Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the petitioner, Monta Anderson, sought to vacate his guilty plea for conspiring to distribute heroin, claiming that his plea was not knowing and voluntary due to his counsel's alleged ineffective assistance. Anderson argued that his counsel advised him to plead guilty without first consulting a toxicology expert on whether the heroin he distributed was a but-for cause of a user's death. Previously, the court had remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing, concluding that Anderson had articulated a viable claim of attorney ineffectiveness.On remand, Anderson presented evidence that consultation with a toxicology expert would have revealed the government's inability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the heroin he supplied was a but-for cause of the user's death. However, the government argued that even without the death-results enhancement, Anderson would have faced a mandatory life term due to his prior felony drug convictions and the fact that two individuals suffered serious bodily injuries from overdosing on heroin supplied by Anderson.Having considered the evidence and arguments, the court concluded that Anderson was not prejudiced by any alleged ineffectiveness of his counsel. Even if the death-results enhancement were discounted, Anderson still faced a mandatory life term due to his prior felony drug conviction and the serious bodily injuries caused by his heroin distribution. As such, his decision to plead guilty and accept a 20-year sentence was reasonable. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment denying Anderson's motion to vacate his guilty plea. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Colorado considered a petition from GHP Horwath, P.C., Nadine Pietrowski, Bohn Aguilar, LLC, Michael G. Bohn, and Armando Y. Aguilar, asking the court to permanently enjoin Nina H. Kazazian from proceeding pro se in Colorado state courts. Over the past eleven years, Kazazian, a pro se litigant and former attorney, had initiated at least ten lawsuits and twice as many appeals, most of which were found to be duplicative, meritless, or frivolous. Her actions led to her disbarment and multiple sanctions. The court noted that while every person has the right to access Colorado courts, this right is not absolute and may be curtailed when a pro se party persistently disrupts judicial administration by filing meritless and duplicative claims. The court found that Kazazian's actions placed a strain on judicial resources and were harmful to the public interest. Therefore, the court granted the petitioners' requested relief and ordered that Kazazian be permanently enjoined from proceeding pro se in Colorado state courts. View "GHP Horwath, P.C. v. Kazazian" on Justia Law

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In Nebraska, a man named Hope T. Npimnee was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to 35 to 40 years in prison. The victim, identified as S.M., claimed that she was intoxicated when Npimnee had non-consensual sexual contact with her. Npimnee appealed his conviction, arguing that the jury instructions were incorrect and contradictory, that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory that S.M. was so intoxicated as to be incapable of resisting, that the court failed to instruct the jury on the defense of consent, and that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s conviction and sentence, finding that the jury instructions were correct and that there was sufficient evidence to support the theory that S.M. was so intoxicated as to be incapable of resisting. The Court also found that there was no need for an additional instruction on the defense of consent, as the jury was already required to find that the sexual contact was without consent in order to convict Npimnee. Npimnee's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were dismissed due to insufficiently specific allegations. View "State v. Npimnee" on Justia Law

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In this case, Mike Austin Anderson, the defendant, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and using a gun during a crime of violence. These charges stemmed from an incident that took place on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Mississippi, where Anderson shot Julian McMillan after an argument. On appeal, Anderson contested that the district court erred in ruling that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for the jury to return guilty verdicts, despite the court's self-defense instruction. He also argued that the district court wrongly denied his pretrial motion to recuse the lead prosecutor and the entire United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi due to a conflict of interest. Anderson claimed that the lead prosecutor had previously represented him and his father while working as a public defender in Choctaw Tribal Court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the evidence against Anderson was sufficient and that the district court did not err in denying his recusal motion. The appellate court found no substantial relationship between the prosecutor's prior representation of Anderson and the current federal prosecution against him. View "USA v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The case involves Jennifer Garcia, who was charged with multiple counts, including making threats to a public officer, disobeying a court order, possessing a weapon in a courthouse, attempted murder, and assault with a deadly weapon. After her counsel declared doubt as to Garcia's mental competence, the trial court suspended the criminal proceedings for a determination of Garcia's mental competence. Based on the evaluations of a licensed psychiatrist and a licensed psychologist, the court found Garcia mentally incompetent to stand trial and lacking capacity to make decisions regarding the administration of antipsychotic medication. Garcia appealed the court's order authorizing the state hospital to involuntarily administer antipsychotic medication to her, alleging errors with the order and ineffective assistance of her trial counsel. The Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, State of California, affirmed the trial court's order. The appellate court found that substantial evidence supported the trial court's order, the psychologist did not exceed the scope of her license in her evaluation, and the psychiatrist's opinion did not lack statutorily required information. The appellate court also found that the error in the trial court's form order was harmless and Garcia was not prejudiced by any ineffectiveness of her counsel. View "People v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Ohio denied a request from Jeryne Peterson, the mayor of Buckeye Lake, for writs of prohibition and mandamus against the Licking County Board of Elections and its members, the Fairfield County Board of Elections and its members, and the village of Buckeye Lake and its council president, Linda Goodman. Peterson was seeking to prevent a scheduled recall election from taking place.The court found that Peterson failed to show that she was entitled to a writ of prohibition preventing the village from setting the recall-election date or preventing the respondent boards of elections from conducting that election. She also failed to show that she was entitled to a writ of mandamus ordering the respondent boards of elections to remove the recall election from the ballot. The court also denied Peterson’s motion to disqualify the village’s attorney. View "State ex rel. Peterson v. Licking County Board of Elections" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Colorado ruled in favor of the petitioners, GHP Horwath, P.C.; Nadine Pietrowski; Bohn Aguilar, LLC; Michael G. Bohn; and Armando Y. Aguilar, in their request to permanently enjoin respondent Nina H. Kazazian from proceeding without legal representation (pro se) in Colorado state courts. The court found that Kazazian, a disbarred attorney, had consistently abused the legal system by pursuing numerous frivolous lawsuits and appeals, often targeting the attorneys involved in her cases. This behavior, the court held, caused unnecessary strain on judicial resources and was often aimed at harassing the opposing parties. Therefore, while Kazazian retained the right to access the courts, she could only do so through an attorney. View "Horwath v. Kazazian" on Justia Law

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In the Supreme Court of Georgia, the appellant, Belinda Lopez, was convicted of malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony in relation to the shooting death of her husband, Noel Lopez. The court presented evidence of a night out involving Belinda, Noel, and Belinda’s friend Angelica Juarez, which culminated in Noel being shot in the head. Belinda called 911 to report the incident. Throughout her interviews with investigators, Belinda maintained that she was defending herself from Noel's attack when the gun accidentally discharged. However, her account of the incident shifted over time.In her appeal, Belinda contended that the evidence presented at her trial was insufficient to support her convictions and that her trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance. She claimed that the State failed to disprove beyond a reasonable doubt her theories of self-defense and accident, and alternatively, suggested that Juarez may have shot Noel.The court rejected Belinda's claims, affirming that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support her convictions. The court found that Belinda's shifting accounts of the incident, combined with expert testimony and physical evidence, allowed the jury to conclude that she was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of malice murder and the related firearm possession count.Regarding Belinda's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the court found that her trial counsel's decision not to pursue requests for certain jury instructions and his failure to object to the prosecutor’s closing argument did not constitute deficient performance. The court concluded that Belinda failed to establish that her trial counsel's performance was deficient or that she suffered prejudice as a result of his actions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the convictions. View "LOPEZ v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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In this Georgia Supreme Court case, the defendant, Darnell Rene Floyd, was convicted of felony murder predicated on possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and other related charges in connection to the shooting death of Telmo Ortiz. Floyd argued he was acting in self-defense during the incident. On appeal, Floyd's main contention was that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective due to their handling of the interplay between self-defense and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.The Supreme Court of Georgia agreed with Floyd and reversed his conviction. The Court concluded that Floyd's trial counsel failed to request a jury instruction about self-defense under OCGA § 16-11-138, which provides that self-defense can be an absolute defense for a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Additionally, the court determined Floyd's trial counsel didn't clearly explain that self-defense applied to felony murder based on felon-in-possession and agreed with the trial court's response to the jury's question, which didn't clarify the application of self-defense to felony murder and felon-in-possession.The court held that these failures constituted deficient performance by counsel and resulted in prejudice to Floyd's case. However, since the evidence against Floyd was constitutionally sufficient to authorize the conviction, he may be retried. The court also reversed Floyd's conviction for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, as it was only supported by the reversed felony murder conviction. View "FLOYD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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A former patients of Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning, Inc. and its founder, Dr. Joni Johnson, sued them in state court after discovering that the clinic’s in-house psychologist, Sharonda Avery, was not a licensed psychologist. The clinic and Dr. Johnson asked their professional liability insurance carrier, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina, to defend and indemnify them in those lawsuits. Medical Mutual responded by filing a declaratory judgment action in federal court, arguing that it could rescind the policy covering Pediatric Partners and Dr. Johnson due to Dr. Johnson’s material misstatements in her insurance applications. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Medical Mutual has no duty to indemnify or defend Dr. Johnson or Pediatric Partners under Virginia law due to material misstatements made by Dr. Johnson in her policy applications. The court affirmed the district court's decision that Dr. Johnson's misrepresentation that none of her employees had been subject to disciplinary investigative proceedings was a material misstatement, and therefore, Medical Mutual could rescind its professional liability policy covering Pediatric Partners and Dr. Johnson. View "Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina v. Gnik" on Justia Law