Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The case involves a group of appellants who allegedly purchased luxury vehicles with funds provided by Dilmurod Akramov, the owner of CBC and D&O Group. The appellants would then transfer the vehicle titles back to Akramov's D&O Group without receiving cash or equivalent in exchange. They would then claim a "trade-in credit" against the sales tax due on the purchase of a vehicle. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) argued that these were not valid sales as required by Arkansas law and denied the sales-tax-refund claims.The appellants challenged the DFA's decision through the administrative review process, which affirmed the DFA's decision. The appellants then appealed to the Pulaski County Circuit Court for further review. The circuit court found that the appellants' attorney, Jason Stuart, was a necessary witness and therefore disqualified him from further representing the appellants. The court also held the appellants in contempt for failing to provide discovery per the court's order.The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the circuit court's decision. The court held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in disqualifying Stuart. The court applied the three-prong test from Weigel v. Farmers Ins. Co., which requires that the attorney's testimony is material to the determination of the issues being litigated, the evidence is unobtainable elsewhere, and the testimony is or may be prejudicial to the testifying attorney’s client. The court found that all three prongs were satisfied in this case. The court also affirmed the circuit court's decision to strike the third amended and supplemental complaint filed by Stuart after his disqualification. View "STUART v. WALTHER" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court's decision to impose sanctions on attorney Gregory Leyh and his law firm under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 55.03 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for filing frivolous claims. The sanctions were requested by Martin Leigh, P.C., a party that Leyh had included in a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of Gwen Caranchini, who had defaulted on her home loan and was seeking to stop foreclosure proceedings.The district court had imposed sanctions after Leyh failed to respond to a warning letter and motion for sanctions served by Martin Leigh. On appeal, Leyh argued that the sanctions imposed were inappropriate because Martin Leigh had not complied with Rule 11(c)(2)'s safe harbor provision, which requires that a party be given an opportunity to withdraw or correct the offending document before a motion for sanctions is filed.The appellate court agreed with Leyh, finding that Martin Leigh had not adhered to the strict procedural requirements of Rule 11(c)(2). The court also noted that while Leyh's legal tactics were an abuse of the system, Martin Leigh had not pursued other possible avenues for sanctions, such as Rule 11(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 1927, or the court's inherent powers. The court thus reversed the sanctions and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to vacate the award. View "Martin Leigh PC v. Leyh" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the dispute between Daniel Bader, a military officer who previously held the rank of Colonel but had attained the rank of Brigadier General at the time of his application for retirement in 2012, and the United States. Bader was found to have violated ethical standards set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 207(c) and 5 C.F.R. § 2635, which led to his retirement at the rank of Colonel, affecting his rate of retirement pay. Bader brought suit in the Court of Federal Claims seeking compensation for his allegedly lost pay. The court, however, ruled against him, finding no error in the decision to retire him at the lower rank of Colonel.Bader appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that he was unfairly penalized for holding both a military and civilian employment concurrently, which was permissible. He also contended that he was acting in accordance with multiple ethics opinions that he believed permitted his actions, and that his employer's operation through an Other Transactions Authority allowed him to engage in the conduct he was penalized for.The Appeals Court, however, affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Bader's simultaneous employment in military and civilian capacities did not exempt him from ethical obligations. His reliance on ethics opinions didn't change the fact that he used his government position to benefit his private employer. The court also clarified that the Other Transactions Authority doesn't exempt government employees from generally applicable ethics regulations. Therefore, Bader's retirement at the rank of Colonel was deemed appropriate given his violations of ethical standards. View "BADER v. US " on Justia Law

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The case involves a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) issued in favor of a child's father (Jacob G.) against the child's mother (Savanah F.) following an incident of custodial interference that involved the mother taking the child from Alaska to Texas without the father's knowledge and in violation of a custody order. The father had sought attorney's fees, which were denied by the Superior Court without explanation.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the Superior Court's decision, holding that a person who successfully petitions for a DVPO is entitled to seek attorney’s fees from the respondent, and these can only be denied in exceptional circumstances. The Court held that neither of the arguments made by the mother in opposition to the fees - that her act of custodial interference was justified by the father’s substance abuse, and that she could not afford to pay the fees - constituted exceptional circumstances. The Court noted that the mother's argument fails to recognize the harm caused by custodial interference, and that her financial circumstances did not justify denial of the fees, given she had paid her own legal fees and had the ability to earn income. View "Jacob G. v. Savanah F." on Justia Law

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In this case handled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the plaintiff, Alexis Marquez, an attorney who represented herself, claimed that an Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice harassed her and subjected her to inappropriate behavior during her service as his court attorney. Marquez challenged two interlocutory rulings that dismissed the complaint as to one defendant and denied reconsideration. However, the district court dismissed the case as a penalty for Marquez's failure to comply with discovery orders, which Marquez did not challenge in this appeal.The Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Marquez's challenge to the interlocutory orders as it was not an appeal from a final decision of the district court. The Court explained that the merger rule, which allows an interlocutory order to merge into the final judgment, does not apply when a district court enters a dismissal as a sanction. If Marquez successfully challenges the sanction dismissal, she would then have the opportunity to challenge the interlocutory orders as part of any appeal from a final judgment on the merits. In this situation, however, the Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice due to lack of jurisdiction. View "Marquez v. Silver" on Justia Law

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The case arose from appellant Khamal Fooks' claim that his attorney misled him about the parole eligibility related to his plea agreement. Fooks had pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy, and carrying an unlicensed gun in a Pennsylvania state court. He later alleged that his lawyer incorrectly assured him he would be eligible for parole after ten years, when in reality, he had to serve at least twenty. His allegations, if true, would demonstrate that his lawyer’s advice was ineffective.Both the state and the federal district courts dismissed his claims without providing an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing. Fooks then appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Circuit Court found that Fooks' allegations, if proven, would indeed establish ineffective assistance of counsel, thereby warranting habeas relief.The Circuit Court held that the district court erred in not affording Fooks an evidentiary hearing to substantiate his allegations. The court emphasized the importance of giving petitioners a fair chance to prove their allegations and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. The court did not rule on Fooks' entitlement to relief, instead emphasizing the need for a fair opportunity to present evidence supporting his claims. View "Khamal Fooks v. Superintendent Smithfield SCI" on Justia Law

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Charles Robinson, the defendant, was convicted of first-degree murder in connection with the shooting death of Edward Figueroa. Following his conviction, Robinson appealed and also filed a motion for a new trial citing multiple errors by trial counsel. Despite his appeal and the motion for a new trial, the conviction was affirmed.Later, Robinson appealed from the denial of his motion for a new trial, arguing that he was not competent to stand trial due to mental health issues and that he had received ineffective assistance of counsel. However, the court upheld the ruling, stating that Robinson had not shown any evidence that his mental health issues had influenced the jury's conclusion or prevented an adequate defense.Robinson's contention that his counsel failed "reasonably to communicate with him" during and after a conversation in the lockup was also dismissed, as the court found no evidence of a breakdown in the attorney-client relationship that warranted a new trial.The court concluded that the defendant did not present a substantial issue meriting an evidentiary hearing and dismissed his request for relief under G. L. c. 278, § 33E for a new trial. View "Commonwealth v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of North Carolina was tasked with reviewing the decision of the Court of Appeals related to a defendant's claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The defendant was convicted of first-degree murder in 1999 and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. Over two decades later, the defendant filed a motion for appropriate relief (MAR), arguing that his trial counsel did not inform him of his right to testify and prevented him from testifying. He also claimed that his appellate counsel was ineffective because they filed an Anders brief.The Supreme Court concluded that the Court of Appeals correctly disposed of the defendant's claims. The record demonstrated that the defendant was aware of his right to testify, and there was no evidence to support his claim that his trial counsel prevented him from testifying. Furthermore, the defendant's claim that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge limitations on an expert witness’s testimony was without merit because the trial court had appropriately restricted the expert from using legal terminology. Therefore, the defendant's claims of ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel were deemed baseless.The Supreme Court also held that the standard of review set forth in a previous case, State v. Allen, which involved reviewing MARs in the light most favorable to defendants, was a departure from the court's longstanding standard of review. Thus, the court returned to the previous standard of review, which involves a statutory review pursuant to N.C.G.S. § 15A-1420(c). View "State v. Walker" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Marta Urias and her incapacitated husband, Manuel Urias, were represented by Daniel P. Buttafuoco and his law firm in a medical malpractice suit. The suit, against four defendants, resulted in a $3.7 million settlement. Buttafuoco calculated his legal fees separately for each defendant, as per his interpretation of Judiciary Law § 474-a. His fee totaled $864,552, which he later reduced to $710,000. Marta Urias later sued Buttafuoco, claiming that he deceived her and the court about the legal fees they were entitled to by offering a false interpretation of the law. Buttafuoco moved for summary judgment, arguing that Urias's sole remedy was to move under CPLR 5015 to vacate the underlying judgment. Both the Supreme Court and Appellate Division dismissed Urias's claims.The Court of Appeals held that Judiciary Law § 487 allows a plenary action for attorney deceit, even if the claim could undermine a separate final judgment. However, the Court also found that Buttafuoco was entitled to summary judgment on Urias's claim. It found no material issue of fact as to whether Buttafuoco made false statements regarding his fee calculations. The Court affirmed the Appellate Division order, holding that Urias had failed to establish a material, triable issue of fact as to whether Buttafuoco's interpretations of the fee calculations or litigation expenses amounted to false statements. Therefore, while Judiciary Law § 487 permits a plenary action, Buttafuoco was entitled to summary judgment on that claim. View "Urias v Daniel P. Buttafuoco & Assoc., PLLC" on Justia Law

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In this case from the Supreme Court of Georgia, Marquavious Howard was appealing his felony murder conviction for the 2017 shooting death of Jacorbin King. Howard was accused of participating in a robbery at King's apartment that resulted in King's death. Howard was indicted along with four others, and at trial, he was found not guilty of malice murder and firearm possession, but guilty of felony murder and aggravated assault. He was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.Howard appealed to the Supreme Court of Georgia, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to sustain his convictions, his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to move to suppress evidence of a photo identification, and the trial court erred in excusing a juror for cause. The Supreme Court of Georgia rejected all of Howard's arguments and affirmed the lower court's decision.The Court found that there was enough evidence to support the conviction, including testimonies from several witnesses and a confession Howard allegedly made to a jail bunkmate. As for the claim of ineffective counsel, the Court ruled that Howard didn't prove that a motion to suppress the photo identification would have been granted. Regarding the excused juror, the Court stated that Howard didn't have a right to a specific juror and didn't prove that the selected jury was biased or incompetent. View "HOWARD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law