Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Nevada
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The Supreme Court held that the district court erred by disqualifying a district court judge because her impartiality could reasonably be questioned after she reviewed notes, produced in discovery, that the Supreme Court later determined to be privileged, holding that the district court erred by disqualifying Judge Sturman.Lawrence and Heidi Canarelli, along with attorney Edward Lubbers, served as former trustees of an irrevocable trust. Lubbers, who later became sole trustee, entered into a purchase agreement to sell the trust's ownership in the former trustees' business entities. Scott Canarelli petitioned to compel Lubbers to provide an accounting related to the purchase agreement. Lubbers died before Scott could depose Lubbers. Because the former trustees had disclosed documents containing Lubbers' notes, they attempted to claw back the documents. Judge Sturman allowed Scott to retain portions of the notes, but the Supreme Court held that the notes were privileged and undiscoverable. The former trustees moved to disqualify Judge Sturman as biased because she reviewed the privileged notes. The motion was denied. The Supreme Court granted writ relief, holding that the district court improperly disqualified Judge Sturman where the record did not show that Judge Sturman's review of the notes created bias or prejudice against the former trustees that would prevent fair judgment. View "Canarelli v. Eighth Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the order of the Nevada Commission on Judicial Discipline that imposed a public reprimand on a family court judge, holding that the the Commission misapplied the statutes governing judicial discipline and, accordingly, erred in imposing a public reprimand.The Commission imposed a public reprimand on Clark County Family Court Judge Rena Hughes after Hughes entered an order holding a mother in contempt and changing custody of a minor child from the mother to the father. The Commission concluded that Judge Hughes had violated canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct because the change in custody was purportedly entered as a contempt sanction. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because the Commission found neither a knowing or deliberate violation of a canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct nor aggravating factors the Commission imposed discipline contrary to the statutes governing judicial discipline; (2) the Commission erred in instituting disciplinary proceedings where relief could be found in the appeals process; and (3) the Commission erred in interpreting Judge Hughes' orders and relying inappropriately on court minutes. View "In re Honorable Rena G. Hughes" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a petition for a writ of mandamus directing the district court to vacate its order disqualifying the Legislative Counsel Bureau Legal Division (LCB Legal) on conflict of interest grounds, holding that the district court erred in applying Nevada Rule of Professional Conduct (RPC) 1.7 to disqualify LCB Legal.The district court granted a motion to disqualify LCB Legal from representing two defendants in the underlying action - Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Senate Secretary Claire Clift (together, Defendants) - on the grounds that LCB Legal's representation of those defendants was directly adverse to another of its clients - the eight Nevada State Senators (collectively, Plaintiffs) who sued Defendants in their official capacities for actions taken on behalf of the Legislature related to the passage of two bills. The Supreme Court held that Plaintiffs lacked standing to move to disqualify LCB Legal because (1) LCB Legal's defense of Defendants was ancillary to its defense of the bills themselves; (2) because Plaintiffs were not similarly acting on the Legislature's behalf in challenging the legislation they were not considered LCB Legal's client; and (3) therefore, Plaintiffs did not have an attorney-client relationship with LCB Legal other than in their roles as members of the Legislature acting on the Legislature's behalf. View "State ex rel. Cannizzaro v. First Judicial District Court" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the district court sanctioning a party for discovery violations and finding that the party’s attorneys violated Nevada Rule of Professional Conduct (RPC) 3.3(a)(1) by making a false statement of fact or law to the court, holding that the district court acted within its discretion when it sanctioned the party for violating Nev. R. Civ. P. 16.1.The Court further concluded that a district court’s citation to the RPC in support of a determination of attorney misconduct causes reputational harm that amounts to a sanction and that the district court correctly determined that the attorneys violated RPC 3.3(a)(1). Lastly, although the attorneys were not provided sufficient notice that their conduct was under review, any notice deficiencies were subsequently cured by the attorneys’ motion for reconsideration. View "Valley Health System, LLC v. Estate of Jane Doe" on Justia Law

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Zenor was employed by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) when he injured his wrist on the job. Eleven months later, Zenor underwent an examination and received an evaluation by his treating physician, Dr. Huene, who determined Zenor was not yet capable of performing his pre-injury job duties. Two months later, Dr. Huene again examined Zenor and determined he could fully use his wrist with a brace as needed. Less than one month later, Dr. Huene released Zenor "without limitations." Zenor delivered the full release to NDOT that same day. NDOT nonetheless commenced proceedings and separated him from employment for medical reasons. An administrative hearing officer reversed. The district court affirmed. Zenor sought attorney fees under NRS 18.010(2)(b) on the ground that NDOT unreasonably brought its petition to harass him. The court held that NRS 233B.130 prohibited attorney fees in a judicial action of a final agency decision. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed. NRS 233B.130(6), which states that the provisions of NRS Chapter 233B provide the exclusive means of judicial action in a petition for judicial review, prohibits an award of attorney fees under NRS 18.010(2)(b) in petitions for judicial review. View "Zenor v. State of Nevada Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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Zenor was employed by the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) when he injured his wrist on the job. Eleven months later, Zenor underwent an examination and received an evaluation by his treating physician, Dr. Huene, who determined Zenor was not yet capable of performing his pre-injury job duties. Two months later, Dr. Huene again examined Zenor and determined he could fully use his wrist with a brace as needed. Less than one month later, Dr. Huene released Zenor "without limitations." Zenor delivered the full release to NDOT that same day. NDOT nonetheless commenced proceedings and separated him from employment for medical reasons. An administrative hearing officer reversed. The district court affirmed. Zenor sought attorney fees under NRS 18.010(2)(b) on the ground that NDOT unreasonably brought its petition to harass him. The court held that NRS 233B.130 prohibited attorney fees in a judicial action of a final agency decision. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed. NRS 233B.130(6), which states that the provisions of NRS Chapter 233B provide the exclusive means of judicial action in a petition for judicial review, prohibits an award of attorney fees under NRS 18.010(2)(b) in petitions for judicial review. View "Zenor v. State of Nevada Department of Transportation" on Justia Law

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The Dezzanis own a condominium and are members of the Homeowners' Association (HOA). Kern, an attorney, represents the HOA and advises its governing board. In a dispute regarding an extended deck on the Dezzani unit, the board issued a notice of violation with drafting assistance from Kern. Kern notified the Dezzanis that she represented the HOA. Kern and the Dezzanis exchanged several letters. The board held a hearing and upheld the notice. Throughout this time, Kern advised the HOA regarding the Dezzanis' and other members' deck extensions. The Dezzanis filed suit against Kern under NRS 116.31183, which allows a unit owner to bring a separate action for damages, attorney fees, and costs when an “executive board, a member of an executive board, a community manager or an officer, employee or agent of an association" takes retaliatory action against a unit's owner. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of their action, noting that the Dezzanis did not specify how Kern retaliated against them. An attorney is not an "agent" under NRS 116.31183 for claims of retaliatory action where the attorney is providing legal services for a common-interest community homeowners' association. In a consolidated case, the court held that attorneys litigating pro se and/or on behalf of their law firms cannot recover fees because those fees were not actually incurred by the attorney or the law firm, but they can recover taxable costs in the action. View "Dezzani v. Kern & Associates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Dezzanis own a condominium and are members of the Homeowners' Association (HOA). Kern, an attorney, represents the HOA and advises its governing board. In a dispute regarding an extended deck on the Dezzani unit, the board issued a notice of violation with drafting assistance from Kern. Kern notified the Dezzanis that she represented the HOA. Kern and the Dezzanis exchanged several letters. The board held a hearing and upheld the notice. Throughout this time, Kern advised the HOA regarding the Dezzanis' and other members' deck extensions. The Dezzanis filed suit against Kern under NRS 116.31183, which allows a unit owner to bring a separate action for damages, attorney fees, and costs when an “executive board, a member of an executive board, a community manager or an officer, employee or agent of an association" takes retaliatory action against a unit's owner. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of their action, noting that the Dezzanis did not specify how Kern retaliated against them. An attorney is not an "agent" under NRS 116.31183 for claims of retaliatory action where the attorney is providing legal services for a common-interest community homeowners' association. In a consolidated case, the court held that attorneys litigating pro se and/or on behalf of their law firms cannot recover fees because those fees were not actually incurred by the attorney or the law firm, but they can recover taxable costs in the action. View "Dezzani v. Kern & Associates, Ltd." on Justia Law

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The Nevada Supreme Court granted a petition for mandamus challenging the district court's order awarding attorney fees as a sanction for work done by later-disqualified attorneys. The court held that the district court must consider the factors from the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers 37 cmt. d (2000) when awarding attorney fees sought for a disqualified law firm's work. In this case, the district court awarded the attorney fees without the benefit of these factors. View "Hawkins v. The Eighth Judicial District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court denied in part and granted in part a petition for a writ of mandamus or prohibition filed by Petitioner, an attorney who was being investigated by the State Bar of Nevada for potential ethical violations after he testified at his personal bankruptcy proceedings that he had not implemented a reliable or identifiable system of accounting for his client trust account. The State Bar served Petitioner with two subpoenas duces tecum seeking production of client accounting records and tax records. Petitioner objected to the subpoenas, asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The chairman of the Southern Nevada Disciplinary Board (Board) rejected Petitioner’s objections to the subpoenas. This petition for writ relief followed. The Supreme Court held (1) with regard to the requested client accounting records, this court adopts the three-prong test under Grosso v. United States, 390 U.S. 62 (1968), to conclude that the right against self-incrimination does not protect Petitioner from disclosure; but (2) with regard to the requested tax records, the Board must hold a hearing to determine how the records are relevant and material to the State Bar’s allegations against Petitioner and whether there is a compelling need for those records. View "Agwara v. State Bar of Nevada" on Justia Law