Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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After appellants obtained a judgment in their favor, the trial court declared Greene the prevailing party and awarded him attorney fees under a contractual attorney fee provision. Greene appealed, contending that the trial court erred in calculating his damages. Greene later voluntarily dismissed his appeal. Respondent then moved for an award of attorney fees incurred on appeal. The Court of Appeal reversed and held that the trial court erred in awarding respondent her attorney fees because Greene was the prevailing party in the action. The court explained that the fact that the court awarded respondent costs in connection with the prior appeal did not conclusively establish her entitlement to attorney fees under Civil Code section 1717. Furthermore, respondent was not entitled to attorney fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 where Greene's appeal was not frivolous. View "De la Carriere v. Greene" on Justia Law

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Nicole, age 13 became a dependent of the juvenile court. Nicole suffered from emotional and behavioral problems and later became “[a] dependent minor who turns 18 years of age” with a permanent plan of long-term foster care, continuing under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction because she agreed that she would continue her education. The designation continued despite her noncompliance, a pregnancy, and living in an unapproved home with a boyfriend who had a history of selling illegal drugs and committing domestic violence. When Nicole turned 20, the Agency recommended that the court dismiss Nicole’s dependency, citing failure to participate in services. In a special writ proceeding, the court of appeal directed the juvenile court to vacate its order requiring Nicole’s therapist to testify about confidential communications relating to whether Nicole has a qualifying mental condition. The juvenile court later terminated its dependency jurisdiction because she had reached the age of 21. The court dismissed Nicole’s case. In her dependency case, Nicole sought an award of attorney’s fees under Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5, which codifies the private attorney general doctrine exception. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion; section 1021.5 fees are not recoverable in a dependency proceeding. View "In re Nicole S." on Justia Law

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Taeb’s attorney, Trigger, failed to appear for trial in Taeb’s dissolution case. The court entered a Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5 sanctions order. The court of appeal reversed as to Taeb and affirmed as to Trigger, abrogating a 2016 holding that an objective standard applied when determining whether a party’s or an attorney’s conduct is sanctionable under section 128.5, as it did under section 128.7 and that section 128.5 did not incorporate the safe harbor provisions of section 128.7. Section 128.5 has since been amended to specifically overrule the decision on those points. The law concerning the kind of conduct sanctionable under sections 128.5 and 128.7 has largely returned to its previous state; a more stringent standard requiring subjective bad faith applies to section 128.5, and a lesser standard, requiring only objective bad faith, applies to section 128.7. The conduct for which Trigger was sanctioned can support the requisite finding of bad faith. Taab, however, did appear on the scheduled trial date and only relayed what Trigger told him. There is no evidence Taab was even aware Trigger had misrepresented her readiness for trial or that she made no effort to correct what she had told the court. View "In re: Marriage of Sahafzadeh-Taeb & Taeb" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for plaintiffs in an action against Judges of the Orleans Parish Criminal District Court under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Judges' practices in collecting criminal fines and fees violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court agreed and held that the district court did not err in applying the principles from Tumey v. State of Ohio, which held that officers acting in a judicial or quasi judicial capacity are disqualified by their interest in the controversy to be decided, and Ward v. Vill. of Monroeville, which presented a situation in which an official perforce occupies two inconsistent positions and necessarily involves a lack of due process of law in the trial of defendants charged with crimes before him. In this case, the Judges have exclusive authority over how the Judicial Expense Fund is spent, they must account for the OPCDC budget to the New Orleans City Council and New Orleans Mayor, and the fines and fees make up a significant portion of their annual budget. View "Cain v. White" on Justia Law

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Doe sued the University for violating his due-process rights during a disciplinary hearing. The Sixth Circuit remanded Doe’s case in light of a related ruling requiring live hearings and cross-examination in such proceedings. Upon remand, the district judge, frustrated with the University’s apparent foot-dragging, scheduled a settlement conference and required the University’s president to attend. The University requested that the president be allowed to attend by telephone but the district judge refused. The University then requested permission to send someone with both more knowledge about the sexual assault policy at issue and full settlement authority. The judge again refused, stating he wanted the president to be there even if someone else with full settlement authority attended, and “even if the parties [we]re able to resolve" the issue. The University planned for the president to attend. Two days before the settlement conference, the district judge decided that the conference (which he had assured the University would be private) should be a public event, stating that “the University’s public filing of a Motion to Dismiss . . . . The filing incited confusion amongst the media.” The Sixth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus, finding that the district judge acted beyond his power and abused his discretion. Neither Congress nor the Constitution granted the judge the power to order a specific state official to attend a public settlement conference. View "In re: University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's restitution order imposed after defendant pleaded no contest to driving under the influence and injuring another person, and admitted allegations that he had a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.20 percent, injured more than one person, and suffered a prior conviction for driving under the influence. The court held that the trial court properly ordered defendant to pay $178,000 in restitution because there was a rational, factual basis for that order: the injured party incurred those costs to settle her civil lawsuit. In this case, there were no conflicting policies that would constitute compelling and extraordinary reasons to refuse to order restitution and thus the district court did not abuse its discretion when it ordered defendant to pay for the injured party's attorney fees. The court also held that the trial court did not err by declining to apportion the attorney fee award between fees the injured party incurred to collect economic damages and those incurred to collect noneconomic damages. Finally, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in choosing the method to calculate the restitution award. View "People v. Grundfor" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's grant of O'Gara Coach's motion to disqualify Richie Litigation and its attorneys from representing plaintiff, a former sales advisor at O'Gara Coach, in plaintiff's action against O'Gara Coach for race discrimination in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and other employment-related misconduct. The court held that O'Gara Coach failed to present evidence Richie possessed privileged information materially related to the pending litigation. The court also held that Richie's likely testimony as a percipient witness did not justify disqualification of Richie Litigation or other attorneys at the firm under the advocate-witness rule. View "Wu v. O'Gara Coach Co., LLC" on Justia Law

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Wolfington brought a claim under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601, stemming from reconstructive knee surgery he received from Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates (the Rothman Institute). Wolfington alleged that Rothman failed to provide disclosures required by the Act when it permitted him to pay his deductible in monthly installments following surgery. The district court entered judgment, rejecting Wolfington’s claim because it determined he had failed to allege that credit had been extended to him in a “written agreement,” as required by the Act’s implementing regulation, Regulation Z. The court also sua sponte imposed sanctions on Wolfington’s counsel. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that Wolfington failed to adequately allege the existence of a written agreement, but concluded that counsel’s investigation and conduct were not unreasonable. In imposing sanctions, the district court placed emphasis on the statement by Rothman’s counsel, not Wolfington’s. The statement by Wolfington’s counsel did not amount to an “unequivocal” admission that there was no written agreement. View "Wolfington v. Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates II, PC" on Justia Law

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The circumstances that gave rise to this case stemmed from Plaintiff Floyd Bledsoe’s allegedly wrongful conviction for the 1999 rape and murder of fourteen-year-old C.A. C.A> lived with Plaintiff and his wife Heidi, C.A.'s older sister. Plaintiff and Heidi reported C.A. missing when C.A.'s coat and book bag were found, but C.A. was not. The couple spent the next forty-eight hours or so looking for the missing girl. A breakthrough came days later when Tom Bledsoe, Plaintiff’s older brother, confessed that he had killed C.A. Tom led the officers to C.A.’s body, which had been buried under a large amount of dirt and plywood. C.A. had been shot once in the back of the head and several times in the torso. The coroner later found semen in her vagina but could not say whether she had been forcibly raped. Near her body, investigators found three bullet casings, a pornographic video, and a t-shirt printed with the name of the church Tom attended. Tom’s attorney also surrendered a Jennings nine-millimeter handgun—the professed murder weapon—to the authorities. Authorities soon charged Tom with the first-degree murder of C.A. Despite this evidence, authorities switched course and decided to pin C.A.’s death on Plaintiff instead. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the prosecutor enjoyed absolute immunity from suit for fabricating evidence against Plaintiff during the preliminary investigation of the crime. The Tenth Circuit determined Supreme Court precedent dictated that the prosecutor did not, the district court’s order denying the prosecutor absolute immunity was affirmed. View "Bledsoe v. Vanderbilt" on Justia Law

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C. Randall Caldwell, Jr. worked for George Woerner, who owned several businesses headquartered in Foley. In 2009, Caldwell was promoted to president of Woerner Landscape, Inc., one of those businesses. Caldwell stated that, at that time, he was a licensed attorney in good standing in Alabama even though he was not engaged in private practice. During his employment with Woerner, the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Caldwell contacted an attorney with Cunningham Bounds, LLC, a law firm in Mobile, regarding the possibility of referring Woerner's businesses to Cunningham Bounds for Cunningham Bounds to handle their claims arising out of the spill. In April 2011, the Woerner companies retained Cunningham Bounds; Cunningham Bounds executed representation agreements with each of the Woerner companies. Those agreements provided that Cunningham Bounds would be paid a contingency fee for the work. In 2014, the Woerner companies retained Sirote & Permutt, P.C. to assist Cunningham Bounds in the BP oil-spill litigation. Additionally, each of the Woerner companies sent Caldwell a letter in which they stated that Caldwell had previously assisted with a BP oil-spill claim asserted on behalf of that Woerner company; that the claim had been principally handled by Cunningham Bounds; and that at the time Caldwell provided assistance he was working as in-house counsel for one or more of the Woerner companies. Each letter went on to assert that the claim would have to be reworked "based on newly announced guidelines from appellate courts hearing BP's objections to some of the previously filed claims"; that the owners and management of the Woerner companies felt that it would be in their best interest to retain a firm with experienced tax and business attorneys to assist in the claims; that the Woerner companies wished to continue their representation by Cunningham Bounds; that they were terminating the attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner companies; and that they were retaining Sirote to assist Cunningham Bounds in reworking the claims asserted by the Woerner companies. After receiving this letter, Caldwell contacted one of the attorneys at Cunningham Bounds and told him that it was his position that he was entitled to the referral fees discussed in the representation agreements because, he said, he had referred the Woerner companies' claims to Cunningham Bounds. Summary judgment was ultimately entered in favor of Caldwell; the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in finding Caldwell was owed a referral fee. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law