Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeals concluded that Petitioner, a justice of the Northport Village Court, Suffolk County, committed certain acts of misconduct warranting his removal from the office and accepted the determined sanction of removal from office. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct determined that Petitioner repeatedly used profane, vulgar and sexist terms in emails to his clients, whom he represented through his private law practice, that denigrated participants in the legal proceeding. The Commission then concluded that the appropriate sanction was removal from office. The Court of Appeals accepted the Commission's determined sanction, concluding that Petitioner's conduct warranted removal notwithstanding the fact that he was not functioning in his judicial capacity at the time it occurred. View "In re Senzer" on Justia Law

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In this ejectment action, the Supreme Court granted Appellant's motion for in forma pauperis (IFP) status on appeal, vacated the Intermediate Court of Appeals' (ICA) order dismissing appeal, and remanded this case to the ICA for further proceedings consistent with this opinion, holding that the ICA abused its discretion in ordering Appellant to file IFP motions in the district court, in denying Appellant's second IFP motion based on Haw. Rev. Stat. 607-3 and Haw. R. App. P. 24, and then in dismissing her appeal. Appellant, a self-represented defendant in a residential ejectment case, appealed a judgment and writ of possession filed by the district court. Appellant filed two motions to proceed IFP. The ICA denied both motions and ordered Appellant either to file an IFP motion in the district court within ten days or pay the filing fees in full. When Appellant did neither, the ICA dismissed Appellant's appeal. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that when courts have discretion in applying court rules or statutes, they must consider the access to justice principle of reducing barriers to the civil justice system for self-represented litigants. View "Estate Administrative Services LLC v. Mohulamu" on Justia Law

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The applicable standard of proof for the elements of causation and damages in a "settle and sue" legal malpractice action is the preponderance of the evidence standard. In this case, defendant, the attorney, contends that the element of causation and damages in a "settle and sue" legal malpractice case must be proven to a legal certainty, and that the legal certainty standard imposes a burden of proof higher than a mere preponderance of the evidence. The Court of Appeal explained that no published legal malpractice case using the term "legal certainty" expressly states the default burden of proof is replaced by a standard higher than preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, the court held that the term "legal certainty" is ambiguous and the court resolved the ambiguity by interpreting the statement that a plaintiff must present "evidence showing to a legal certainty that" the alleged breach of duty caused an injury as simply referring to the degree of certainty inherent in the applicable burden of proof. View "Masellis v. Law Office of Leslie F. Jensen" on Justia Law

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In 2015, Cartwright sued his former employer, alleging discrimination based on his race and sex under Title VII, 42 U.S.C. 2000e; discrimination based on race, 42 U.S.C. 1981; and age discrimination, 29 U.S.C. 623. The judge appointed counsel for the limited purpose of settlement negotiations. The parties did not reach an agreement. The attorney was relieved of the limited representation. Cartwright failed to respond to discovery requests and filed many motions. The judge recruited a lawyer to represent him pro bono but later permitted the attorney to withdraw. The judge recruited another pro bono lawyer. After 14 months and more than 530 hours of work, the third attorney moved to withdraw citing substantial, irreconcilable disagreements with Cartwright. The judge granted the defendants partial summary judgment. Cartwright responded with multiple motions, accusing the judge of bias. The defendants moved to dismiss the case with prejudice for failure to prosecute. The judge recruited another pro bono attorney, then denied the motion as moot. Counsel later was allowed to withdraw. After four years and repeated warnings, the judge dismissed the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, reminding "judges that they need not and should not recruit volunteer lawyers for civil claimants who won’t cooperate ... Pro bono representation of indigent civil litigants is a venerable tradition ... courts must be careful stewards of this limited resource.” View "Cartwright v. Silver Cross Hospital" on Justia Law

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Vernon Walters was injured in a work-related incident in October 2006; the vehicle he was driving was struck by an oncoming train. After receiving workers’ compensation benefits, he and his wife, Donyell Walters, filed a third-party claim against the company operating the train involved in the collision, Kansas City Southern Railway Company (KCSR). The Walterses hired the Parsons Law Firm to represent them in their suit, and Tadd Parsons took the case. The Walterses’ lawsuit against KCSR was ultimately dismissed with prejudice in September 2010 for, among other reasons, failure to prosecute, failure to comply with discovery obligations and fraud upon the court. Tadd never told the Walterses that their case had been dismissed and led them to believe their case was ongoing. Three years after the case had been dismissed, Tadd admitted he fabricated a settlement offer from KCSR in the amount of $104,000 and advised the Walterses to accept the offer, which they did. When eight months passed after Tadd informed the Walterses about the fabricated settlement, the Walterses demanded to meet with Jack Parsons, the other general partner at the Parsons Law Firm. Jack offered the Walterses $50,000 to settle any claims they may have had against Tadd based on his conduct in representing them in the KCSR lawsuit. The Walterses refused Jack’s offer and then filed a claim against Tadd, Jack and the Parsons Law Firm, alleging claims of fraud, defamation, negligent representation, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and punitive damages. The trial court granted partial summary judgment for the Walterses on the matter of liability, finding that Tadd and the Parsons Law Firm were liable for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The court then held a jury trial on damages. The jury verdict awarded the Walterses $2,850,002 in compensatory damages, which exceeded what the Walterses had demanded in compensatory damages in their complaint and in their motion to set damages. Finding the jury’s verdict shocked the conscience, the court remitted the damages to $1,034,666.67 in a second amended final judgment. Parsons appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the Walterses cross-appealed. The Supreme Court determined the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding irrelevant evidence about the underlying KCSR lawsuit because the value of the lawsuit had no bearing on the damages the Walterses sustained due to Tadd Parsons’s and the Parsons Law Firm’s fraud and IIED. Further, the Court determined the remitted verdict’s award of damages was excessive and not supported by substantial evidence. The trial court was therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the matter remanded for a new trial on damages. View "Parsons v. Walters" on Justia Law

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Apple owns Madison, Wisconsin vitamin stores. Knott, a former Apple employee, was fired in 2017. Knott founded his own vitamin shop, Embrace Wellness, in Middleton, Wisconsin. Embrace allegedly shared design features and a similar layout with Apple’s locations and carried comparable products. Apple sued, alleging infringement of its trademark, trade dress, and copyrights. The defendants filed counterclaims for tortious interference and retaliation. Apple sought a preliminary injunction on the trademark and trade dress claims, which the court denied, explaining that Apple had failed to show a likelihood of irreparable harm. Apple then moved to dismiss its own claims without prejudice. Because the defendants had already expended resources litigating an injunction, the court ordered Apple to withdraw its motion or accept dismissal with prejudice, expressing its opinion that no party’s claim was strong. Apple agreed to dismiss its claims with prejudice. The court subsequently denied defendants’ motion for fees; they appealed with respect to the copyright claims. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Apple’s copyright claims were frivolous—common-law copyright was abolished in 1976—but the totality of the circumstances did not warrant fees. There was no evidence that Apple had filed suit with an improper motive, and no need to deter future frivolous filings. The case was primarily about trademark and trade dress. no motions were filed related to copyright. Apple dismissed the copyright claims voluntarily before defendants had to argue against them. View "Timothy B. O'Brien LLC v. Knott" on Justia Law

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Golubitsky, as a Virgin Islands Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panelist, was appointed counsel for Bellille, an indigent defendant in a multi-defendant RICO prosecution. Golubitsky unsuccessfully moved to withdraw, arguing that he was no longer a CJA panelist, having moved to an in-house counsel role, and was contractually barred from the representation. Weeks later, Golubitsky purportedly started an of-counsel relationship at the DiRuzzo law firm and filed an emergency motion to withdraw as Bellille’s counsel, arguing that DiRuzzo represented Ayala, who was likely to testify against Bellille, which created a conflict of interest. Golubitsky and DiRuzzo explained that Golubitsky was “on [the firm’s] system,” could bill using the firm’s software, and was added to DiRuzzo’s malpractice insurance. Golubitsky worked full-time as in-house counsel while working part-time for DiRuzzo’s Florida firm, litigating four matters together. They had no involvement in the other’s work related to Bellille’s case nor had they shared any information about the case. The court denied Golubitsky’s motion and ordered DiRuzzo and Golubitsky to wall off the latter’s representation of Bellille from DiRuzzo’s representation of Ayala. The Third Circuit vacated and remanded, noting many “factual gaps,” surrounding the relationship between DiRuzzo and Golubitsky and why the relationship was established. The situation cannot be both ways. Either the of-counsel relationship was not genuine and there was no basis for imposing a screen or there was a true of-counsel relationship and a screen alone could not cure the conflict. View "United States v. Bellille" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals reversing the circuit court's denial of Father's motion for reconsideration of the circuit court's ruling in favor of Mother in a custody dispute, holding that the "extreme" facts of this case rebutted the presumption of judicial impartiality and established a due process violation. The circuit court judge accepted Mother's Facebook "friend request" after a contested hearing but before rendering a decision. During the twenty-five days between the judge's acceptance of Mother's friend request and his issuance of a written decision entirely in her favor, Mother engaged with and reacted to at least twenty of the judge's Facebook posts. Mother further "shared" and "liked" several third-party posts related to an issue that was contested at the hearing. After discovering the Facebook friendship and communications, which the judge never disclosed, Father moved the circuit court for reconsideration, requesting judicial disqualification and a new hearing. The judge denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed and remanded the case with directions that the court proceed before a different circuit court judge. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circumstances and facts of this case rose to the level of a serious risk of actual bias, which rebutted the presumption of the judge's impartiality. View "Miller v. Carroll" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a legal malpractice case arising out of the failure of two sets of lawyers associated with two different law firms, Westerman, Hattori, Daniels & Adrian, LLP (Westerman) and Kratz, Quintos & Hanson, LLP (Kratz), to file necessary documents in plaintiffs' patent case, allegedly resulting in plaintiffs' loss of that case. The complaint alleged four counts against defendants: Count I against both defendants for the original malpractice, Count II alleging that Westerman negligently gave legal advice after the original decision in the patent case issued and Counts III and IV alleging that advice Kratz gave regarding the malpractice case against Westerman led to the loss of the Count I claim against both defendants through the operation of the statute of limitations. The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count II of the Second Amended Complaint where the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiffs waived any claim for damages arising from the Count II allegations. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Counts III and IV of the Second Amended complaint where plaintiffs failed to establish that Armstrong's advice was the proximate cause of its injuries. View "Seed Company Limited v. Westerman, Hattori, Daniels & Adrian, LLP" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff settled her civil action as the prevailing party, the trial court set a hearing three months out on an order to show cause (OSC) regarding dismissal, and ordered any motion for attorney fees to be filed and heard before the OSC date. Due to mistake, inadvertence, or neglect by counsel, plaintiff did not file a motion for fees by the court-ordered deadline. The trial court then refused to extend the deadline and dismissed the action pursuant to the settlement agreement. Four months later, counsel filed a motion to set aside the dismissal pursuant to the mandatory relief provision of Code of Civil Procedure section 473, subdivision (b). The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion, holding that counsel missed the court-ordered deadline to move for attorney fees and section 473 provides no relief for such error. The court agreed with the trial court that dismissal was not caused by counsel's error. Rather, counsel's error simply caused plaintiff to lose the opportunity to file her fee motion. View "Hernandez v. FCA US LLC" on Justia Law