Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Danny Richard Rivers, an inmate in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, filed a second habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 while his first petition was still pending on appeal. The second petition challenged the same convictions as the first but added new claims. Rivers argued that these new claims arose after he was able to review his attorney-client file, which he had long requested and only received after a successful state bar grievance adjudication against his counsel. The district court deemed the second petition "successive" under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), which requires an applicant to first get authorization from the appropriate court of appeals for such a petition. The district court held that it lacked jurisdiction to entertain the petition without such authorization and transferred the matter to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.Rivers appealed the district court's transfer order, arguing that his second petition should have been construed as a motion to amend his first petition since it was still pending on appeal. He also contended that his claims should not have been considered successive because his counsel withheld his client file that would have allegedly exposed his ineffective assistance, and this information was not available to him when he filed his first petition.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with Rivers' arguments. The court found that Rivers' second petition attacked the same conviction as his first petition and added several new claims that stemmed from the proceedings already at issue in his first petition. The court held that the fact that Rivers' later-obtained client file allegedly contained information that was not available to him when he filed his first petition did not excuse him from meeting the standards for seeking authorization under § 2244. The court also held that the timing of Rivers' second petition did not permit him to circumvent the requirements for filing successive petitions under § 2244. The court affirmed the district court's order transferring the matter to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for lack of jurisdiction. View "Rivers v. Lumpkin" on Justia Law

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This case involved an appeal by David Clapper, who had filed a lawsuit against American Realty Investors, Inc., and other associated entities. Clapper alleged that these entities had transferred assets to avoid paying a judgment from a previous lawsuit, in violation of the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act and the doctrine of alter ego liability. The jury had ruled in favor of the defendants, but Clapper appealed, asserting that the defendants' counsel had made multiple improper and prejudicial statements during the closing argument.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit agreed with Clapper and found that the defendants' counsels' closing argument had indeed irreparably prejudiced the fairness of the trial. The court noted that the counsels had made several improper and highly prejudicial statements, including launching personal attacks against Clapper's counsel, making references to Clapper's wealth, discussing matters not in the record, appealing to local bias, and suggesting Clapper's bad motives. These statements were considered collectively and in the context of the trial.The court reversed the decision of the district court and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court also highlighted the importance of civility in the practice of law, discouraging the use of abusive tactics and emphasizing the need for courtesy, candor, and cooperation in all lawyer-to-lawyer dealings. View "Clapper v. American Realty Investors" on Justia Law

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In this case, Mike Austin Anderson, the defendant, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and using a gun during a crime of violence. These charges stemmed from an incident that took place on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Mississippi, where Anderson shot Julian McMillan after an argument. On appeal, Anderson contested that the district court erred in ruling that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for the jury to return guilty verdicts, despite the court's self-defense instruction. He also argued that the district court wrongly denied his pretrial motion to recuse the lead prosecutor and the entire United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi due to a conflict of interest. Anderson claimed that the lead prosecutor had previously represented him and his father while working as a public defender in Choctaw Tribal Court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the evidence against Anderson was sufficient and that the district court did not err in denying his recusal motion. The appellate court found no substantial relationship between the prosecutor's prior representation of Anderson and the current federal prosecution against him. View "USA v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded a district court's denial of Lucas James Tighe's habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. After being convicted and sentenced for possession of stolen firearms, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and conspiracy to possess stolen firearms, Tighe alleged ineffective assistance of counsel. He claimed that his trial attorney, Sharon Diaz, did not consult with him about filing an appeal. The Court of Appeals, applying the Strickland test, found that Diaz failed to adequately consult with Tighe about the potential appeal, which was considered professionally unreasonable. Furthermore, the court found that Tighe demonstrated a reasonable interest in appealing, given the unexpected severity of his sentence and his request to Diaz to ask the court to run his federal sentence concurrently with his forthcoming state sentence. The court also determined that Tighe had shown there was a reasonable probability that he would have timely appealed, but for Diaz's deficient performance. As a result, the court found that Tighe had successfully made an ineffective assistance of counsel claim which entitled him to an appeal. The case was remanded to the district court with instructions to grant an out-of-time appeal and reenter Tighe's criminal judgment. View "United States v. Tighe" on Justia Law

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The LSBA is a mandatory bar association. Attorneys are required to join and pay fees to the organization as a condition of practicing law in the state. Plaintiff has been a member in good standing of the LSBA since 1996. Upset that he was forced to associate with and contribute to certain causes, Plaintiff sued the LSBA, the Louisiana Supreme Court, and its justices (collectively, “the LSBA”) in 2019. He claimed that compulsory membership in the LSBA violated his rights to free speech and association. Defendants moved to dismiss, and the district court granted the motion. Plaintiff appealed.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment in part and reversed it in part. The court remanded to the district court for a determination of the proper remedy. The court explained that although it takes no position on the proper injunctive or declaratory relief. The court also rendered a preliminary injunction preventing the LSBA from requiring Plaintiff to join or pay dues to the LSBA pending completion of the remedies phase. The court wrote that because the LSBA engages in non-germane speech, its mandatory membership policy violates Plaintiff’s rights to free speech and free association. Additionally, Plaintiff is entitled to a limited preliminary injunction for the same reasons as the plaintiffs in McDonald. View "Boudreaux v. LA State Bar Assoc" on Justia Law

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Defendant State of Louisiana, ex rel. Jeff Landry (“the State”) sought to dissolve a consent decree that pertains to the method of selecting justices for the Louisiana Supreme Court. The State attempted to dissolve the consent judgment under the first and third clauses of Rule 60(b)(5) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The State contended that the judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged because the State has substantially complied with the decree for more than thirty years and the decree was intended to terminate at a defined milestone. The State further contended that it is no longer equitable to enforce the consent judgment prospectively because of widespread malapportionment in Louisiana’s supreme court election districts. The district court denied the State’s motion to dissolve.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying the dissolution motion, as the State has failed to meet its evidentiary burdens under both the first and third clauses of Rule 60(b)(5). The court explained that the State did not meet the evidentiary burden associated with Rufo’s first prong, which requires a showing of changed factual or legal circumstances that warrant reexamination of a consent decree. The State only makes very general claims about malapportionment and asserts that “new policy concerns” have arisen which satisfy Rufo. But the State offers almost no evidentiary support for this argument. Further, the court wrote that the State’s argument that continued enforcement of the Consent Judgment is detrimental to the public interest is unavailing. View "Chisom v. State of Louisiana" on Justia Law

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In this case, the parties consented to have their commercial dispute tried before a United States magistrate judge. But, allegedly unbeknownst to Defendant, the judge was longtime family friends with the lead trial lawyer for the plaintiff. Specifically, the lawyer had been a groomsman in the judge’s own wedding, and the judge officiated the wedding of the lawyer’s daughter three months before this lawsuit was filed. None of this information was disclosed to Defendant. After a twenty-day bench trial, the magistrate judge rendered judgment for the Plaintiff, awarding $124.5 million, including over $100 million in trebled damages. After the issuance of the judgment and award, Defendant learned about the undisclosed longstanding friendship and sought to have the magistrate-judge referral vacated. The district judge denied the request and denied discovery on the issue. Defendant appealed.   The Fifth Circuit vacated. The court concluded that the facts asserted here, if true, raise serious doubts about the validity of Defendant’s constitutionally essential consent to have its case tried by this magistrate judge. Further, the court explained remand was necessary because the facts were not sufficiently developed for the court to decide whether Defendant’s consent was validly given or whether vacatur of the referral was otherwise warranted. Accordingly, the court remanded for an evidentiary inquiry. View "I F G Port Hold v. Lake Charles Harbor" on Justia Law

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After several instances of inappropriate behavior and twice failing to show up for a client’s sentencing hearing, mostly due to a problem with substance abuse, attorney Plaintiff was referred by a presiding judge to a three-judge disciplinary panel of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Following an investigation and hearing, the panel sanctioned Plaintiff by suspending him from practicing before that court for 12 months, with the option to reapply upon proof of sobriety during the period of suspension. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that a three-judge panel could not sanction him because the rules say only that “[a] presiding judge” may take disciplinary action. He also says the 12-month suspension is excessive.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion. The court explained that the district court did try a less severe option. An informal panel of judges privately reprimanded him in June 2020. That lesser sanction did not work. The court was thus justified in imposing a harsher sanction like the suspension. Moreover, the sanction here is appropriately tailored to Plaintiff’s unique situation: his inability to practice law stemmed from his alcohol abuse, so the court ordered him not to practice until he is able to demonstrate sustained sobriety for one year. Further, the court wrote that the district court here considered that a lesser, non-suspension sanction had not deterred Plaintiff from reverting to his old ways. The panel also considered that Plaintiff’s conduct had persisted for some time and that he was not remorseful for his conduct. View "In re Sealed Appellant" on Justia Law

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The attorney appointed to represent Defendant moved for leave to withdraw and has filed a brief in accordance with Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), and United States v. Flores, 632 F.3d 229 (5th Cir. 2011). Defendant did not file a response.The Fifth Circuit granted the motion to withdraw. The court concurred with counsel’s assessment that the appeal presents no nonfrivolous issue for appellate review. The court wrote that consistent with Crawley, it holds that Defendant’s restitution order does not present a nonfrivolous issue for appeal because he is liable for the same restitution amount regardless of the ultimate recipients. View "USA v. Fults" on Justia Law

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The attorney appointed to represent Defendant moved for leave to withdraw and has filed a brief in accordance with Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), and United States v. Flores, 632 F.3d 229 (5th Cir. 2011). Defendant has not filed a response.   The Fifth Circuit reviewed counsel’s brief, and the relevant portions of the record reflected therein and granted the motion to withdraw. The court concurred with counsel’s assessment that the appeal presents no nonfrivolous issue for appellate review. The court held that Defendant’s restitution order does not present a nonfrivolous issue for appeal because he is liable for the same restitution amount regardless of the ultimate recipients. View "USA v. Fults" on Justia Law