Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Georgia
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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to decide whether the Court of Appeals erred in affirming the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict in favor of Appellees, a court administrator and two municipal court case managers, based on quasi-judicial immunity. Appellees failed to remove a bind-over order from a stack of case files bound for the state court solicitor’s office, catalyzing a chain reaction that eventually led to the improper arrest and jailing of Appellant. The Supreme Court held that Appellees were not protected by quasi-judicial immunity because their alleged negligence was not committed during the performance of a “function normally performed by a judge.” The Court therefore reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals. View "Stanley v. Patterson et al." on Justia Law

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The Georgia Supreme Court granted certiorari in this case to determine whether a trial court’s order denying a motion to withdraw as counsel based on alleged conflicts of interest was immediately appealable under the collateral order doctrine. Defendants Diane Buckner-Webb, Theresia Copeland, Sharon Davis-Williams, Tabeeka Jordan, Michael Pitts, and Shani Robinson were indicted by a grand jury, along with 35 other educators and administrators of the Atlanta Public Schools (“APS”), for conspiracy to violate the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act and other crimes arising out of their alleged participation in a conspiracy to alter students’ standardized test scores. Of the 35 indicted, 12 APS employees, including Defendants, were tried together between August 2014 and April 2015. In April 2015, the jury found Defendants and five others guilty of at least one count of conspiracy to violate the RICO Act. In April and May 2015, Defendants moved for a new trial through their respective trial attorneys. Despite the fact that each Defendant was represented by a separate attorney at trial, the Circuit Public Defender appointed only one attorney, Stephen R. Scarborough, to jointly represent Defendants as appellate counsel, and he formally entered an appearance on Defendants’ behalf on April 26, 2017. More than two years after Scarborough’s appointment as appellate counsel for Defendants and around the time Defendants’ particularized motions for new trial were due for filing, Scarborough filed a “Motion for Rule 1.7[1] Determinations” to address alleged conflicts of interest arising from his joint representation of Defendants. Scarborough also filed a motion to withdraw as counsel based upon this conflict of interest. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that such orders did not fall within “the very small class” of trial court orders that were appealable under the collateral source doctrine, and thus affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision in Buckner-Webb v. State, 360 Ga. App. 329 (861 SE2d 181) (2021), but for different reasons. View "Buckner-Webb et al. v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Douglas Coe, Jacqueline Coe, and GFLIRB, LLC (collectively the “Coes”) were involved in the sale of a company in which they held a substantial interest. Their accountants, BDO Seidman, LLP (“BDO”), advised them of a proposed tax strategy in which the Coes could invest in distressed debt from a foreign company in order to offset their tax obligations. In connection with the proposed tax strategy, BDO advised the Coes to obtain a legal opinion from an independent law firm, Proskauer Rose LLP (“Proskauer”). The Coes followed BDO’s advice, obtained a legal opinion from Proskauer, and claimed losses on their tax returns as a result. But in 2005, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) initiated an audit, which ultimately led to a settlement in 2012. After settling with the IRS, the Coes filed suit against Proskauer in December 2015, asserting legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and other claims. After limited discovery on whether the statute of limitation barred the Coes’ claims, the trial court concluded that it did and granted summary judgment in favor of Proskauer, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the Coes failed, as a matter of law, to exercise reasonable diligence to discover Proskauer’s allegedly fraudulent acts. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Coe, et al. v. Proskauer Rose, LLP" on Justia Law

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At issue before the Georgia Supreme Court in this case was an agreement between the Director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) and the City of Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Terrinee Grundy. The agreement would resolve formal charges against Judge Gundy, alleging excessive tardiness and absenteeism, with a suspension of 30 to 90 days and a public reprimand, pursuant to Rule 23 of the JQC’s Rules. The Supreme Court accepted the agreement and ordered Judge Gundy be suspended without pay for 90 days and publicly reprimanded. View "Inquiry concerning Judge Terrinee Gundy" on Justia Law

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A majority of the Hearing Panel (“Panel”) of the Georgia Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) recommended that Judge Eric Norris issue a public apology for violating Rules 1.2 (A) and 2.8 (B) of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct, with the dissent recommending censure from the Court along with a public apology. The charges stemmed from an Athens Banner-Herald article published on a criminal defendant who had a bench warrant issued for failing to appear in court. Judge Norris presided over the defendant’s first trial, which ended in a mistrial; defendant was released on his own recognizance. A bail bondsman posted his disagreement with the judge’s handling of the case on social media. The judge arranged for a meeting with the bail bondsman wherein he had a deputy confiscate the bondsman’s cell phone, and scolded the bondsman in the judge’s chambers. The bondsman did not feel he was free to leave, and requested to have his lawyer present. The bondsman filed a complaint against Judge Norris with the JQC. The Director excepted to the recommended sanction, asserting that a public reprimand was appropriate. For the reasons stated below, the Georgia Supreme Court disagreed that a public apology or a censure was an appropriate sanction and order that Judge Norris be publicly reprimanded. View "Inquiry concerning Judge Eric Norris" on Justia Law

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In 1994, the Georgia Supreme Court approved State Bar of Georgia Formal Advisory Opinion (“FAO”) 94 -3, which addressed and provided guidance concerning former Standard of Conduct 47 in on whether a lawyer could properly contact and interview former employees of an organization represented by counsel to obtain information relevant to litigation against the organization. In 2000, the Supreme Court issued an order adopting the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (“GRPC”) found in Bar Rule 4-102 (d), which replaced the Standards of Conduct. The State Bar’s Formal Advisory Opinion Board (“Board”) determined that the substance and conclusion reached in FAO 94 -3 remained the same under the applicable GRPC. The Georgia Defense Lawyers Association (“GDLA”) raised concerns over FAO 20-1, contending that former employees fall within the “three types of agents or employees of a represented organization who may not be contacted on an ex parte basis by an opposing lawyer[.]” The Supreme Court retracted Formal Advisory Opinion 94-3 and approved Formal Advisory Opinion 20-1, with modifications. View "In re: Formal Advisory Opinion No. 20-1" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) sought approval of the discipline by consent agreement between the Director of the JQC and JaDawnya Baker, Judge of the Municipal Court of Atlanta, to resolve the formal charges brought against Judge Baker with the issuance of a public reprimand. The agreement, entered into between the JQC Director and Judge Baker, was submitted to the JQC’s Hearing Panel, which approved the agreement and filed it with the Supreme Court for approval. Because Judge Baker’s admitted violations of periodically dismissing cases without the legal authority to do so justified the recommended, and agreed-to, discipline of a public reprimand, the Court approved the agreement. The Court approved the agreement with reservations "about whether, based on the substance of the allegations within the consent agreement, all of the agreed-to violations constitute violations of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct." View "Inquiry concerning Judge JaDawnya Baker" on Justia Law

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An agreement between the Director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) and Cary Hays III, Chief Magistrate of Crawford County, Georgia, was filed with the Georgia Supreme Court. The agreement was to resolve formal charges brought against Judge Hays arising from a physical altercation with a defendant that appeared before him. The agreement called for Judge Hays to serve an unpaid, 30-day suspension to be followed by a public reprimand. Pursuant to JQC Rule 23, the agreement was submitted to the JQC’s Hearing Panel, which voted 2-1 to accept it, and then filed it with the Supreme Court. Because the record and the limited relevant precedent the Court had found supported the proposed discipline, it accept the agreement and ordered that Judge Hays be suspended for 30 days without pay and be publicly reprimanded for his violations of the Georgia Code of Judicial Conduct. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Cary Hays, III" on Justia Law

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B. Reid Zeh filed a lawsuit alleging that the American Civil Liberties Union, Inc. (“ACLU”) had published a post on its blog containing defamatory statements asserting that Zeh, who was the public defender for misdemeanor cases in Glynn County, Georgia, had charged an indigent criminal defendant a fee for his public defense services. The ACLU moved to strike the defamation lawsuit pursuant to Georgia’s anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“anti-SLAPP”) statute. Zeh then filed two motions requesting discovery. The trial court denied the motion to strike without ruling on Zeh’s discovery motions, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. The Georgia Supreme Court granted the ACLU's petition for certiorari to address what standard of judicial review applies in this situation and whether, under that standard, the trial court erred by denying the anti-SLAPP motion to strike. After applying the proper standard of review to the existing record, the Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred by denying the ACLU’s motion to strike. The Court therefore reversed the Court of Appeals’ decision upholding that ruling. But because the trial court failed to rule on Zeh’s requests for discovery, the case was remanded to the Court of Appeals with direction that it remand the case to the trial court to rule on the discovery motions and for further proceedings. View "American Civil Liberties Union, Inc. v. Zeh" on Justia Law

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The version of the apportionment statute at issue in this appeal, OCGA 51-12-33, was enacted as part of the Tort Reform Act of 2005. Subsection (b) required damages to be apportioned “among the persons who are liable according to the percentages of fault of each person.” Subsection (b) had a critical textual difference from subsection (a): although subsection (a) applied “[w]here an action is brought against one or more persons,” subsection (b) applied only “[w]here an action is brought against more than one person . . . .” Although the Georgia Supreme Court previously decided at least one case in which the provisions of subsection (b) were applied in single-defendant cases, the Court expressly left open the question of whether such an application was proper. In this case, the Court of Appeals answered that open question by determining that the apportionment by percentage of fault directed by subsection (b) did not apply in single-defendant cases. The Supreme Court granted certiorari on the question of whether subsection (b) applied in single-defendant cases and also on the question of whether an expenses-of-litigation award under OCGA 13-6-11 was subject to apportionment. Although the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on the latter question and held that such expenses were not categorically excluded from apportionment, the Court concluded the Court of Appeals was correct on the scope of application of the apportionment directed by subsection (b): it applied only in cases “brought against more than one person,” not in single-defendant lawsuits like this one. Thus, the Supreme Court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for further proceedings regarding the trial court’s apportionment of the expenses-of-litigation award. View "Alston & Bird, LLP v. Hatcher Management Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law