Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries
Matlin v. Spin Master Corp.
In 1997, Plaintiffs co-founded Gray Matter Holdings. A 1999 Withdrawal Agreement with Gray Matter entitled Plaintiffs to royalties on the sales of “Key Products.” In 2003, Gray Matter sold some assets to Swimways. After that sale, Plaintiffs took Gray Matter to arbitration four times over their royalty rights. The third arbitration determined that Gray Matter did not transfer its royalty obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement to Swimways but only transferred its intellectual property rights; Gray Matter, not Swimways, remained responsible for any royalty compensation owed to Plaintiffs. The fourth arbitration found no evidence to support Plaintiffs’ claim that Swimways tendered fraudulent filings to the Patent and Trademark Office regarding the intellectual property rights in the Key Products and that all intellectual property rights in the Key Products at issue had been transferred to Swimways.Plaintiffs filed suit, alleging that they were entitled to royalties for the Key Products and that Swimways tendered the alleged fraudulent filings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint and the imposition of $271,926.92 in sanctions. The claims were barred by principles of res judicata and the arbitrations were “binding and final” under the Withdrawal Agreement. An accounting showed that attorneys and staff spent 273.1 hours, charging an average rate of about $1,000 per hour, preparing the motions to dismiss and for sanctions. View "Matlin v. Spin Master Corp." on Justia Law
Chambers v. Whirlpool Corp.
In a class action lawsuit regarding faulty Whirlpool dishwashers, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's approval of a class settlement, but vacated and remanded the $14.8 million attorney's fees award. The panel held that the Class Action Fairness Act's (CAFA) attorney's fee provisions apply to all federal class actions; the district court improperly used a lodestar-only method to calculate attorney's fees for the coupon portion of the settlement where that methodology potentially inflates the amount of attorney's fees in proportion to the results achieved for the class because the coupons may end up providing minimal benefit to the class; the district court erred in awarding a 1.68 lodestar multiplier; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in approving the settlement.On remand, the panel instructed the district court to apply a percentage-of-redemption value methodology for the coupon portion of a settlement, and use a lodestar method for the non-coupon part of the relief. In the alternative, the panel stated that the district court may use a lodestar-only methodology, but only if it does not consider the coupon relief or takes into account its redemption value. View "Chambers v. Whirlpool Corp." on Justia Law
People v. O’Hearn
Police responding to a report of O’Hearn acting erratically had previously dealt with him. They suspected O’Hearn had “mental health issues” but, after he threatened to kill his neighbors, they arrested O’Hearn for making criminal threats and violating conditions of probation. O’Hearn had four prior felony convictions. During the ensuing months, O’Hearn was represented by three attorneys and pled guilty.Then-counsel Selby failed to sign O’Hearn's Cruz/Vargas Waiver. The PSR noted that O’Hearn had bi-polar disorder and was not taking his medication at the time of the offense. Another attorney filed a motion to vacate the plea, arguing that it was the consequence of ineffective assistance. Counsel “barely met" with O'Hearn, failed to attend the sentencing hearing, lost the case file, never explained potential defenses, did not inquire about O'Hearn's extensive mental health history, and did not advise him of the consequences or alternatives. O’Hearn’s 800-page medical record showed hospitalizations for mental health problems and a history of schizophrenia. Selby had been repeatedly found to have failed to provide competent legal services. The victims, one of whom had a criminal history, had interacted with O’Hearn for many years. Conviction of making criminal threats requires specific intent, which can be negated by a mental disorder.The court of appeal reversed the denial of O’Hearn’s motion to vacate his plea. Selby never asserted any strategic reason for failing to learn whether his client’s mental state provided the basis for a possible mental defense and the deficient representation was prejudicial. View "People v. O'Hearn" on Justia Law
In re Glenview Health Care Facility, Inc.
Glenview, a Glasgow, Kentucky nursing home, jointly owned by Bush and Howlett for over 30 years, filed a voluntary chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. The Official Creditors Committee was formed and filed an application to retain DBG, with a declaration from DGB's managing partner, disclosing that DBG had previously represented Howlett in estate planning matters, unrelated to the Chapter 11 case, that the representation concluded in 2017, and that the professionals who represented Howlett would not represent the Committee. Glenview filed an objection, although Howlett did not, asserting that DBG assisted Glenview and Howlett with the preparation of a buy-sell agreement for Glenview and all its assets, attaching an invoice from DBG for a period in 2016. DBG asserted that no buy-sell agreement was consummated, and that the representation related only to estate planning. The bankruptcy court heard arguments but did not conduct an evidentiary hearing, then denied the Committee’s application to employ DBG.The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel vacated, finding that the court abused its discretion under 11 U.S.C. 1103. State and federal courts jealously guard the attorney-client relationship and that solicitude extends to a committee’s choice of counsel in bankruptcy. View "In re Glenview Health Care Facility, Inc." on Justia Law
Ex parte W. Perry Hall.
Attorney W. Perry Hall petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the circuit court to vacate its order entered on August 15, 2019 requiring Hall, among other things, to issue a letter of apology to his clients. Hall represented a homeowners association and multiple individual homeowners in a Mobile subdivision in a lawsuit against the developer of that subdivision. After Hall moved to dismiss certain counterclaims asserted against those homeowners, the circuit court entered an order demanding that Hall "provide a copy of this order and a copy of Ala. R. Civ. P. Rule 19, as well as a copy of [the motion to dismiss] to [his homeowner clients], along with a letter explaining how Rule 19 works, apologizing for the invectives and sheer puffery used in this frankly scandalous pleading." The circuit court entered the order because it "dislike[d]" Hall's use of the phrase "forced Plaintiff's [sic]" to describe the plaintiffs, as well as other terms used in the motion to dismiss. The circuit court provided no other basis for the directives in its order. Hall filed this petition for a writ of mandamus contending he circuit court had exceeded its discretion by entering the order. The Alabama Supreme Court did not address that issue because, six days later, the circuit court vacated the order after the individual homeowners were dismissed from the action by joint stipulation. View "Ex parte W. Perry Hall." on Justia Law
Inquiry Concerning Judge David Craig Miller
The Supreme Court held that the conduct of Judge David Craig Miller of the Eleventh Judicial Court violated the Code of Judicial Conduct and that the appropriate discipline was a public reprimand, concluding that the findings of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) were supported by clear and convincing evidence.In its findings and recommendation of discipline, the JQC found that Judge Miller violated Canons 1, 2A, and 3B(4) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. The JQC then recommended a public reprimand. In a stipulation, Judge Miller admitted to the alleged conduct, conceded that the conducts violated the Code of Judicial Conduct, and accepted the JQC's findings and recommendation of discipline. The Supreme Court approved the stipulation entered into by Judge Miller and the JQC and reprimanded Judge Miller for his misconduct. View "Inquiry Concerning Judge David Craig Miller" on Justia Law
McCluskey v. Henry
McCluskey sought damages for the termination of her Airbnb account, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court granted a motion to stay the action and compel arbitration under the contract between McCluskey and Airbnb. McCluskey filed a claim for arbitration with the American Arbitration Association (AAA), which set deadlines for paying filing fees. McCluskey paid her fee; AAA acknowledged receipt. Airbnb sent the fee by wire transfer. AAA did not acknowledge receipt. In an April 9 email, AAA informed all counsel that it had closed the arbitration due to defendants’ failure to pay their filing fee. Defense counsel contacted AAA, and, on April 19, sent documentation of an April 5 wire transfer and an email explaining the payment had been sent together with another payment. On May 1, AAA emailed all parties that payment had been received and that AAA needed confirmation, by May 6, that they wanted the case reopened. Not having heard from McCluskey, on May 9 AAA sent “a final request for confirmation.” McCluskey again did not respond.On May 10, McCluskey sought to lift the stay, asserting that the defendants’ failure to pay their filing fee by April 5, constituted a default, waiver, or breach of the arbitration agreement. The court denied the motion. The defendants served a section 128.7 sanctions motion. The court of appeal affirmed an award of $22,159.50, as “reasonable” attorney fees for opposing the motion to lift the stay and declining to award fees incurred in bringing the sanctions motion. View "McCluskey v. Henry" on Justia Law
Freirich v. Rabin
When Louis Rabin died, he left everything to his widow, Claudine. She was also named as the personal representative to manage his estate in probate. Louis’s former wife, Suyue Rabin, made a claim against the estate based on a couple of promissory notes. These notes totaled $200,000 and were made payable to Suyue upon Louis’s death, and were executed while Louis was married to Claudine. Claudine didn’t know the notes existed until Suyue made the claim. Claudine asked Louis’s longtime attorney, Mark Freirich, for all of Louis’s legal files, most of which had nothing to do with the notes. He refused, citing confidentiality concerns. She then subpoenaed the files. When Freirich refused, a lawsuit was filed, reaching the Colorado Supreme Court. After review, the Court held: (1) Colorado’s Probate Code did not grant a personal representative a general right to take possession of all of a decedent’s legal files as “property” of the estate; (2) a decedent’s lawyer was ordinarily prohibited from disclosing a decedent’s legal files, even to the personal representative; but (3) a decedent’s lawyer could provide the personal representative with otherwise privileged or confidential documents if such disclosure was necessary to settle the decedent’s estate. The Court of Appeals erred in reversing the district court's order quashing the subpoena. That portion of the appellate court's judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Freirich v. Rabin" on Justia Law
People v. Reyes
Reyes, a deputy public defender who began practicing law less than three years ago, was charged with witness tampering under Penal Code section 136.1(b)(1), which proscribes an attempt to dissuade any victim of or witness to a crime from reporting “that victimization” to law enforcement, and under section 137(b), which proscribes the attempted inducement of any person “by the use of fraud” to “withhold” “true material information pertaining to a crime” from law enforcement. The superior court granted Reyes’s motion to set aside the information.The court of appeal affirmed the dismissal of the section 136.1(b)(1) count. Neither the statutory text, the structure of the statute, nor the legislative history addresses whether, to constitute "dissuasion," the suppressed report of “victimization” must be of a past, completed crime or may be either a past crime or an ongoing course of criminal conduct expected to continue into the future; the court resolved the ambiguity in Reyes’s favor under the rule of lenity. The court reversed the dismissal of the 137(b) count. The statute has no language requiring, even arguably, that the withholding of testimony or information to which it is directed must involve a past crime. All it requires is that the attempt to induce the withholding must be made “by the use of fraud,” which was indisputably alleged. View "People v. Reyes" on Justia Law
Stockdale v. Helper
Williamson County District Attorney Helper told other officials that she distrusted Fairview Police officers Stockdale and Dunning and that she would not “take their cases.” Helper wrote to the city manager (Collins): “per our discussion, this Office has concerns about reports initiated/investigated solely by” Dunning or Stockdale and that defense counsel would be entitled to a copy of an earlier investigation report concerning the officers. Helper stated, “[w]ithout independent corroboration from another law enforcement officer and/or independent witness, the[ir] testimony . . . may be impeached.” Collins disputed Helper’s assessment but Helper refused to back down. Collins fired the officers, explaining the email provided the “sole reason.”Stockdale and Dunning sued. They settled their claims against the city, leaving a First Amendment claim and state law claims against Helper. The district court denied Helper’s claim of absolute immunity and her claim for qualified immunity from the federal First Amendment retaliation claim. It also denied her summary judgment with respect to state law claims for official oppression and tortious interference with a business relationship. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part. Because Helper’s actions were not closely tied to the judicial process, absolute immunity does not apply; because her conduct did not violate any clearly established law, qualified immunity protects her. View "Stockdale v. Helper" on Justia Law