Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
ANTHONY KASSAS V. STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA
Appellant a Chapter 7 debtor, was disbarred by the California Supreme Court in 2014 for violations of the State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct and the California Business and Professions Code. The California Supreme Court ordered Appellant to pay restitution to 56 former clients, costs for his disciplinary proceedings, and any funds that would eventually be paid out by the State Bar’s Client Security Fund (CSF) to victims of his conduct. Appellant subsequently filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and received a discharge. The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the bankruptcy court’s judgment. Reversing in part, the court held that the indebtedness arising from the attorney’s obligation to reimburse the State Bar for the payments made to victims of his misconduct was not excepted from discharge under 11 U.S.C. Section 523(a)(7), which provides that a debtor is not discharged from any debt that “is for a fine, penalty, or forfeiture payable to and for the benefit of a governmental unit, and is not compensation for actual pecuniary loss.” Considering the totality of the Client Security Fund program, the court concluded that any reimbursement to the Fund was payable to and for the benefit of the State Bar and was compensation for the Fund’s actual pecuniary loss in compensating the victims for their actual pecuniary losses. Affirming in part the court held that, pursuant to In re Findley, 593 F.3d 1048 (9th Cir. 2010), the costs associated with the attorney’s disciplinary proceedings were nondischargeable under Section 523(a)(7). View "ANTHONY KASSAS V. STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA" on Justia Law
Bolinske v. Sandstrom, et al.
Robert Bolinske appealed the dismissal of his claims against former Supreme Court Justice Dale Sandstrom and former District Court Judge Gail Hagerty (“State Defendants”) and awarding them attorney’s fees. In October 2016, Bolinske alleged in a press release that the State Defendants conspired to misfile or hide a petition for supervisory writ that he submitted in a prior case and thus tampered with public records. A few days after this press release, Rob Port published an article on his “Say Anything” blog regarding Bolinske’s press release. The article stated Port contacted Sandstrom and quoted Sandstrom as having said Bolinske’s press release was “bizarre and rather sad” and that “[a]lthough I’ve been aware of his mental health problems for years, I don’t recall ever having seen anything in his email before.” Three days after the article was published, Hagerty filed a grievance complaint against Bolinske, alleging he violated the North Dakota Rules of Professional Conduct. Based on the complaint, a disciplinary action was brought against Bolinske. The Inquiry Committee found Bolinske violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and issued him an admonition. The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court affirmed, and the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed, concluding his procedural due process rights were not violated. The Supreme Court affirmed dismissal of Bolinske’s complaint in part, concluding the district court properly dismissed Bolinske’s claims of procedural and substantive due process, civil conspiracy, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, governmental bad faith, and tortious outrage. The Supreme Court reversed in part, concluding the district court erred by dismissing the defamation claim under the statute of limitations. The award of attorney’s fees was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Bolinske v. Sandstrom, et al." on Justia Law
Realtime Adaptive Streaming LLC v. Netflix, Inc.
Realtime filed patent infringement actions against Netflix in the District of Delaware. While that action was ongoing, Netflix filed petitions for inter partes review (IPR) and moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing patent ineligibility under 35 U.S.C. 101. Following the institution of the IPR proceedings and a recommendation from the Delaware magistrate finding certain claims ineligible, Realtime voluntarily dismissed the Delaware action—before the district court ruled on the magistrate’s findings. The next day, Realtime reasserted the same patents against Netflix in the Central District of California—despite having previously informed the Delaware court that transferring the Delaware action to the Northern District of California would be an unfair burden on Realtime. Netflix then moved for attorneys’ fees and to transfer the actions back to Delaware. Before a decision on either motion, Realtime again voluntarily dismissed its case.Netflix renewed its motion for attorneys’ fees for the California actions, the Delaware action, and IPR proceedings. The district court awarded fees for both California actions under 35 U.S.C. 285, and, alternatively, the court’s inherent equitable powers. The court declined to award fees for the Delaware action or IPR proceedings The Federal Circuit affirmed. The district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding fees under its inherent equitable powers or in denying fees for the related proceedings The court did not address whether the award satisfies section 285's requirements. View "Realtime Adaptive Streaming LLC v. Netflix, Inc." on Justia Law
Shiheiber v. JPMorgan Chase Bank
Attorney Dennise Henderson violated several local court rules governing the timely service and filing of materials preparatory to trial. As a result, the trial court sanctioned her $950 under Code of Civil Procedure section 575.2. The trial court could have imposed a higher amount and was generous in awarding only an amount below that required to be reported by the State Bar. Nonetheless, Henderson appealed, challenging the legal basis for the sanctions on two grounds: (1) a superior court’s power to impose sanctions for violations of its local rules did not extend to violations of local rules regulating the conduct of trial; and (2) she could not be sanctioned for violating local court rules because the trial court exonerated her of acting in bad faith. The Court of Appeal rejected both arguments because the statute by its terms was not limited to pre-trial proceedings and the Legislature did not incorporate, expressly or otherwise, the section 128.5 bad faith standard into section 575.2. View "Shiheiber v. JPMorgan Chase Bank" on Justia Law
Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al.
This appeal stemmed from mass litigation between thousands of corn producers and an agricultural company (Syngenta). On one track, corn producers filed individual suits against Syngenta; on the second, other corn producers sued through class actions. The appellants were some of the corn producers who took the first track, filing individual actions. (the “Kellogg farmers.”) The Kellogg farmers alleged that their former attorneys had failed to disclose the benefits of participating as class members, resulting in excessive legal fees and exclusion from class proceedings. These allegations led the Kellogg farmers to sue the attorneys who had provided representation or otherwise assisted in these cases. The suit against the attorneys included claims of common-law fraud, violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO) and Minnesota’s consumer-protection statutes, and breach of fiduciary duty. While this suit was pending in district court, Syngenta settled the class actions and thousands of individual suits, including those brought by the Kellogg farmers. The settlement led to the creation of two pools of payment by Syngenta: one pool for a newly created class consisting of all claimants, the other pool for those claimants’ attorneys. For this settlement, the district court allowed the Kellogg farmers to participate in the new class and to recover on an equal basis with all other claimants. The settlement eliminated any economic injury to the Kellogg farmers, so the district court dismissed the RICO and common-law fraud claims. The court not only dismissed these claims but also assessed monetary sanctions against the Kellogg farmers. The farmers appealed certain district court decisions, but finding that there was no reversible error or that it lacked jurisdiction to review certain decisions, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. View "Kellogg, et al. v. Watts Guerra, et al." on Justia Law
Transcon Financial, Inc. v. Reid & Hellyer, APC
Defendant Reid & Hellyer, APC (Reid & Hellyer) moved for sanctions against plaintiff Transcon Financial, Inc. (Transcon) and its counsel, Ronald Talkov. Reid & Hellyer filed two motions, one under California Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 and one under section 128.7. Transcon and Talkov appealed the orders granting the sanctions motions. After review, the Court of Appeal held the trial court erred by concluding that the sanctions motions could be filed on the last day of the 21-day safe harbor period, rather than on the first day after the 21-day period expired. Reid & Hellyer filed their sanctions motions on the last day of the 21-day period and therefore did not comply with the safe harbor provisions of the governing statutes. The trial court therefore erred by granting the motions. View "Transcon Financial, Inc. v. Reid & Hellyer, APC" on Justia Law
Masin-Ventura v. Garland
Petitioner was ordered to be removed from the United States in absentia on June 23, 2006. On August 26, 2019, Petitioner, represented by counsel, filed a motion to reopen the removal proceedings and rescind the in-absentia removal order. The immigration judge (“IJ”) denied that motion, and the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) affirmed. Petitioner petitioned the court to review that affirmance, arguing that the BIA erred in determining that she was not entitled to equitable tolling of the statutory deadline for filing a motion to reopen because, although she had shown exceptional circumstances, she had not shown that she had pursued her rights diligently. The Fifth Circuit denied Petitioner’s petition to reopen. The court explained that it has authority to review only the final decision of the BIA unless the underlying decision of the IJ influenced the BIA’s decision. Here, the court explained that even accepting arguendo that Petitioner was prevented from participating in the 2006 proceedings or seeking that they are reopened by her abusive partner and that she was traumatized and unable to seek legal help for some time after escaping the abuse, Petitioner admits that she obtained legal representation—from the very same lawyer representing her here—more than two years before filing her motion to reopen the removal proceedings. Thus, the court cannot conclude that the BIA abused its discretion in finding that Petitioner failed to act with reasonable diligence in pursuing her rights. View "Masin-Ventura v. Garland" on Justia Law
Lane v. Person
Lane was detained on state criminal charges at the LaPorte County, Indiana jail. Lane sued Person, a doctor at the jail, for deliberate indifference to Lane’s medical condition, 42 U.S.C. 1983. While in jail, Lane sought medical care for an acoustic neuroma (non-cancerous tumor). Person did not order surgical removal of the tumor, which Lane believes was required. He later had the surgery. Nelson, a doctor who also treated Lane, testified that Person appropriately addressed Lane’s condition by ordering multiple MRIs and a consultation with a specialist. Person prevailed at summary judgment and was awarded $4,000 in costs; $2,750 was a one-day witness fee for Nelson,The Seventh Circuit affirmed but modified. The court noted that more than 30 days passed between the denial of Lane's motion to reconsider the summary-judgment decision and his notice of appeal, so the appeal was limited to a review of the decision on costs. There is a presumption under Rule 54(d) that a prevailing party recovers costs that are enumerated in 28 U.S.C. 1920. Although section 1920 includes witness fees, another statute, 28 U.S.C. 1821, more specifically addresses the allowable amount to $40 per day, and no other authority allows more. Person may recover total costs of $1,307.59. View "Lane v. Person" on Justia Law
Lopez v. Lopez
Appellant, then proceeding pro se, brought an action against Respondent, her brother, alleging he had falsely accused her of committing crimes against him and their elderly parents. Respondent emailed the attorney in this matter (“Attorney”), who was Appellant’s husband since June 2015, her former coworker at his law firm, and later her counsel in this action, warning that if Appellant did not settle the action, Respondent would file a cross-complaint the next day. The court subsequently dismissed Respondent’s cross-complaint. Appellant retained Attorney to represent her pro bono or at a discounted rate, having been advised by Attorney that he would likely need to testify at trial, and having executed informed written consent to Attorney’s representation notwithstanding his expected dual role as advocate and witness Two months before trial, Respondent moved to disqualify Attorney as Appellant’s counsel under California’s advocate-witness rule, viz., rule 3.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rule 3.7). The trial court disqualified Attorney from all phases of the litigation. The Second Appellate District reversed the trial court’s disqualification order, holding that the trial court failed to apply the proper legal standards, and thereby abused its discretion, in disqualifying Attorney from representing Appellant under the advocate witness rule. The court explained that the trial court failed to apply Rule 3.7’s informed-consent exception. Indeed, the trial court failed even to cite Rule 3.7, instead applying the ABA Rule, which is not binding and lacks any informed-consent exception. The trial court further abused its discretion in failing to apply Rule 3.7’s limitation to advocacy “in a trial.” View "Lopez v. Lopez" on Justia Law
Wang v. Nesse
Wang sued her former attorney Nesse, alleging professional malpractice in his representation of Wang in her marital dissolution action. Following Nesse’s death, his estate moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Wang’s complaint, filed on December 21, 2015, was barred by the one-year statute of limitations, Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6. According to Nesse’s estate, although Wang and Nesse filed a substitution of attorney form on December 30, 2014, Nesse’s representation of Wang had actually ended earlier, on December 3 or December 17 at the latest, when Wang “discharged” Nesse or “consented” to his withdrawal. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. The court of appeal reversed. There is a triable issue of material fact as to whether Nesse continued to represent her on December 21, 2014, so Nesse’s estate failed to establish that the statute of limitations bars her complaint as a matter of law. View "Wang v. Nesse" on Justia Law