Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) found by clear and convincing evidence that respondent Carlia Brady, formerly a Judge of the Superior Court, violated Canon 1, Rule 1.1; Canon 2, Rules 2.1 and 2.3(A); and Canon 5, Rule 5.1(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct (Code). The ACJC unanimously recommended the sanction of removal from judicial office. On June 11, 2013, officers of the Woodbridge Township Police Department (WTPD) arrested respondent at her home in Woodbridge. She was charged in a complaint warrant with hindering the apprehension of another, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3, by “knowingly harboring Jason Prontnicki, a known fugitive,” in her residence. Respondent was indicted on three charges: second-degree official misconduct; third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution; and third-degree hindering apprehension. The trial court granted respondent’s motion to dismiss the official misconduct charge but denied her motion to dismiss the hindering apprehension or prosecution charges. The State appealed the dismissal of the official misconduct charge, and respondent appealed the denial of her motion to dismiss the other charges. The Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s determinations and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. The State later moved to dismiss with prejudice the remaining two counts of the indictment. The trial court granted that motion, thus concluding the criminal proceedings against respondent. On March 6, 2018, the New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated respondent to her duties as a Superior Court judge. Several months later, the ACJC issued its complaint. After review, the New Jersey Supreme Court modified the sanction of removal recommended by the ACJC and imposed a three-month suspension on respondent. "We view that sanction to be commensurate with the conduct proven by clear and convincing evidence and to further our disciplinary system’s purpose of preserving public confidence in the judiciary." View "In the Matter of Carlia M. Brady" on Justia Law

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John Sivick, a Lehman Township Supervisor, wanted his son to have a job, and hoped to arranged a position for his son with the Township. After leaning on his fellow Supervisors, Sivick successfully found work for his son on a Township road crew. Following an ethics complaint and an investigation, the State Ethics Commission found Sivick violated the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act in several respects. As the lone sanction relative to this aspect of the ethics complaint, the Commission imposed $30,000 in restitution. Sivick filed a petition for review of the Commission’s adjudication and restitution order in the Commonwealth Court, challenging, inter alia, the Commission’s adjudication of a conflict of interest violation as well as the legal authority to impose restitution. The Commonwealth Court affirmed the Commission's decision, and Sivick appealed further to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court reversed on both points. The Court found the Commission’s adjudication identified three distinct but interrelated actions as violating Subsection 1103(a) without making clear whether each cited basis was sufficient by itself, or whether the violation was based upon aggregating the cited wrongdoing into one course of conduct. "This creates a degree of uncertainty that is only exacerbated by the Commission's imposition of a single sanction. It is exacerbated further still, now, by this Court’s determination that the lone sanction imposed lacked a statutory basis - and was, in a sense, an illegal sentence." The case was remanded for further proceedings, including, in the Commission's discretion, the entry of a new adjudication, and if appropriate, the imposition of any sanction available under the Act. View "Sivick v. State Ethics Commission" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the circuit court granting Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings and dismissing Plaintiff's fraud and deceit claims, holding that the claims were time barred.Plaintiff sued a law firm and its attorneys, alleging legal malpractice, fraud and deceit related to their representation of Plaintiff on criminal charges. The circuit court granted judgment on the pleadings for Defendants, concluding that the claims were time-barred by the three-year statute of repose for legal malpractice under S.D. Codified Laws 15-2-14.2. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in dismissing the fraud and deceit claims because those claims were subject to a six-year statute of limitations. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Plaintiff's fraud and deceit claims were subsumed within his malpractice claim; and (2) therefore, all of Plaintiff's claims were precluded under the repose statute. View "Slota v. Imhoff" on Justia Law

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QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise ("QHG"), appealed a circuit court's judgment awarding Amy Pertuit ("Amy") $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages. Leif Pertuit ("Leif") had been married to Deanna Mortensen; they had one child, Logan. Leif and Mortensen divorced in 2007. At some point, Mortensen was awarded sole physical custody of Logan, and Leif was awarded visitation. Leif later married Amy, a nurse. At the time of their marriage, Leif and Amy resided in Mobile, Alabama, and Mortensen resided in Enterprise. Eventually, tensions arose between Leif and Mortensen regarding the issue of visitation. In March 2014, Mortensen began sending text messages to Leif accusing Amy of being addicted to drugs. Around that time, Mortensen visited the attorney who had represented her in divorce from Leif. Mortensen expressed concern that Logan was in danger as a result of the visitation arrangement and asked her attorney to assist with obtaining a modification of Leif's visitation. In April 2014, Mortensen contacted Dr. Kathlyn Diefenderfer, a physician whom QHG employed as a hospitalist at Medical Center Enterprise. Mortensen had been Dr. Diefenderfer's patient, and Dr. Diefenderfer's son played sports with Logan. Mortensen informed Dr. Diefenderfer that Logan was scheduled to ride in an automobile with Amy from Enterprise to Mobile for Leif's visitation and expressed concern regarding Amy's ability to drive, given her belief that Amy was using drugs and had lost her nursing license. Dr. Diefenderfer used a hospital computer to check on Amy's drug prescriptions. After reviewing that information,Dr. Diefenderfer told Mortensen: "All I can tell you is I would not put my son in the car." Mortensen went back to her attorney, informing him that Dr. Diefenderfer had acquired the necessary proof of Amy's drug use. Amy received a copy of the modification petition, and was convinced her private health information had been obtained in violation of HIPAA, and filed complaints to the Enterprise Police Department, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Alabama Bar Association, and the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners. A grand jury indicted Mortensen and Dr. Diefenderfer, which were later recalled, but the two entered diversion agreements with the district attorney's office. Amy then filed suit alleging negligence and wantonness, violation of her right to privacy, the tort of outrage and conspiracy. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred by denying QHG's motion for a judgment as a matter of law with respect to Amy's asserted theories of respondeat superior; ratification; and negligent and wanton training, supervision, and retention because there was not substantial evidence indicating that QHG was liable to Amy as a consequence of Dr. Diefenderfer's conduct under any of those theories. The trial court's judgment awarding Amy $5,000 in compensatory damages and $295,000 in punitive damages was reversed, and judgment rendered in favor of QHG. View "QHG of Enterprise, Inc., d/b/a Medical Center Enterprise v. Pertuit" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the district court using a judgment against Alexander Mantle to set off judgments Alexander and Majorie Mantle had against Ray and Gary Garland and failing to recognize the Mantles' right to the proceeds from a settlement of a third-party action against Karl Killmer and Killmer & Associates (collectively, Killmer), holding that the district court did not err.Specifically, the Supreme Court held (1) Ray and Gary were entitled to use the assigned portions of the judgment against Alexander to satisfy the judgments the Mantles had against them for fraudulent transfers; and (2) the district court did not have jurisdiction to the portion of the Killmer settlement funds not deposited with the district court. View "Mantle v. North Star Energy & Construction LLC" on Justia Law

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Following an investigation, the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance determined that Copiah County Justice Court Judge Teresa Bozeman had violated Canons 1, 2A, 2B, 3B(2), 3B(7), and 3C(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct as well as Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9 (Rev. 2019). During her tenure on the bench, Judge Bozeman’s conduct resulted in violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Mississippi Code Section 9-11-9. Specifically, Judge Bozeman (1) initiated improper ex parte communications to investigate a pending civil matter, (2) failed to comply with the statutory limitations of money judgments in justice court, and (3) retaliated against a complainant who filed a complaint with the Commission. The Commission found that Judge Bozeman’s conduct constituted willful misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brought the judicial office into disrepute, actionable under article 6, section 177A, of the Mississippi Constitution. The Commission recommended that Judge Bozeman be suspended from office without pay for thirty days, be publicly reprimanded, and be fined $1,000. After review, the Mississippi Supreme Court found the agreed recommendation was appropriate and commensurate with similar cases of misconduct. Thus, the joint motion was granted, and Judge Bozeman was suspended from office without pay for thirty days, was publicly reprimanded, and fined $1,000. View "Mississippi Comm'n on Judicial Perf. v. Bozeman" on Justia Law

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Respondent Eric Nisley was elected to the office of Wasco County District Attorney and began serving a four-year term in January 2017. After respondent’s election, the Oregon State Bar charged him with several violations of the Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct. The Oregon Supreme Court ultimately reviewed the case against respondent, concluded that he had committed some of the charged violations, and imposed the sanction of a 60-day suspension from the practice of law, beginning February 2020. The Supreme Court agreed to exercise its original jurisdiction in the nature of quo warranto to determine whether respondent was the lawful holder of that office. The dispute turned on whether the 60-day suspension from the practice of law caused respondent to “cease[ ] to possess” a qualification for holding office—thus creating a vacancy in the public office—as contemplated by ORS 236.010(1)(g). The Supreme Court concluded respondent’s brief suspension from the practice of law did not render the office of Wasco County District Attorney vacant. View "Oregon ex rel Rosenblum v. Nisley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court awarding Plaintiff $91,172, plus costs and interest, on her legal malpractice complaint arising from Defendant's representation of her in a divorce action, holding that the jury was correctly instructed concerning Plaintiff's burden to prove proximate cause.On appeal, Defendant challenged the jury instructions concerning some of Plaintiff's claims for damages. Specifically, Defendant argued that the court erred in instructing the jury on Plaintiff's burden to prove proximate cause using language first discussed in Niehoff v. Shankman & Associates Legal Center, P.A., 763 A.2d 121 (Me. 2000). The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed, holding (1) the "modified" or "failure to plead" proximate cause standard in Niehoff and other cases is not an independent alternative test but is, rather, a case-specific application of the proximate cause standard applied in legal malpractice cases; and (2) the trial court properly instructed the jury in this case. View "Reppucci v. Nadeau" on Justia Law

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David Murray purchased used computer equipment worth nearly $40,000, which was damaged by the United Postal Service (UPS) while it was being transported from California to Texas. Murray believed he purchased appropriate insurance to cover this loss, but the insurance company denied his claim. Murray sued his insurance broker, UPS Capital Insurance Agency (UPS Capital), for breach of contract and negligence, claiming UPS Capital owed him a special duty to make the insurance policy language understandable to an ordinary person and to explain the scope of coverage. The court granted UPS Capital’s motion for summary judgment after concluding there was no heightened duty of care and dismissed Murray’s lawsuit. On appeal, Murray asked the Court of Appeal to create a new rule that brokers/agents, specializing in a specific field of insurance, hold themselves out as experts, and are subject to a heightened duty of care towards clients seeking that particular kind of insurance. While the Court declined the invitation to create a per se rule, it concluded Murray raised triable issues of fact as to whether UPS Capital undertook a special duty by holding itself out as having expertise in inland marine insurance, and Murray reasonably relied on its expertise. Therefore, the Court reversed the judgment of dismissal and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Murray v. UPS Capital Ins. Agency, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the district court dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff's legal malpractice suit against the Office of the State Public Defender, the State Public Defender, and the individual public defenders who represented him in his criminal case, holding that exoneration is not a prerequisite for a malpractice action.In dismissing Plaintiff's action, the district court found that none of the exceptions to governmental immunity in the Wyoming Governmental Claims Act (WGCA) applied and that the exoneration rule made Plaintiff's claim premature. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiff's malpractice claim did not fall within the WGCA's contract exception; (2) the issue of the Public Defenders' insurance coverage was not properly disposed of on a motion to dismiss; and (3) the exoneration rule did not bar Plaintiff's malpractice suit. View "Dockter v. Lozano" on Justia Law