Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals

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Arnold & Itkin, a Texas-based law firm, appealed from a judgment of the district court sanctioning it for its conduct in opposing the arbitration of a dispute between its clients. Arnold & Itkin challenged the determination that the conduct was sanctioned and the amount and form of the sanctions imposed. The court largely affirmed the judgment of the district court, except that the court remanded in part to permit the district court to consider whether it should impose certain limits on its requirements that Arnold & Itkin's attorneys attached the sanction order to all future applications for admission pro hac vice in the Southern District of New York. View "Prospect Capital Corp. v. Enmon" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a First Amendment challenge to a New York rule requiring attorneys to identify themselves as certified specialists to make a prescribed disclosure statement. At issue was whether Rule 7.4 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22 section 1200.53(c)(1), which required a prescribed disclaimer statement to be made by attorneys who stated that they were certified as a specialist in a particular area of law either violated plaintiff's freedom of speech or was unconstitutionally vague. Because enforcement of two components of the required disclaimer statement would violate the First Amendment and because the absence of standards guiding administrators of Rule 7.4 rendered it unconstitutionally vague as applied to plaintiff, the court reversed with directions to enter judgment for plaintiff. View "Hayes v. State of New York Attorney Grievance Comm." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from a judgment of the district court granting plaintiff's motion to compel outstanding attorneys' fees owed to plaintiff by defendant in connection with plaintiff's representation of defendant in a federal criminal proceeding. The court held that ancillary jurisdiction existed over the fee dispute and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in exercising that jurisdiction. The court also held that defendant forfeited many of the issues he raised on appeal and the court found no merit in his arguments based on the Constitution. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Levitt v. Brook" on Justia Law

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Defendants, moved the district court to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Mathew Trainor, a Fulton County Assistant District Attorney, was absolutely immune from plaintiff's claims. The court affirmed the district court to the extent it found Trainor absolutely immune from plaintiff's claim that Trainor violated her constitutional rights by making false statements in support of a material witness order. The court vacated and remanded the rest of the order and judgment because absolute immunity did not immunize prosecutors from liability for making defamatory statements to the press, accessing a person's voicemail without consent, or persuading a party to a conversation to record its contents; and, the district court should consider in the first instance whether Trainor was absolutely immune for continuing to withhold/preserve evidence - plaintiff's cell phone. View "Flagler v. Trainor" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from plaintiff's complaint, alleging that on September 11, 2001, a bomb was detonated inside the Pentagon, that no plane hit the Pentagon, and that various identified United States civilian and military leaders knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, assisted in their planning, and subsequently covered up the government's involvement. Following the court's order to show cause why sanctions should not be imposed for filing a frivolous appeal, sanctions were imposed on plaintiff's counsel of record. One of plaintiff's counsel of record, William Veale, was further sanctioned for filing a frivolous and vexatious motion to disqualify the panel "and any like-minded colleagues" from considering plaintiff's petition for panel rehearing and rehearing in banc of the court's opinion in Gallop I, following a July 7, 2011 order to show cause. In addition, plaintiff's lead counsel of record, Dennis Cunningham, was admitted pro hac vice for the purpose of this appeal and was ordered to show cause why he should not be separately sanctioned for his principal role in drafting the relevant filings.

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Appellants appealed the dismissal of their class action complaint against Nextel, the law firm of Leeds, Morelli & Brown, P.C. (LMB), and seven of LMB's lawyers (also LMB). Appellants were former clients of LMB who retained the firm to bring discrimination claims against Nextel. The complaint asserted that, inter alia, LMB breached its fiduciary duty of loyalty to appellants and the class by entering into an agreement with Nextel in which Nextel agreed to pay: (i) $2 million to LMB to persuade en masse its approximately 587 clients to, inter alia, abandon ongoing legal and administrative proceedings against Nextel, waive their rights to a jury trial and punitive damages, and accept an expedited mediation/arbitration procedure; (ii) another $3.5 million to LMB on a sliding scale as the clients' claims were resolved through that procedure; and (iii) another $2 million to LMB to work directly for Nextel as a consultant for two years beginning when the clients' claims had been resolved. The court held that appellants have alleged facts sufficient to state a claim against LMB for, inter alia, breach of fiduciary duty and against Nextel for aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty. Therefore, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

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Appellant, a lawyer, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, eight counts of attempted obstruction of justice; one count of bribery; and one count each of importation and possession of electronic surveillance equipment. On appeal, appellant challenged, among other things, the government's use of a confidential informant to meet with him and discuss the defense of his client. These meetings, which were recorded, revealed appellant's plans for the bribery and intimidation of potential trial witnesses against his client, who subsequently pled guilty. The court held that, in the circumstances of this case, the government's use of the informant was entirely proper, that the convictions concerning the surveillance equipment should be vacated, and that the convictions on all other counts should be affirmed. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded for entry of a corrected judgment.

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This dispute arose from the district court's decision to award an attorney $515,179.28 in attorney's fees pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act's fee shifting provision, 29 U.S.C. 216(b), for work performed in successfully litigating a case against the City of New York ("city"). The attorney did not keep contemporaneous records and the city appealed the award, arguing that it violated the New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v Carey rule, which explicitly required that such records be kept. The court held that, because a district court's "personal observation" of an attorney's work was not by itself a sufficient basis for permitting a deviation and awarding fees in the absence of contemporaneous records, the most recent order of the district court reinstating its original award of attorney's fees was vacated and the case remanded for further proceedings.

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K&L Gates LLP ("K&L Gates") filed a motion to lift two protective orders prohibiting disclosure of communications made during mediation. Savage & Associates, P.C. ("Savage") filed a cross-motion to enjoin K&L Gates from raising questions about the validity of certain provisions of a settlement agreement as a defense to malpractice in a related action. At issue was whether the district court properly denied both K&L Gates' motion and Savage's cross-motion. The court held that the district court did not err in the denial of K&L Gates' motion where K&L Gates failed to demonstrate a compelling need for the discovery, failed to show that the information was not otherwise available, and failed to establish that the need for the evidence was outweighed by the public interest in maintaining confidentiality. The court also held that the district court did not err in holding that K&L Gates was not barred from asserting a defense challenging the validity of any provision of the settlement agreement in connection with the related malpractice action currently pending against the law firm.

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Kristan Peters, an attorney admitted to the bars of both New York and Connecticut and formerly a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, appealed from an order of the Committee on Grievances for the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York ("Grievance Committee") suspending her from practicing law before that court for a period of seven years. The Grievance Committee found that she had engaged in misconduct which involved instructing a junior attorney to deface transcripts ("Brackett allegation") and violating a confidentiality order ("Confidentiality Order allegation"). At issue was whether the Grievance Committee's failure to hold an independent hearing, and its reliance on a prior sanctions hearing in the underlying litigation, violated her due process rights and the district court's local rules. Also at issue was whether the two charges of misconduct now at issue did not, as a matter of law, support the Grievance Committee's imposition of discipline. The court held that Peters was not provided adequate prior notice of the Brackett allegation or adequate opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. The court also held that evidence concerning the Confidentiality Order allegation was not adequately developed during that prior proceeding so as to permit the Grievance Committee to forego an independent evidentiary hearing in the present matter. Therefore, the court vacated the Grievance Committee's suspension order and remanded the matter for the further proceedings.