Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Schumb was charged as a coconspirator in a felony indictment alleging a quid pro quo scheme in which members of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department issued hard-to-obtain concealed firearms permits in exchange for substantial monetary donations to the reelection campaign of Sheriff Smith. Schumb is an attorney with a history of fundraising for elected officials; he accepted the donations as a treasurer of an independent expenditure committee supporting Sheriff Smith’s reelection. Schumb is a friend of Rosen, the elected Santa Clara County District Attorney, and previously raised funds for Rosen’s campaigns.Schumb unsuccessfully moved to disqualify the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him, arguing that his friendships with Rosen and Rosen’s chief assistant, Boyarsky, created a conflict of interest making it unlikely Schumb would receive a fair trial. Schumb asserted that he intends to call Rosen and Boyarsky as both fact and character witnesses at trial and. despite their personal connections to the case, neither Rosen nor Boyarsky made any effort to create an ethical wall between themselves and the attorneys prosecuting the case. The court of appeal vacated and directed the lower court to enter a new order disqualifying the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in Schumb's prosecution. View "Schumb v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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After petitioner prevailed on an application for a writ of habeas corpus seeking release from federal immigration detention, he sought to recover attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act. The Fourth Circuit has previously held, pursuant to O'Brien v. Moore, 395 F.3d 499, 508 (4th Cir. 2005), that the Act does not apply to a habeas proceeding seeking release from criminal detention. The court held that the same is true for habeas proceedings seeking release from civil detention. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees because the Act does not provide a basis for petitioner to recover attorney's fees. View "Obando-Segura v. Garland" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals agreed with the recommendation of the Maryland Commission on Judicial Disabilities that the Court issue an order removing Amy Leigh Nickerson, a judge of the Orphans' Court for Kent County, holding that Judge Nickerson's conduct violated several provisions of the Maryland Code of Judicial Conduct and that her removal from office was appropriate.The Commission's investigative counsel filed charges against Judge Nickerson originating from allegations of sanctionable conduct arising from a traffic stop of Judge Nickerson that resulted in her arrest. Further, the Commission directed its investigative counsel to investigate a previous outstanding tax lien and judgement entered against Judge Nickerson in favor of the Maryland Comptroller. Judge Nickerson consented to the disposition of the investigations through the entry of a conditional diversion agreement (CDA) and reprimand. When Judge Nickerson failed to satisfy the terms and conditions, the Commission revoked the CDA and recommended that the Court issue an order removing Judge Nickerson from office. The Court of Appeals determined that Judge Nickerson's removal from office was the only outcome that would preserve the integrity of the judiciary, discourage others from engaging in similar conduct, and assure the public that the judiciary will not abide judicial misconduct. View "In re Judge Nickerson" on Justia Law

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In this civil action for reimbursement of attorney fees incurred in the successful defense of criminal charges the Supreme Court held that Utah Code 52-6-201 did not require Bret Rawson P.C. to subtract a donation made from a legal defense fund in calculating "reasonable attorney fees and court costs."Defendant, a West Valley City police officer, was charged with manslaughter arising out of conduct in the line of duty. After a preliminary hearing, the charge was dismissed. Defendant assigned his claim to a right of reimbursement of his attorney fees to Rawson. Rawson then filed this action seeking reimbursement of reasonable attorney fees under section 52-6-201. West Valley City filed a motion asserting that the amount of available fees was limited in two ways. The district court denied the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and remanded, holding (1) the district court properly found that a $60,000 donation by a legal defense fund should not be subtracted from the total amount of fees "necessarily incurred" in the defense of the charge against Defendant; and (2) as to the City's argument that the amount of fees "necessarily incurred" was capped by a flat fee agreement entered into between Defendant's defense team and his counsel, the case must be remanded for further proceedings. View "West Valley City v. Rawson" on Justia Law

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Reck purchased a new car manufactured by FCA, experienced frequent issues with the vehicle, and unsuccessfully requested its repurchase. Reck sued under the Song-Beverly Consumer Warranty Act, Civ. Code, 1790 After discovery, FCA served Reck with a second Civil Code section 998 offer, proposing to settle the matter for $81,000 plus costs, expenses, and attorney fees. Their counsel, Knight, had incurred $15,000 in legal fees. The Recks rejected the offer. Two days after trial commenced, the case settled for $89,500 plus fees and costs to be determined separately.Counsel sought attorney fees under section 1794(d): $46,487.50 in services provided by Knight and $78,344 in legal services provided by Century Law. FCA objected, arguing that the Recks incurred approximately $100,000 in attorney fees between April 2018, when the $81,000 settlement offer was refused, and August 2018, when they agreed to settle; that adding a second law firm to try the case resulted in unnecessary duplication of effort; and that three of their motions had been denied or withdrawn. The trial court found the case “not particularly complex” and awarded $20,158 in attorney fees with a requested .5 multiplier, finding that the $8,500 difference did not justify an award of fees for any hours spent preparing for trial.The court of appeal reversed. The Song-Beverly Act mandates the recovery of reasonable attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff based upon “actual time expended.” The trial court did not undertake a lodestar analysis of fees reasonably incurred following the rejection of the settlement offer. In the context of public interest litigation with a mandatory fee-shifting statute, it is an error of law for the court to categorically deny or reduce an attorney fee award on the basis of a plaintiff’s failure to settle when the ultimate recovery exceeds the section 998 settlement offer. View "Reck v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellant Sekayi White was an incarcerated and self-represented plaintiff who filed suit after his criminal defense lawyer, respondent Michael Molfetta, failed to respond to repeated requests for his case file. Having exhausted all avenues of direct state appeal of his conviction, White wanted to use the file to help him prepare petitions for collateral habeas relief. Molfetta received White’s letters, but believed he was prohibited from producing the file because it included protected materials. Instead of explaining the problem directly to his former client and producing the unprotected parts of the file, Molfetta effectively ignored the letters. Molfetta produced the file, minus protected materials, only after being ordered to do so by the trial judge in the underlying litigation here. By the time of the production, White’s deadline to file a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus had expired; his petition in the state court was also denied. White sued to recoup the money he spent reconstructing the file, later asking for emotional distress damages. He got neither. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s judgment in Molfetta’s favor, “but we publish in the hope the embarrassment we feel about the case can lead to improvement. … absent a miscarriage of justice (of which we have no evidence here) our moral and professional assessments, however deeply felt, cannot create a cause of action in tort. As explained herein, we must agree with the trial court: White failed to adequately plead and prove injury from Molfetta’s wrongful behavior.” View "White v. Molfetta" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court sustained Liquor Bike LLC's petition for writ of certiorari and vacated the district court's order disqualifying Liquor Bike's counsel on the ground that counsel's representation of Liquor Bike in this matter was directly adverse to a current client of counsel's law firm in another matter, holding that the district court abused its discretion.The district court disqualified Liquor Bike's counsel, Billy Mallory and Brick Gentry, P.C., in a boundary-dispute litigation, concluding that Mallory's representation of Liquor Bike violated Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.7. Liquor Bike filed a petition for a writ of certiorari challenging the district court's disqualification of its counsel. The Supreme Court sustained the petition, holding that the district court did not subject the motion for attorney disqualification to strict scrutiny and, instead, found a concurrent conflict of interest where none existed. View "Liquor Bike, LLC v. Iowa District Court for Polk County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the stipulation entered into by Judge Richard Howard of the Fifth Judicial Circuit and the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) that Judge Howard should be publicly reprimanded because he acted in appropriately.Judge Howard attempted to dissuade a judicial candidate from running against an incumbent judge and attempted to persuade the candidate either to run against a different incumbent judge or to forgo the campaign altogether. The JQC concluded that Judge Howard's conduct violated Canon 7A(1)(b). Judge Howard conceded that his conduct was improper. The Supreme Court approved the stipulation entered by the parties but declined to endorse the conclusion that judge Haward's conduct involved endorsing and opposing candidates for office in violation of Canon 7A(1)(b). View "Inquiry Concerning Judge Richard Howard" on Justia Law

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Diana initiated divorce proceedings from Gregory in 2007. A final judgment dissolving the marriage and allocating marital property was entered in 2009 and was affirmed in 2012. Both parties filed post-decree petitions. Diana appealed a series of orders, arguing as a threshold issue that the court erred in denying her motion for substitution of judge as of right. The appellate court (Crecos II) agreed that the trial court erred in denying Diana’s motion and that subsequent orders were “void.” In 2016, Diana filed petitions under 750 ILCS 5/508(a)(3) for attorney fees and costs incurred in both appeals. In 2018, the trial court ordered Gregory to pay Diana’s attorney fees: $32,952.50 for the Crecos I appeal and $89,465.50 for the Crecos II appeal.The appellate court found that the 2018 order was not final and appealable; the order awarded interim attorney fees under section 501(c-1), which are temporary in nature and subject to adjustment and inextricably intertwined with the property issues that remained partially unresolved. The claim for attorney fees was not a separable claim for purposes of appeal.The Illinois Supreme Court reversed. The 2018 fee award was a final order on a post-dissolution petition. In entering the order, the trial court included Rule 304(a) language. The appellate court had jurisdiction over Gregory’s appeal of that order. View "In re Marriage of Crecos" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of a five-judge commission concluding that, while she was a judicial candidate in 2020, Karen Kopich Falter committed violations of Jud.Cond.R. 4.3(A), holding that Falter's objections to the commission's misconduct findings were overruled, and the commission did not abuse its discretion in issuing sanctions against Falter.Falter, an Ohio attorney, was publicly reprimanded by the commission and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for committing violations of Jud.Cond.R. 4.3(A), which prohibits a judicial candidate from disseminating campaign material about an opponent either knowing that it is false or in reckless disregard of whether or not it is false. Falter appealed the commission's sanction. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) Falter's objections to the sanction are overruled; and (2) the Commission did not abuse its discretion in sanctioning Falter for her violations of Jud.Cond.R. 4.3(A). View "In re Judicial Campaign Complaint Against Falter" on Justia Law