Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Canyon Crest filed suit challenging the approval of a conditional use permit and an oak tree permit granted to real party in interest Stephen Kuhn. Canyon Crest, a nonprofit organization established by Kuhn's immediate neighbors, alleged that defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by granting the permits. Kuhn subsequently requested that the county vacate the permit approvals, because he could not afford to continue the litigation. Canyon Crest then sought attorney fees under the private attorney general doctrine pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's finding that Canyon Crest failed to establish any of the requirements for a right to fees under the statute. In this case, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the litigation did not enforce an important right affecting the public interest. Furthermore, Canyon Crest failed to establish that this action conferred a significant benefit on the general public. View "Canyon Crest Conservancy v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Natalie Shubert sued her former public defender, Michael Lojek, former Ada County chief public defender Alan Trimming, and Ada County (collectively the “Ada County Defendants”). In 2008, Shubert was charged with two felonies and pleaded guilty to both charges. Her sentences were suspended in each case, and she was placed on probation. After a probation violation in 2011, the Ada County district court entered an order extending Shubert’s probation beyond the time period allowed by law. The mistake was not caught. After Shubert’s probation should have ended in both cases, she was charged and incarcerated for a subsequent probation violation in 2014. Thereafter, in 2016, Shubert was charged with a new probation violation. Shubert was assigned a new public defender, who discovered the error that unlawfully kept Shubert on probation. Shubert’s new public defender filed a motion to correct the illegal sentence, raising the error that had improperly extended her probation. The district court granted Shubert’s motion to correct the illegal sentence and released Shubert from custody. Shubert then sued the Ada County Defendants, alleging false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence per se, negligence, and state and federal constitutional violations. The district court dismissed all of Shubert’s claims except for negligence. In denying the Ada County Defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the district court held that public defenders were not entitled to common law quasi judicial immunity from civil malpractice liability, and two provisions of the Idaho Tort Claims Act (ITCA) did not exempt public defenders from civil malpractice liability. The Ada County Defendants petitioned the Idaho Supreme Court pursuant to Idaho Appellate Rule 12. Finding no reversible error in the district court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s order granting summary judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shubert v. Ada County" on Justia Law

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The Attorney General sought an accounting relating to the Trust, alleging that Shine, a trustee, failed to fulfill his duties and failed to create a charitable organization, the “Livewire Lindskog Foundation.” The court removed without prejudice Shine and the other trustees. The other trustees were later dismissed from the case. During his trial, Shine agreed to permanently step down. Addressing whether Shine should be disgorged of fees he was paid as trustee, the court found “that Shine violated most, if not all of his fiduciary responsibilities and duties.” The court nonetheless entered judgment in favor of Shine on many of the examples of his alleged breaches because the Attorney General either failed to prove that Shine was grossly negligent or failed to prove specific damages. Based on instances in which the Attorney General met its burden of proof, the court ordered Shine to reimburse the Trust for $1,421,598. The Attorney General sought (Government Code section 12598) reasonable attorney fees and costs of $1,929,757.50. The court of appeal affirmed an award of $1,654,083.65, finding that Shine is precluded from seeking indemnification from the Trust. The trial court did not abuse its discretion by declining to reduce the award based on the difference between the Attorney General’s goals and its results. View "Becerra v. Shine" on Justia Law

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In this case concerning the State's refusal to produce the results of an investigation into the Office of the Auditor based in part on the lawyer-client privilege the Supreme Court held that the State may not exclude a government record from disclosure under the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA) on the basis of a lawyer-client relationship between two State entities that is asserted but not proved. Honolulu Civil Beat Inc. (Civil Beat) contacted the Department of the Attorney General (the Department) requesting under the UIPA access to copies of investigative reports related to the State Auditor's Office. The State refused to produce any documentation based in part on the lawyer-client privilege and the professional rule protecting confidential lawyer-client communications. Civil Beat filed a complaint alleging that the Department had denied Civil Beat its right to access government records under the UIPA. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Civil Beat. The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's judgment, holding that the circuit court erred in concluding that the requested record was protected from disclosure under the UIPA by Haw. Rev. Stat. 92F-13(4). Because the court did not address the two other disclosure exceptions asserted by the Department, the Supreme Court remanded the case. View "Honolulu Civil Beat Inc. v. Department of the Attorney General" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the Board for its refusal to waive the active practice requirement to accommodate his disability. The district court dismissed plaintiff's claim as barred by sovereign immunity. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims under the first prong of United States v. Georgia, because plaintiff did not allege any conduct that violates Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The court explained that the active practice requirement ensures that applicants have both achieved and maintained the skill and knowledge required to practice law in Texas. By waiving this requirement to admit a lawyer who has neither passed the Texas bar exam nor practiced law for thirteen years would not inform the Board of whether plaintiff currently has the necessary knowledge and skill to practice law. Therefore, the modification plaintiff sought was not reasonable. The court did not reach the issue relied on by the district court. However, plaintiff's claims should have been dismissed without prejudice and thus the court modified the district court's dismissal. View "Block v. Texas Board of Law Examiners" on Justia Law

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Spiegel served as a homeowners’ association directed until the members voted him out. The association sued Spiegel in Illinois state court, alleging that he falsely held himself out as president, attempted to unilaterally terminate another board member, froze the association’s bank accounts, sent unapproved budgets to unit owners, and filed unwarranted lawsuits on behalf of the association. The association sought to enjoin Spiegel from interfering with board decisions or holding himself out as a director and to recover damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees. A declaration that Spiegel signed when he bought his unit provided that owners who violated the board’s rules or obligations would pay any damages, costs, and attorneys’ fees that the association incurred as a result. Spiegel filed complaints and motions against the association, its lawyers, and other residents. The state court dismissed his claims and enjoined him from interfering with the board’s activities, characterizing Spiegel’s filings as “a pattern of abuse, committed for an improper purpose to harass, delay and increase the cost of litigation.” The court ordered Spiegel to pay $700,000 in fees and sanctions. Spiegel filed this federal suit against the association’s counsel, citing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692a(5). The district court dismissed, concluding that the attorneys’ fees Kim requested were not a “debt” within the meaning of the FDCPA. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. An award of attorneys' fees does not constitute a “debt” under the FDCPA’s limited, consumer-protection-focused definition. View "Spiegel v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Alvarez-Espino, born in Mexico in 1970, entered the U.S. in 1996 without permission. Since then he and his wife have had four children, and he supports his family by running an upholstery business. In 2002, two men robbed him at gunpoint at a Chicago gas station. Five years later, he was arrested for drunk driving and, following a probation violation, ended up with a one-year prison term. In removal proceedings, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(6)(A)(i), his lawyer failed to realize that Alvarez-Espino had a chance at receiving a U visa for his assistance in solving the 2002 robbery. Alvarez-Espino changed lawyers, but after protracted proceedings, the Board of Immigration Appeals denied multiple requests for relief, leaving Alvarez-Espino at risk of removal and having to await a decision on his U visa application from Mexico. The Seventh Circuit denied his petition for review. In denying relief, the Board held Alvarez-Espino to an unduly demanding burden on his allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel but the law is equally clear that Alvarez-Espino’s ability to continue pursuing a U visa means that he cannot show prejudice from his attorney’s performance. View "Alvarez-Espino v. Barr" on Justia Law

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In this action brought by a law firm seeking to enforce its payment due under a contingency fee contract the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court ordering judgment against the family that retained the law firm for one-third of their recovery plus interest, holding that the one-third contingency fee contract was reasonable at the time of its inception. After a car accident left a motorist in critical condition, the motorist's family (Appellants) retained a law firm to represent the motorist's interests. A contingency fee contract required Appellants to pay one-third of the recovery to the law firm for attorney fees. Appellants accepted a $7.5 million offer to settle the case. When Appellants failed to pay the contingency fee the law firm brought this action to enforce its payment. Appellants argued that the one-third contingency fee contract violated Iowa Rule of Professional Conduct 32:1.5(a) because it was an unreasonable fee. Judgment was ordered against Appellants for one-third of the recovery plus interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the one-third contingency fee agreement was reasonable at the time of its inception; and (2) this Court will not use the noncontingency fee factors under Rule 32:1.5(a) to reevaluate the contingency fee contract from a position of hindsight. View "Munger, Reinschmidt & Denne, LLP v. Plante" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) did not abuse its discretion by imposing sanctions on two attorneys (together, Counsel) and denying Counsel's motion to reconsider the sanctions orders but that the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) was not authorized to treat the sanctions orders as administrative dispositions that might be used in any future disciplinary proceedings as evidence of aggravation. In a criminal matter, the ICA sanctioned counsel each in the amount of $50 based on Haw. R. App. P. 51. Counsel filed a motion for reconsideration of the sanctions order, which the ICA denied. The Supreme Court affirmed the ICA's sanctions orders against Counsel but ordered that the clerk of court transmit this opinion to the ODC for appropriate action consistent with this opinion, holding (1) the ICA did not abuse its discretion by imposing sanctions pursuant to Rule 51 and denying the motion for reconsideration; and (2) the ODC was without authority to treat the sanctions orders as administrative dispositions that might be used in the future as evidence of a pattern of conduct in aggravation. View "In re Partington" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from challenges to a $7 million default judgment entered after the trial court issued terminating sanctions. The Court of Appeal affirmed the entry of terminating sanctions, modifying the judgment to eliminate the awards of treble damages and attorney fees. The court held that a trial court is not foreclosed from issuing terminating sanctions just because the underlying discovery encompasses only a subset of the issues in the case; a party against whom a default has been entered may file a motion for new trial attacking the default judgment as containing errors in law; and Penal Code section 496, subdivision (c) only authorizes an award of treble damages or attorney fees when the underlying conduct involves trafficking in stolen goods and thus the court parted ways with Switzer v. Wood, (2019) 35 Cal.App.5th 116. View "Siry Investment, LP v. Farkhondehpour" on Justia Law