Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of California
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In this dispute between a law firm and the party it previously represented, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal insofar as it reversed the superior court’s judgment entered on an arbitration award but reversed the Court of Appeal’s judgment insofar as it ordered disgorgement of all fees collected, holding that the law firm's conduct rendered the parties' arbitration agreement unenforceable but that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of services it rendered to the opposing party. A law firm agreed to represent a manufacturing company in a federal qui tam action. The law firm was later disqualified, and the parties disagreed as to the manufacturer’s outstanding law firm bills. The dispute was sent to arbitration in accordance with the arbitration clause in the parties’ engagement agreement, and the arbitrators ruled in favor of the law firm. The superior court confirmed the award. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding (1) the law firm committed an ethical violation that rendered the parties’ agreement, including the arbitration clause, unenforceable in its entirety; and (2) the law firm was disentitled from receiving any compensation for the work it performed for the manufacturer. The Supreme Court agreed that the law firm’s conduct rendered the parties’ agreement unenforceable but concluded that the ethical violation did not categorically disentitle the law firm from recovering the value of the services it rendered to the manufacturer. View "Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, LLP v. J-M Manufacturing Co." on Justia Law

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Under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, unless a plaintiff establishes a probability of prevailing on a cause of action arising from constitutionally protected speech or petitioning activity, the court must grant the defendant’s motion to strike the claim and, generally, must also award the defendant attorney’s fees. In the instant case, Plaintiff, an attorney, filed an action against the State Bar after she was disciplined for committing violations of the rules of professional conduct. The State Bar filed a special motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. The superior court granted the motion and awarded attorney’s fees to the State Bar, concluding that Plaintiff’s claims arose from protected petitioning activity and that Plaintiff had not shown a likelihood of prevailing because, inter alia, a superior court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over attorney discipline matters. The Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that because the trial court had no jurisdiction to rule on the anti-SLAPP motion, it also lacked jurisdiction to award attorney fees under Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 425.16. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a court that lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a claim may grant a special motion to strike the claim under section 425.16 and thus may award attorney’s fees and costs to the defendant. View "Barry v. State Bar of California" on Justia Law

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The ACLU submitted a request under the California Public Records Act (PRA) to the Los Angeles County Counsel seeking invoices specifying the amounts that the County and been billed by any law firm in connection with several different lawsuits alleging excessive force against jail inmates. The County refused to provide invoices for the lawsuits that were still pending on the basis of attorney-client privilege. The ACLU petitioned for writ of mandate seeking to compel the County to disclose the requested records. The superior court granted the petition, concluding that the County had failed to show that the invoices were attorney-client privileged communications. The County then filed a petition for writ of mandate. The court of appeal granted the petition and vacated the superior court’s order, concluding that the invoices were confidential communications within the meaning of Cal. Evid. Code 952. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the attorney-client privilege does not categorically shield everything in a billing invoice from PRA disclosure, but invoices for work in pending and active legal matters implicate the attorney-client privilege; and (2) therefore, the privilege protects the confidentiality of invoices for work in pending and active legal matters. View "Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law