Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
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A military commission was convened to try al-Tamir, apprehended in Turkey in 2006 and held at Guantanamo Bay for seven years without charges, for war crimes. Captain Waits presided over al-Tamir’s commission for two and a half years. A DOJ prosecutor was the first attorney to speak on the record. Weeks later, Waits applied to be a DOJ immigration judge. In his applications, he identified the al-Tamir commission. He received no interviews. In 2017, Waits was hired by the Department of Defense's Navy Office of the Judge Advocate General Criminal Law Division, after again mentioning his role in the commission.In 2019, the D.C. Circuit held that a military judge’s application for an immigration judge position created an appearance of bias requiring recusal, Waits disclosed his employment applications to al-Tamir and the commission. Rubin and Libretto later served on al-Tamir’s commission, Blackwood was a civilian advisor for all three judges and applied for outside employment while assisting Rubin. Libretto denied al-Tamir's motions to dismiss based on Waits’s and Blackwood’s job applications and to disqualify Libretto based on Blackwood’s continued assistance. Libretto declared that he would reconsider any of Waits’s decisions that al-Tamir identifies. The Court of Military Commission Review upheld that decision. The D.C. Circuit denied mandamus relief. The government’s offer affords al-Tamir an “adequate means” to attain the relief he seeks; Blackwood’s job search did not “clear[ly] and indisputabl[y]” disqualify the judges he served. View "In re: al-Tamir" on Justia Law

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Klayman founded Judicial Watch in 1994 and was its general counsel until 2003. Following a 2013 complaint to the D.C. Bar, a Hearing Committee concluded that Klayman violated Professional Conduct Rules 8.4(d) and 1.9. One client, a former Judicial Watch employee, had alleged a hostile work environment. Klayman had advised Judicial Watch about her complaints. After Klayman left Judicial Watch and without seeking its consent, he entered an appearance on her behalf. Another client was a Judicial Watch donor, seeking the return of her donation, represented by Klayman without consent. The third client, a former Judicial Watch client, sued Judicial Watch; Klayman entered an appearance without seeking consent.The Hearing Committee found that Klayman violated Rule 1.9 or its Florida equivalent in all three representations, Klayman’s representation of the third client violated Rule 8.4(d), by “[e]ngag[ing] in conduct that seriously interferes with the administration of justice,” and that Klayman gave false testimony before the Committee. The Committee recommended a 90-day suspension, with reinstatement contingent upon a showing of his fitness to practice law. The Board on Professional Responsibility agreed with respect to Rule 1.9 but disagreed concerning Rule 8.4(d) and false testimony. It rejected the reinstatement condition. Suspended for 90 days by the D.C. Court of Appeals, Klayman did not challenge the Rule 1.9 finding but sought to avoid reciprocal discipline. The D.C. Circuit imposed a reciprocal 90-day suspension and referred the matter to the Committee on Admissions and Grievances for recommendations on whether further discipline is warranted. View "In re: Klayman" on Justia Law

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In an action challenging the voluntary and intelligent nature of appellant's plea as to certain drug and drug-related offenses, the DC Circuit concluded that the appointment of counsel was not in the interest of justice under the Criminal Justice Act given her unwaived and material conflict of interest.The court explained that, under controlling Supreme Court precedent, the only legally viable avenue for challenging the plea apparent on the record would have been for counsel to argue that her own and/or her husband's representation of appellant in the decision to plead guilty was constitutionally ineffective. In this case, the fact that counsel chose to pursue a challenge to appellant's guilty plea that was plainly foreclosed by precedent rather than the only potentially viable legal avenue recognized by case law—an ineffective assistance of counsel claim against herself and her spouse—presents an untenable direct and plain conflict of interest between attorney and client. Furthermore, counsel, when she re-inserted herself into appellant's case to file this Section 2255 motion, did not obtain any waiver of the conflict—even assuming a conflict like this is waivable at all. The court explained that counsel never advised appellant that, to be legally viable, a challenge to the voluntary and intelligent nature of his plea based on the suppression of the other wiretaps would require him to level an ineffective assistance of counsel claim aimed at her and/or her husband. Therefore, the court concluded that the conflict of interest persisted throughout and permeated counsel's representation of petitioner in these Section 2255 proceedings. The court reversed and remanded for the appointment of conflict-free counsel to assist with appellant's Section 2255 petition. View "United States v. Scurry" on Justia Law

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Congress enacted an appropriations rider in 2009 prohibiting the District of Columbia from paying more than $4,000 in attorneys' fees for any past proceeding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At issue in these 11 consolidated cases was whether the District must pay interest on amounts that exceed the payment cap.After determining that the District did not forfeit the interest issue, the court held that the District cannot be compelled to pay interest on the portion of fee awards that it has been legally prohibited from paying off. The court explained that this case implicates a well-established common-law principle: If the law makes a debt unpayable, then interest on the debt is also unpayable. Furthermore, the court had no basis to conclude that 28 U.S.C. 1961(a) abrogated this background rule. The court reversed the district court's judgment requiring payment of interest on above-cap fees, affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a legal malpractice case arising out of the failure of two sets of lawyers associated with two different law firms, Westerman, Hattori, Daniels & Adrian, LLP (Westerman) and Kratz, Quintos & Hanson, LLP (Kratz), to file necessary documents in plaintiffs' patent case, allegedly resulting in plaintiffs' loss of that case. The complaint alleged four counts against defendants: Count I against both defendants for the original malpractice, Count II alleging that Westerman negligently gave legal advice after the original decision in the patent case issued and Counts III and IV alleging that advice Kratz gave regarding the malpractice case against Westerman led to the loss of the Count I claim against both defendants through the operation of the statute of limitations.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count II of the Second Amended Complaint where the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiffs waived any claim for damages arising from the Count II allegations. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Counts III and IV of the Second Amended complaint where plaintiffs failed to establish that Armstrong's advice was the proximate cause of its injuries. View "Seed Company Limited v. Westerman, Hattori, Daniels & Adrian, LLP" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs prevailed in a long-running Individuals with Disabilities Education Act class action, the district court relied on the USAO's new matrix in awarding attorney fees. The DC Circuit vacated the award and held that the new matrix departs from the statutory requirement in 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(3)(C) that reasonable fees be tethered to "rates prevailing in the community" for the "kind and quality of services furnished." Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to recalculate the hourly rate based on evidence that focuses on fees for attorneys practicing complex federal litigation in the District of Columbia. View "DL v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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These petitions concern the conduct of a military judge, Colonel Vance Spath, who presided over a current Guantanamo Bay detainee, Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri, who faces capital charges before a military commission. After receiving a job offer but before retiring from the military, Spath found himself locked in a dispute with Al-Nashiri's defense lawyers, three of whom sought to leave the case.The DC Circuit granted Al-Nashiri's petition for a writ of mandamus and held that Spath's job application to the Justice Department created a disqualifying appearance of partiality. In this case, the average, informed observer would consider Spath to have presided over a case in which his potential employer (the Attorney General) appeared. The court vacated all orders issued by Spath after he applied for the job, and dismissed counsels' petition as moot. View "In re: Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri" on Justia Law

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Matthew LeFande appealed a criminal contempt order for refusing a magistrate judge's orders to take the witness stand and be sworn for in-court questioning on the record in lieu of an ordinary, out-of-court deposition in a civil action. LeFande served as counsel for defendants in an underlying civil case.The DC Circuit affirmed the criminal contempt order, holding that a fair-minded and reasonable trier of fact could accept the evidence as probative of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, LeFande did not dispute that he willfully violated the magistrate judge's orders. Furthermore, the district court indisputably had jurisdiction over the underlying action; the district court had personal jurisdiction over LeFande based on his nexus with the forum and the case; LeFande's objection that the order to testify violated the attorney-client privilege was contrary to circuit law, and to the magistrate judge's and district judge's prior orders applying that precedent to LeFande; the validity of the contempt order was unaffected by LeFande's assertion that District Title sought to depose him for an improper purpose; and LeFande's discovery argument lacked merit. View "In re: Deposition of Matthew Lefande" on Justia Law

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This litigation over attorney's fees stemmed from a Freedom of Information Act case. At issue was whether plaintiff was entitled to attorney's fees under the Freedom of Information Act attorney's fee statute. Applying a deferential standard, the DC Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its analysis of four factors: (i) the public benefit from the case; (ii) the commercial benefit to the plaintiff; (iii) the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the records; and (iv) the reasonableness of the agency's withholding of the requested documents. Furthermore, the district court acted within its discretion when it concluded that the fourth factor outweighed the other three. View "Morley v. CIA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment that certain documents subpoenaed by the FTC were covered by the attorney-client privilege. The court held that obtaining or providing legal advice was one of the significant purposes of the communications at issue. In this case, the relevant communications consisted primarily of the transmission of factual information from Boehringer's employees to the general counsel, at the general counsel's request, for the purpose of assisting the general counsel in formulating her legal advice regarding a possible settlement. Other communications were between the general counsel and the corporation's executives regarding the settlement. Therefore, all of the communications were protected by the attorney-client privilege. View "FTC v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc." on Justia Law