying in part his application for postconviction relief. Kisi contended that he was wrongfully convicted of a non-cognizable offense, accomplice to attempted murder. He further argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, the lower court followed improper trial procedures, and the State committed prosecutorial misconduct.The Supreme Court of North Dakota upheld the lower court's decision, affirming that an attempted knowing murder is not a cognizable offense. However, the Court found that the erroneous inclusion of "knowing" in the jury instruction was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, as the evidence presented indicated that the jury convicted Kisi of attempted intentional murder.Kisi's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel was also dismissed. The Court held that there was no genuine issue of material fact, and the representation of his counsel did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness. Kisi's claims regarding improper trial procedure and prosecutorial misconduct were summarily dismissed. The Court, therefore, affirmed the lower court's order dismissing in part and denying in part Kisi's application for postconviction relief. View "Kisi v. State" on Justia Law

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John and Tammy Sadek appealed orders denying their post-judgment motion and sanctioning their attorney under N.D.R.Civ.P. 11. Jason Weber was a Richland County, North Dakota sheriff’s deputy. Sadek acted as a confidential informant for Weber. Sadek was later found in the Red River with a gunshot wound to his head and a backpack full of rocks tied to his body. Sadek’s parents sued Weber and Richland County alleging Weber deceived Sadek by telling Sadek he faced a lengthy prison sentence. They also alleged Weber negligently caused Sadek’s death by failing to adequately train and protect him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Weber and Richland County: the misrepresentation underlying the deceit claim was a prediction of a future event and therefore not actionable as deceit as a matter of law; as to the negligence claim, there was no evidence to establish Weber’s conduct was the proximate cause of Sadek’s death. In the first appeal ("Sadek I"), the Sadeks argued a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Weber’s conduct caused Andrew Sadek’s death. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, holding that "the evidence only presents a timeline of events and a request that a jury be allowed to speculate what happened as a result of that string of events." The Court's mandate affirming the dismissal judgment was issued on October 7, 2020. In 2022, the Sadeks filed a “Motion for Summary Judgment,” citing N.D.R.Civ.P. 60(b) but requested relief under N.D.R.Civ.P. 56. The Sadeks argued the district court made a mistake by relying on “bad faith” representations by Weber who “successfully hoodwinked [the district court] and obtained a Judgment of Dismissal.” Yet the Sadeks claimed they were entitled to summary judgment because “no triable issue of fact exists as to whether Defendants owed a duty of care to Andrew under the Statute.” The brief was accompanied by a list of signatures “verifying” they agreed with on Supreme Court Justice's dissent in Sadek I. The district court entered an order denying the Sadeks’ post-judgment motion, characterizing it as "baffling and bizarre." After review, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s orders and granted the Appellees’ motion for sanctions. View "Sadek, et al. v. Weber, et al." on Justia Law

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Clinton Mullin and Valrena Nelson appealed the dismissal of their claims for legal malpractice/negligence. Mullin and Nelson argued Elizabeth Pendlay committed legal malpractice by: (1) stipulating to jury instructions that misstated the law; (2) failing to plead the affirmative defenses of unclean hands and/or illegality; (3) not objecting to a video admitted as evidence at the trial; and (4) filing a motion to stay with the North Dakota Supreme Court before filing an appeal. In November 2014, Mullin retained Pendlay to commence an action to evict Richard Twete from property Twete "sold" to Mullin meant to be a temporary conveyance. Twete subsequently sued Mullin and Nelson seeking a return of his property, alleging a confidential relationship existed between Twete and Mullin. Pendlay served as the attorney for Mullin and Nelson through most of the litigation and was their attorney for the trial. A jury found Mullin to have breached a confidential relationship with Twete. Mullin and Nelson were ordered to convey the property back to Twete and compensate Twete for the value of any property that could not be returned. Represented by new counsel, Mullin and Nelson appealed and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed. After the conclusion of the Twete litigation, Mullin and Nelson filed suit against Pendlay. The Supreme Court concluded summary judgment was proper and affirmed the judgment. View "Mullin, et al. v. Pendlay" on Justia Law

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Robert Bolinske appealed the dismissal of his claims against former Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom and former District Court Judge Gail Hagerty (“State Defendants”) and awarding them attorney’s fees. In October 2016, Bolinske alleged in a press release that the State Defendants conspired to misfile or hide a petition for supervisory writ that he submitted in a prior case and thus tampered with public records. A few days after this press release, Rob Port published an article on his “Say Anything” blog regarding Bolinske’s press release. The article stated Port contacted Sandstrom and quoted Sandstrom as having said Bolinske’s press release was “bizarre and rather sad” and that “[a]lthough I’ve been aware of his mental health problems for years, I don’t recall ever having seen anything in his email before.” Three days after the article was published, Hagerty filed a grievance complaint against Bolinske, alleging he violated the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct. Based on the complaint, a disciplinary action was brought against Bolinske. The Inquiry Committee found Bolinske violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and issued him an admonition. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court affirmed, and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding his procedural due process rights were not violated. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Bolinske’s complaint in part, concluding the district court properly dismissed Bolinske’s claims of procedural and substantive due process, civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, governmental bad faith, and tortious outrage. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding the district court erred by dismissing the defamation claim under the statute of limitations. The award of attorney’s fees was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bolinske v. Sandstrom, et al." on Justia Law

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Koch Construction, Inc.; Marilyn Koch, Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael P. Koch; and Koch Property Investments, Inc. (collectively “appellants”) appealed the judgment and amended judgment entered in favor of Toman Engineering Company (“Toman”). Michael Koch owned and operated Koch Construction and Koch Property Investments (“KPI”). Toman provided engineering services to Koch Construction on various projects, including designing a stormwater management system for the Koch Meadow Hills residential development project in Dickinson, North Dakota. Michael died in August 2017. The stormwater management system included a detention pond referred to as the Marilyn Way Stormwater Pond, which was the detention pond at issue in this case. In 2016, Janet Prchal, Dean Kubas, and Geraldine Kubas, owners of property near the Koch Meadow Hills development, sued the City of Dickinson and KPI for damages, alleging the development of Koch Meadow Hills caused water to drain and collect on their properties. The Prchal lawsuit was settled in September 2018, and the settlement required modifications to be made to the Marilyn Way Stormwater Pond before June 30, 2019. The reconstruction work on the detention pond occurred during the summer and fall of 2019. Toman served a summons and complaint on Koch Construction and Marilyn Koch, to collect unpaid amounts for engineering services Toman provided to the defendants in 2017. Toman filed the complaint in the district court in June 2019. The appellants argued the district court erred in deciding they committed intentional spoliation of evidence and dismissing their counterclaim as a sanction. After review of the district court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court abused its discretion when it dismissed the appellants’ counterclaim as a sanction for spoliation of evidence. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Toman Engineering Co. v. Koch Construction, et al." on Justia Law