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The Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) filed a formal complaint against Sixth Circuit Judge Lisa Gorcyca, alleging two counts of judicial misconduct arising from a hearing at which she found three children in contempt of court. The contempt hearing arose in the context of a protracted and acrimonious divorce and custody case. The two younger children, 10-year-old RT and 9-year-old NT, were ordered to participate in parenting time in respondent’s jury room with their father. LT was not scheduled for parenting time with his father on that day, but he came to the court with his siblings. After the children refused to communicate with their father, respondent held a show cause hearing to determine why all three children should not be held in contempt. Among other things, respondent told LT that he was defiant, contemptuous, and “mentally messed up.” She held him in direct contempt of court and ordered LT to be confined at Oakland County Children’s Village. Respondent then addressed RT and NT, who were initially apologetic and indicated that they would try to comply with the court’s order but later stated that they would prefer to go with LT to Children’s Village. All three children were handcuffed and removed from the courtroom. The JTC special master found respondent committed misconduct by: (1) finding LT in contempt of a nonexistent parenting-time order; (2) giving the children’s father the keys to the jailhouse thereby depriving the children of the opportunity to purge their contempt; (3) making a gesture indicating that LT was crazy and making disparaging remarks about the children; and (4) misrepresenting to the JTC that the gesture was intended to communicate LT’s moving forward with therapy. The JTC adopted the master’s findings with one exception: the JTC disagreed with the master that respondent misrepresented the meaning of the gesture and concluded that her answer was merely misleading. The JTC recommended that the appropriate discipline for respondent’s misconduct was a 30-day suspension without pay and costs. After review of the record the Michigan Supreme Court agreed in part with the Commission’s conclusion that respondent committed judicial misconduct, but was not persuaded that the recommended sanction was appropriate. Instead, the Court held public censure was proportionate to the judicial misconduct established by the record. The Court rejected the Commission’s recommendation to impose costs, fees, and expenses against respondent under MCR 9.205(B). View "In re Hon. Lisa Gorcyca" on Justia Law

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Defendants Beachcomber Management Crystal Cove, LLC (Management) and Douglas Cavanaugh (collectively, Defendants) challenged a trial court’s order disqualifying the law firm of Kohut & Kohut LLP (Kohut) from continuing to represent Defendants in the underlying matter. In March 2016, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit on behalf of Beachcomber at Crystal Cove, LLC as a shareholder derivative action against Defendants. The complaint named the Company as a nominal defendant and alleged claims for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, abuse of control, gross negligence and mismanagement, breach of duty of honest services, unjust enrichment, declaratory relief, and accounting. Plaintiffs alleged Defendants abused their position as the Company’s managers by diverting Company funds to other Cavanaugh entities, paying themselves unauthorized management fees, misallocating expenses the Company shares with other entities, and refusing to provide Plaintiffs complete access to the Company’s books and records. Defendants hired Kohut to represent them in this lawsuit, and the Company hired independent counsel, the law firm of Corbin, Steelman & Specter, to represent it in this lawsuit. In May 2016, Plaintiffs filed a motion to disqualify Kohut “from any further participation in this case” based on conflicts of interests arising from its past and present representation of the Company and Defendants. Specifically, Plaintiffs argued disqualification was required based on the conflicts of interest arising from: (1) Kohut’s concurrent representation of the Company and Defendants; (2) Kohut’s successive representation of the Company and Defendants concerning the disputes over the Company’s operations; and (3) the need for Kohut to testify in this lawsuit about the services it provided to the Company and Defendants. Here, the trial court concluded disqualification was mandatory because: (1) Defendants and the Company had conflicting interests because the Company is the true plaintiff in this derivative suit that Plaintiffs brought against Defendants on the Company’s behalf; and (2) Kohut previously represented the Company concerning some of the issues raised in this suit, and a substantial relationship therefore existed between that representation and Kohut’s representation of Defendants in this lawsuit. The Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred because it failed to apply a more specific line of cases that governed an attorney’s successive representation of clients in a derivative lawsuit brought on a small or closely held company’s behalf against the insiders who run the company. View "Beachcomber Management Crystal Cove v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court addressed in Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, 137 S. Ct. 1178, 1183‐84 (2017), a federal court's inherent authority to sanction a litigant for bad‐faith conduct by ordering it to pay the other side's legal fees. The Court held that such an order is limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct—or put another way, to the fees that party would not have incurred but for the bad faith. This appeal stemmed from a suit against T-Mobile for property damage to a building T-Mobile had leased space on the roof of for cell tower equipment. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded the district court's order of sanctions because it was in serious tension with the Court's holding and because the district court was mislead by defendants' submissions in awarding such severe sanctions. View "Virginia Properties, LLC v. T-Mobile Northeast LLC" on Justia Law

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Adofo Minka was held in direct criminal contempt by the Hinds County Circuit Court for unprofessional and contumacious behavior during the trial of his client which resulted in a mistrial. Minka was fined $100 and ordered to pay the costs of the jury in the amount of $1,350. Minka appealed, arguing: (1) he did not improperly comment during opening statements on a potential sentence his client might receive, which triggered a sua sponte objection from the trial court and was a key basis for the State’s request(s) for a mistrial; (2) his comments did not warrant criminal sanction because counsel have broad latitude during opening statements and closing arguments; (3) the record did not support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that any of Minka’s comments or conduct constituted criminal contempt; and (4) even if the Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s contempt and sanction order, the monetary fine was $650 more than it should have been; therefore, the sanction amount must be reversed, lowered, and rendered. The Supreme Court found no merit in any of the points of contention argued by Minka on appeal. View "Minka v. Mississippi" on Justia Law

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In a reciprocal discipline case, the identical discipline in Minnesota to “exclusion from practice” before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an indefinite suspension from the practice of law with no right to petition for reinstatement for a minimum of five years. In this case, the USPTO imposed on Alan Stewart, a Minnesota attorney, what its regulations call “exclusion from practice” for misappropriating unearned fees, among other things. The Director of the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility petitioned to impose reciprocal discipline in Minnesota and argued that the identical discipline in Minnesota was disbarment. The Supreme Court indefinitely suspended Stewart with no right to petition for reinstatement for a minimum of five years, holding that the USPTO’s discipline procedures were fundamentally fair and that a five-year suspension would not be unjust or substantially different from the discipline warranted in Minnesota. View "In re Petition for Disciplinary Action against Alan Richard Stewart" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Tenure Commission (JTC) filed a formal complaint against 14-A District Court Judge J. Cedric Simpson, alleging three counts of judicial misconduct arising from a 2013 incident where Crystal Vargas, one of respondent’s interns, was involved in a motor vehicle accident near respondent’s home. Vargas immediately called respondent, and he arrived at the scene approximately 10 minutes later. As the investigating officer was administering a field sobriety test, respondent identified himself to the officer as a judge, had a conversation with Vargas without the officer’s permission. Vargas had a breath-alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit, and she was placed under arrest. Respondent contacted the township attorney who would be handling Vargas’s case, said that Vargas was his intern. Respondent also contacted the attorney to discuss defense attorneys Vargas might retain. After an investigation into respondent’s conduct, the JTC filed its formal complaint alleging that respondent had interfered with the police investigation into the accident, interfered with Vargas’s prosecution, and made misrepresentations to the JTC. The master appointed to the case found by a preponderance of the evidence that respondent’s actions constituted judicial misconduct on all three counts. The JTC agreed with these findings and concluded that respondent’s conduct violated the Michigan Code of Judicial Conduct and also constituted misconduct in office and conduct clearly prejudicial to the administration of justice under Const 1963, art 6, section 30(2). The JTC recommended that respondent be removed from office and that costs be imposed. The Michigan Supreme Court concluded the JTC correctly found that respondent committed judicial misconduct, but it erred by concluding that removal from office was warranted. A suspension of nine months without pay was proportional to the misconduct. View "In re Hon. J. Cedric Simpson" on Justia Law

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In 2004, Trzaska became the head of L’Oréal ’s regional patent team. Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) bar attorneys from filing frivolous or bad-faith patent applications. L’Oréal established quotas for patent applications. Management stated that, if the team failed to meet that quota, “there would be consequences which would negatively impact their careers and/or continued employment.” L’Oréal also adopted an initiative that resulted in fewer invention disclosures submitted to the team for vetting. With competing policies—one requiring a minimum of applications and one effectively reducing the invention disclosures being evaluated— Trzaska’s team did not believe it could meet the quota without filing applications for products that it did not in good faith believe were patentable. Trzaska told management that his team would not do so. L’Oréal offered Trzaska severance packages, with the alternative of “get back to work.” After he rejected both severance packages, L’Oréal fired Trzaska. Trzaska sued for wrongful retaliatory discharge under the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J. Stat. 34:19-1, which protects an employee from retaliatory termination following his refusal to participate in illegal activity at the employer's request, including practices that the employee believes contravene public policy. The district court dismissed. The Third Circuit reversed, stating that the allegations were not “skin deep.” The basis of the claim is not L’Oréal’s violation of the RPCs; it is the instruction that would result in the employees' disregard of their RPC duties and violate a public policy mandate. View "Trzaska v. LOreal USA Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit found no violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 or abuse of the judicial process in this consolidated appeal involving parties in a putative action. The court held that counsel did not violate Rule 41 in stipulating to the dismissal of the action and counsel had at least a colorable legal argument that the district court’s approval was not needed under Rule 23(e) to voluntarily dismiss the claims of the putative class. Therefore, the district court abused its discretion in finding that counsel acted with an improper purpose under Rule 11 and abused the judicial process by stipulating to the dismissal of the federal action for the purpose of seeking a more favorable forum and avoiding an adverse decision. Consequently, the district court also abused its discretion in imposing sanctions upon plaintiffs' counsel for the purported violation. The court reversed the district court's orders and remanded for further proceedings. View "Castleberry v. USAA" on Justia Law

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Murphy was an inmate in the Illinois Vandalia Correctional Center when correctional officers hit him, fracturing his eye socket, and left him in a cell without medical attention. Murphy sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and state-law theories. The court reduced a jury award of damages to $307,733.82 and awarded attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to liability, rejecting an argument that state-law sovereign immunity bars the state-law claims. The Illinois doctrine of sovereign immunity does not apply to state-law claims against a state official or employee who has violated statutory or constitutional law. The court reversed and remanded the attorney fee award. Under 42 U.S.C. 1997e(d), the attorney fee award must first be satisfied from up to 25 percent of the damage award, and the district court does not have discretion to reduce that maximum percentage. Murphy then sought attorney fees for the appeal. The Seventh Circuit denied the petition. Murphy’s only success on appeal came on a purely state-law issue affecting damages awarded only under state law; a section 1988(b) award is not appropriate for that work. Plaintiff has already won—in the district court—both damages and a fee award for all of his attorney’s successful efforts thus far under federal law. View "Murphy v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Blatt firm filed a collection lawsuit against Oliva in the first municipal district of the Circuit Court of Cook County. Oliva resided in Cook County. Under the Seventh Circuit’s 1996 “Newsom” decision, interpreting the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) venue provision, debt collectors were allowed to file suit in any of Cook County’s municipal districts if the debtor resided in Cook County or signed the underlying contract there. While the Oliva suit was pending, the Seventh Circuit overruled Newsom, with retroactive effect (Suesz, 2014). Blatt voluntarily dismissed the suit. Oliva sued Blatt for violating the FDCPA as newly interpreted by Suesz. The district court granted Blatt summary judgment, finding that it relied on Newsom in good faith and was immune from liability under the FDCPA’s bona fide error defense, 15 U.S.C. 1692k(c). The Seventh Circuit initially affirmed. On rehearing, en banc, the Seventh Circuit vacated. The holding in Suesz was required by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Jerman v. Carlisle, that the FDCPA’s statutory safe harbor for bona fide mistakes does not apply to mistakes of law. Under Suesz and Jerman, the defendant cannot avoid liability for a violation based on its reliance on circuit precedent or any other bona fide mistake of law. View "Oliva v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore, LLC" on Justia Law