Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Andrew James Keller, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine. Keller, representing himself, argued that the district court erred by denying his motion to withdraw his guilty plea under Wyoming Rule of Criminal Procedure (W.R.Cr.P.) 32(d) and his subsequent Wyoming Rule of Appellate Procedure (W.R.A.P.) 21 motion to withdraw his guilty plea and for a new trial due to ineffective assistance of counsel. He claimed that his public defenders had conflicts of interest and did not provide reasonably competent assistance.The district court denied Keller's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, concluding that he did not establish a fair and just reason to withdraw his guilty plea under Rule 32(d). Keller then filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea and for a new trial under W.R.A.P. 21, claiming he received ineffective assistance from his three defense attorneys. The district court denied Keller's Rule 21 motion and issued findings of fact and conclusions of law in support of its decision.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Keller failed to establish that his attorneys' performance was deficient, and thus, he did not receive ineffective assistance of counsel. The court also found that Keller failed to present a fair and just reason to withdraw his guilty plea under W.R.Cr.P. 32(d). View "Keller v. The State of Wyoming" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Neece sued the City of Chicopee, alleging that the mayor's decision not to renew his employment contract was retaliation for his testimony in a gender-discrimination case against the city. Neece claimed that his testimony undermined the city's defense, while the mayor argued that Neece was unproductive and unresponsive to his colleagues. The jury rejected Neece's retaliation claims. Neece appealed, arguing that he was entitled to a new trial because the district court limited the evidence he could present about a key event: a closed-door meeting between the city's attorneys and the city council about the merits of the gender-discrimination case and the impact of Neece's testimony.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the district court's decision, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in limiting evidence about the meeting. The court found that the mayor, who did not attend the meeting, was the decision-maker in not renewing Neece's contract. Neece was unable to show that the mayor ever learned about the details of the meeting, making the meeting irrelevant to the mayor's state of mind or alleged retaliatory motive. The court also found that the city did not waive its attorney-client privilege regarding the mayor's private conversations with the city attorney about the settlement of the gender-discrimination case. Therefore, the court affirmed the jury's verdict in favor of the city. View "Neece v. City of Chicopee" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around an applicant who pleaded guilty to causing serious bodily injury to a child. The trial court deferred finding her guilty and placed her on community supervision. However, two months later, she was adjudicated guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The applicant raised two claims in her habeas application. First, she argued that her guilty plea was involuntary because her attorney did not inform her that the victim had not suffered serious bodily injury. Second, she claimed that her attorney was ineffective at the adjudication stage for not offering evidence in support of a conviction for the lesser-included offense of causing bodily injury to a child.The trial court had recommended denying relief, but the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas found the trial court's findings to be faulty. The primary issue was whether the applicant pleaded guilty without knowing that the medical expert believed there was no serious bodily injury. The trial court found otherwise, but the Court of Criminal Appeals disagreed, finding that the defense attorney did not inform the applicant about the medical expert's opinion.The secondary issue was whether the applicant would have insisted on trial if she had known about the true state of the evidence of serious bodily injury. The Court of Criminal Appeals found that the record supported the applicant's claim that she would have insisted on trial, as she had a good chance of an acquittal of the serious bodily injury element and would have faced much less punishment without it.The Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas granted relief, setting aside the judgment in the case and remanding the applicant to the custody of the Sheriff of Harrison County to face the charges against her. View "EX PARTE MICHELLE LEE HAYES" on Justia Law

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A man convicted of murder sued his former attorney and law firm for legal malpractice and fraud, alleging they failed to properly represent him in a federal civil rights action and a state habeas action. The trial court dismissed the plaintiff's claims related to the habeas action, concluding they were not ripe for adjudication because the plaintiff's underlying criminal conviction had not been invalidated. The plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, which affirmed the trial court's judgment regarding the legal malpractice claim but reversed with respect to the fraud claim.The Supreme Court of Connecticut held that the Appellate Court improperly affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiff's legal malpractice claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Supreme Court disagreed with the Appellate Court's reliance on a previous case that a criminally convicted plaintiff's failure to obtain appellate or postconviction relief from his conviction prior to commencing a criminal malpractice action renders the action unripe and presents an issue of justiciability that implicates a court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Instead, the Supreme Court determined that the question was whether a criminally convicted plaintiff who had not obtained appellate or postconviction relief from his conviction has alleged facts sufficient to state a valid cause of action for criminal malpractice. The Supreme Court concluded that the plaintiff's claim of criminal malpractice should have been the subject of a motion to strike rather than a motion to dismiss. The judgment of the Appellate Court was reversed with respect to the plaintiff's claim of criminal malpractice and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cooke v. Williams" on Justia Law

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A defamation lawsuit was filed by Dana Cheng, a New York resident and political commentator, against Dan Neumann and Beacon, a Maine news outlet, for characterizing Cheng as "far-right" and a "conspiracy theorist" in an article. Neumann and Beacon sought dismissal of the case under both federal law and a New York anti-SLAPP law, which applies to meritless defamation lawsuits. The district court conducted a choice-of-law analysis, decided that New York law applied, and granted the motion to dismiss under New York's anti-SLAPP statute.The district court's decision was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. The appellate court agreed with the district court's ruling but for a different reason: it decided that Cheng's lawsuit had to be dismissed under binding First Amendment principles protecting free speech by the press. Back at the district court, Neumann requested attorneys' fees under the fee-shifting provision of New York's anti-SLAPP law. The district court denied Neumann's request after determining that Maine, not New York, law applied to the specific issue of attorneys' fees.Neumann appealed again, arguing that the district court erred in its choice-of-law analysis. The appellate court, noting the lack of clear controlling precedent on the issue, certified to the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine the question of which state's law applies to the attorneys' fees issue. View "Cheng v. Neumann" on Justia Law

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Shawn Flaherty was convicted of second-degree domestic assault and armed criminal action following a violent altercation with his wife, during which he brandished a revolver and a bullet from the weapon struck his wife in the knee. Flaherty's defense at trial was that the shooting was accidental, and his counsel requested an instruction for the lesser-included offense of second-degree domestic assault, which the jury ultimately found him guilty of. Flaherty was sentenced to seven years for the assault count and three years for the armed criminal action count, to be served consecutively. His convictions were affirmed on direct appeal.Flaherty subsequently filed a motion for postconviction relief, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a lesser-included instruction for fourth-degree domestic assault. The motion court overruled Flaherty’s motion after an evidentiary hearing, finding that while his trial counsel's performance was constitutionally deficient for failing to request the instruction for fourth-degree domestic assault, this did not prejudice Flaherty.The Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the motion court's judgment. The court found that there was sufficient evidence to support the motion court’s finding that counsel’s failure to request the lesser-included instruction for fourth-degree assault did not prejudice Flaherty. The court also noted that the motion court judge, who had also presided over Flaherty's criminal trial, was in a better position to assess the impact of the evidence on the jury and whether it was reasonably likely the jury would have been persuaded by arguments that Flaherty's acts were merely criminally negligent. View "Flaherty v. State" on Justia Law

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In a medical malpractice case, Bobbi Ann Mertis filed a lawsuit against Dr. Dong-Joon Oh, North American Partners in Anesthesia (Pennsylvania), LLC (NAPA), Wilkes-Barre Hospital, and Commonwealth Health. Mertis alleged that Dr. Oh negligently administered a femoral nerve block, causing her a femoral nerve injury. Dr. Oh retained a law firm, Scanlon, Howley & Doherty, to represent him. Later, Dr. Eugene Kim, the orthopedic surgeon who performed Mertis’s knee surgery and was not named as a defendant, also retained the same law firm after receiving a subpoena to appear at a discovery deposition.The Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas denied Mertis's motion for sanctions to disqualify the law firm from representing Dr. Oh and to bar the firm's further ex parte communication with Dr. Kim. The court found no violation of Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 4003.6, which regulates obtaining information from a party's treating physician. Mertis appealed to the Superior Court, which reversed the trial court's decision and remanded the case. The Superior Court found that Rule 4003.6 was violated and that the law firm's concurrent representation of Dr. Oh and Dr. Kim was tantamount to ex parte communication.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Superior Court's decision. The court concluded that a law firm representing a defendant treating physician cannot obtain information from a nonparty treating physician without the patient's written consent or through an authorized method of discovery. The court found that the client exception in Rule 4003.6(1) does not permit a law firm to obtain information from a nonparty treating physician by entering into an attorney-client relationship with that physician when the law firm's attorneys were already prohibited from obtaining information from that physician under Rule 4003.6 prior to entering such attorney-client relationship. View "Mertis v. Oh" on Justia Law

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The case involves Sharon Lewis, an African-American woman who worked as an assistant athletic director for Louisiana State University’s (LSU) football team. Lewis alleges that she experienced and witnessed numerous instances of racist and sexist misconduct from former head football coach Les Miles and that she received complaints of sexual harassment from student workers that she oversaw. In 2013, LSU retained Vicki Crochet and Robert Barton, partners of the law firm Taylor, Porter, Brooks & Phillips LLP, to conduct a Title IX investigation of sexual harassment allegations made against Miles. The report and its contents were kept confidential, and allegations brought by the student complainants were privately settled.The district court dismissed Lewis's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) claims against Crochet and Barton because Lewis’s claims were time-barred and she failed to establish proximate causation. On appeal of the dismissal order, a panel of this court affirmed the district court on the grounds that Lewis knew of her injuries from alleged racketeering as early as 2013, and thus the four-year statute of limitations had expired before she filed suit in 2021.The district court ordered Lewis to file a motion to compel addressing the lingering “issues of discoverability and the application of [its Crime-Fraud Exception Order].” The district court denied Crochet and Barton’s motion for a protective order and compelled the depositions of Crochet and Barton and the disclosure of documents drafted during the 2013 investigation. Crochet and Barton timely appealed.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed the district court’s Crime-Fraud Exception Order and remanded for proceedings consistent with this opinion. The court concluded that the district court clearly erred in holding that Lewis established a prima facie case that the Board violated La. R.S. 14:132(B) and that the alleged privileged communications were made in furtherance of the crime and reasonably related to the alleged violation. View "Lewis v. Crochet" on Justia Law

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The case involves a criminal defendant, Tasi Autele, who was indicted on charges of second-degree assault and strangulation. Autele retained attorneys Mackeson and Hall to represent him. However, on the day of the trial, the court granted defense counsel's request to postpone the trial to investigate photographs that had been anonymously delivered to Hall's office. On the next scheduled trial date, the trial court granted defense counsel's request to withdraw due to an ethical conflict that would likely arise from the prosecutor's plan to cross-examine Autele about those photographs. Nine days later, the same attorneys appeared and asked to be allowed to represent Autele, but the trial court denied the request due to its concerns about a continuing ethical issue.The Court of Appeals affirmed Autele's conviction, concluding that the record was insufficient to determine whether the trial court had abused its discretion in denying Autele's request to be represented by his retained counsel. The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court held that when a trial court denies a criminal defendant's request to be represented by retained counsel of their choice, the record must demonstrate that the trial court's decision was a permissible exercise of its discretion. The court found that the record in this case did not reflect that the trial court's decision amounted to a reasonable exercise of its discretion. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial. View "State v. Autele" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Jon Comstock, a lawyer who was observing Rule 8.1 hearings in a Benton County jail courtroom. Comstock was seated behind a glass window where he could see but not hear the proceedings due to a malfunctioning or turned-off sound system. He attempted to make Judge Griffin aware of the violation of the constitutional guarantees of open court proceedings. During a break, Judge Griffin and Comstock had a heated exchange about Comstock's right to hear the proceedings, which resulted in Comstock being held in direct criminal contempt and sentenced to five days in Benton County Jail, with four and a half days suspended.Comstock filed an omnibus motion for a new trial, petition for review, and notice of appeal in the Benton County Circuit Court, arguing that the circuit court had jurisdiction to conduct a de novo trial of the contempt finding. The circuit court initially granted Comstock a new trial, but later ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to conduct a trial in the matter and dismissed the case, determining that the contempt order was a final order from a circuit court and that the appellate court was the proper venue for a review of that order.The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the decision of the Benton County Circuit Court. It held that the contempt order was indeed a final order from a circuit court and that the appellate court was the proper venue for a review of that order. The court also found substantial evidence to support the circuit court’s order finding Comstock in direct criminal contempt. Therefore, the court affirmed the circuit court's finding and declined to reach Comstock’s recusal argument. View "Comstock v. State" on Justia Law