Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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On January 23, 2015, Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, issued an order declaring unconstitutional both the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, as violating the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, the federal court entered an injunction prohibiting the Alabama Attorney General from enforcing any Alabama law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The injunction was to allow time for an appeal of that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 27, 2015, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent a letter, on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, to then Governor Robert Bentley regarding Judge Granade’s orders, expressing "legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." In his three-page letter, Chief Justice Moore laid out his arguments as to why Judge Granade’s federal-court orders were not binding upon the State of Alabama, and ultimately directed Alabama’s probate judges not to recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Months later, the Alabama Supreme Court released a per curiam opinion ordering the probate judges named as respondents to discontinue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Alabama law. Chief Justice Moore’s name did not appear in the vote line of this opinion, nor did he author or join any of the special writings. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in “Obergefell,” holding that "same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States" and that "there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character." The Court of the Judiciary ultimately suspended Chief Justice Moore for his defiance of the laws. He appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined it was “obligated to follow prior precedent” that it had no authority to disturb the sanction imposed by the Court of the Judiciary: “[b]ecause we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.” View "Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance charged Montgomery County Justice Court Judge Keith Roberts with misconduct for failing to follow the law in a case before him. Because the Supreme Court found that Judge Roberts committed judicial misconduct, and agreed that the recommended sanctions were appropriate, the Court ordered that Judge Roberts be publicly reprimanded, fined $3,000, and taxed with the costs of these proceedings. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Roberts" on Justia Law

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The Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance filed a Formal Complaint charging Charles Vess, Justice Court Judge, South District, Adams County, with willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration ofjustice which brings the judicial office into disrepute in violation of Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission and Judge entered into a Stipulation of Agreed Facts and Proposed Recommendation, which was accepted unanimously by the Commission, providing that Judge had violated Canons 1, 2(A), 3(B)(2), 3(B)(4), and 3(B)(5) of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Section 177A of the Mississippi Constitution, and recommending that he be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office without pay for a period of thirty days, fined $1,100, and assessed costs of $200. After conducting a mandated review of the Commission’s recommendation consistent with Section 177A of Article 6 of the Mississippi Constitution, Rule 10 of the Rules of the Commission on Judicial Performance, Rule 10 of the Mississippi Rules of Appellate Procedure, and Mississippi caselaw, the Mississippi Supreme Court adopted the recommendation of the Commission and ordered that Judge be publicly reprimanded, suspended from office without pay for a period of thirty days, fined in the amount of $1,100, and assessed the costs of this proceeding in the amount of $200. View "Miss. Com'm on Judicial Performance v. Vess" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against its former attorneys for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty arising from defendants' representation of plaintiff in an earlier breach of contract action. In the published portion of this opinion, the court affirmed the trial court's grant of nonsuit on plaintiff's breach of fiduciary claim because plaintiff did not adduce any evidence in support of that claim beyond the evidence offered in support of its malpractice claim for professional negligence. The court affirmed in all other respects. View "Broadway Victoria, LLC v. Norminton, Wiita & Fuster" on Justia Law

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In this original proceeding, the issues presented for the Court of Appeal’s review related to a confidential attorney-client communication. The trial court found that plaintiff and real party in interest Richard Hausman, Sr. (Dick), did not waive the attorney-client privilege by forwarding a confidential e-mail he received from his personal attorney to his sister-in-law because Dick inadvertently and unknowingly forwarded the e-mail from his iPhone, and therefore lacked the necessary intent to waive the privilege. The trial court also impliedly found that Dick’s sister-in-law did not waive the privilege when she forwarded the e-mail to her husband, who then shared it with four other individuals, because neither Dick’s sister-in-law nor his brother-in-law could waive Dick’s attorney-client privilege, and Dick did not consent to these additional disclosures because he did not know about either his initial disclosure or these additional disclosures until a year after they occurred. In a separate order, the trial court disqualified Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (Gibson Dunn) from representing defendants-petitioners McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Jonathan Lurie (collectively, Defendants) in the underlying lawsuits because Gibson Dunn failed to recognize the potentially privileged nature of the e-mail after receiving a copy from Lurie, and then analyzed and used the e-mail despite Dick’s objection that the e-mail was an inadvertently disclosed privileged document. The Court of Appeal denied the petition in its entirety. Substantial evidence supported the trial court’s orders and the court did not abuse its discretion in selecting disqualification as the appropriate remedy to address Gibson Dunn’s involvement in this matter. “[R]egardless of how the attorney obtained the documents, whenever a reasonably competent attorney would conclude the documents obviously or clearly appear to be privileged and it is reasonably apparent they were inadvertently disclosed, the State Fund rule requires the attorney to review the documents no more than necessary to determine whether they are privileged, notify the privilege holder the attorney has documents that appear to be privileged, and refrain from using the documents until the parties or the court resolves any dispute about their privileged nature. The receiving attorney’s reasonable belief the privilege holder waived the privilege or an exception to the privilege applies does not vitiate the attorney’s State Fund duties.” View "McDermott Will & Emery v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Petitioners brought suit against Pro Electric Contractors for negligence in connection with Pro Electric’s work as a contractor on a government construction project. Pro Electric argued that the damage at issue occurred because of construction design decisions made by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) and that Pro Electric was simply implementing DOT’s decisions. The district court granted summary judgment for Pro Electric. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the undisputed facts do not support a reasonable inference that Pro Electric failed to comply with its duties in Wis. Stat. 182.0175(2)(am). View "Melchert v. Pro Electric Contractors" on Justia Law

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This legal malpractice case arose from work performed by the Dunakey & Klatt law firm for Michael Cox II. Cox later died. Thereafter, Michael Cox’s parents (Plaintiffs) filed this action for legal malpractice against Dunakey & Klatt and two of the attorneys in the firm. The parties agreed to mediate their dispute. Following mediation, the parties agreed on what would be paid to settle the case. The parties exchanged versions of a confidentiality provision to be included in the settlement agreement, although they never settled on the same version at the same time. The district court nevertheless enforced the settlement agreement and dismissed the underlying malpractice case. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing, inter alia, that there was no “meeting of the minds” on settlement. The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court enforcing a settlement agreement between Plaintiffs and the law firm, holding that there was no binding settlement agreement because the parties never mutually assented to the same settlement agreement. View "Estate of Michael G. Cox II v. Dunakey & Klatt, P.C." on Justia Law

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Moonlight Enterprises LLC filed a legal malpractice action against attorneys Francis Mroz and Stephen Zachary. The circuit court granted the attorneys’ pleas in bar and dismissed them both on statute of limitations grounds and, alternatively, dismissing Mroz on the basis of res judicata. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that, on the statute of limitations grounds, the circuit court incorrectly found that the continuous-representation rule did not toll Moonlight’s malpractice claims against Zachary but correctly found that the rule did not toll Moonlight’s claims against Mroz. Remanded. View "Moonlight Enterprises, LLC v. Mroz" on Justia Law

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Judge Richard Hagar of the North Central Judicial District filed exceptions to the Judicial Conduct Commission's recommended findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to diligently and promptly decide judicial matters assigned to him and by failing to work with the presiding judge. He also objected to the Commission's recommended sanction. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded there was clear and convincing evidence Judge Hagar violated N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Rules 2.5 and 2.7. The Court ordered that Judge Hagar be suspended from his position as district court judge for three months without pay and that he be assessed $10,118.67 for the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ attorney filed two board claim forms with a state appeals board on behalf of Plaintiffs, signing their names and his own. The attorney did not attach any document showing he had power of attorney. The board rejected Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs then filed their claim in district court. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that their attorney signed the forms on their behalf. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a claimant presents a claim when the board receives a writing that discloses the amount of damages claimed and generally describes the legal theories asserted against the State; and (2) the district court had jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ claims. View "Segura v. State" on Justia Law