Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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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

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The Supreme Court of New Hampshire ruled in a case where the defendant, Jean M. Maxi Jr., was convicted and sentenced for two crimes: attempted felonious sexual assault (FSA) and certain uses of computer services prohibited. Maxi appealed, arguing that the two charges constituted the same offense for double jeopardy purposes, thereby violating his constitutional rights. The defendant also argued pro se that he received ineffective assistance of counsel because the appellate defender failed to consider his research or argue a double jeopardy violation under the U.S. Constitution.The court found that, as charged, the two offenses required different evidence to prove different elements and did not constitute the same offense for double jeopardy purposes. The court also dismissed the defendant's pro se arguments as insufficiently developed for review. Therefore, the court upheld the lower court's decision and affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence for both charges. View "State v. Maxi" on Justia Law

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In Minnesota, a district court removed Brian Lipschultz as a trustee from the Otto Bremer Trust. This decision was based on his violation of Minnesota Statutes section 501C.0706(b)(1), which allows for the removal of a trustee for a “serious breach of trust.” The breaches included Lipschultz's misuse of trust resources for personal purposes, offensive behavior during a stock dispute, manipulation of a grantee, and failure to disclose his successor. Lipschultz appealed this decision, arguing that the district court and court of appeals applied an incorrect legal standard for removal and that they abused their discretion in removing him under section 501C.0706(b)(1). However, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals, stating that the district court did not abuse its broad discretion when it determined that Lipschultz committed “a serious breach of trust” under section 501C.0706(b)(1). The court concluded that Lipschultz breached the duty of loyalty and the duty of information, demonstrating a pattern of placing his personal priorities over the duties he owed to the Trust. View "In the Matter of the Otto Bremer Trust" on Justia Law

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In a legal malpractice case in North Dakota, a couple, Kenneth and Carol Pinks, sued attorney Alexander Kelsch and his professional corporation, along with associated partners, alleging negligence in representing them in a quiet title action against the State of North Dakota. The District Court, South Central Judicial District, bifurcated the malpractice action to first determine the element of causation, specifically whether the Pinks would have achieved a more favorable outcome in the quiet title action but for the alleged negligence of the defendants. The court denied cross-motions for summary judgment, finding there were genuine issues of material fact.Following a bench trial on the causation element, the district court concluded that had the evidence of the Pinks’ ownership of the disputed land been presented in the quiet title action, they would have established their ownership claim was prior and superior to the State’s claim of title. The court concluded the Pinks proved the element of causation and ordered a jury trial be set on the remaining issues of the legal malpractice claim. The defendants appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of North Dakota, however, dismissed the appeal, ruling that the defendants were attempting to appeal from an interlocutory order, and the defendants did not seek certification under Rule 54(b) of the North Dakota Rules of Civil Procedure. The rule requires that, in cases with more than one claim or multiple parties, a final judgment on one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties can only be directed if the court expressly determines there is no just reason for delay. The court found that the district court only ruled on the causation element of the legal malpractice claim, and other elements, such as the existence of an attorney-client relationship, a duty by the attorney to the client, a breach of that duty by the attorney, and damages were still left to be adjudicated. The defendants' failure to comply with Rule 54(b) led to the dismissal of the appeal. The court also denied the Pinks' request for costs and attorney’s fees, determining that the defendants' appeal was not frivolously made. View "Pinks v. Kelsch" on Justia Law

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Duane Burchill was convicted of two counts of robbery, one count of conspiracy to commit deceptive practices, and one count of possession of dangerous drugs in 2017. Following his conviction, Burchill filed a petition for postconviction relief, asserting that his counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to object to the prosecutor’s misconduct during his trial. The Supreme Court of the State of Montana affirmed the denial of Burchill's petition for postconviction relief.Burchill's claim of ineffective assistance centered on two main arguments. First, he argued that the prosecutor repeatedly asked him to comment on the credibility of other witnesses by asking "were they lying" questions. Second, he alleged that the prosecutor posed questions suggesting his personal opinion that Burchill's testimony was not truthful.The court, however, found that the "were they lying" questions were not improper because they had probative value in evaluating the credibility of a defendant who is claiming that everyone else is lying. The court also disagreed that the prosecutor had expressed personal opinions on Burchill's credibility. The court concluded that the prosecutor's questions were within the scope of permissible questions allowed on cross-examination. Therefore, the court found that Burchill's counsel's failure to object did not constitute ineffective assistance.The court did not find it necessary to address Burchill's claim of prejudice due to the failure of his counsel to object, as it had already determined that his counsel's performance was not deficient. Thus, Burchill's petition for postconviction relief was denied. View "Burchill v. State" on Justia Law

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A man, David Wayne Eady, who was charged with multiple robberies in Nashville over a month, appealed the decision of the Court of Criminal Appeals which denied his motion to disqualify the District Attorney General’s Office from prosecuting his case. Eady argued that the District Attorney General's office should be disqualified because the District Attorney had represented him in a previous case approximately thirty years earlier. The Supreme Court of Tennessee disagreed, finding that the District Attorney did not have an actual conflict of interest under the Rules of Professional Conduct because the current case and the previous case were not "substantially related." The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the appearance of impropriety should disqualify the District Attorney General’s Office, noting that the Rules of Professional Conduct did not retain the concept of appearance of impropriety.Eady also argued that his trial was improperly conducted as a single trial for multiple offenses under the theory that the separate crimes were all parts of a larger, continuing plan. The Supreme Court of Tennessee agreed with Eady on this point, finding that the trial court erred in denying his motion to sever the offenses. The court held that the evidence did not support a finding that the offenses were parts of a larger, continuing plan, and remanded the case for a new trial on one of the counts. View "State v. Eady" on Justia Law

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In the case under review, the appellant, David Wallace Lee, was convicted of two counts of malice murder related to the shooting deaths of Meghan Bowen and James Harden. The appellant argued on several grounds, including insufficiency of evidence, trial court errors, and ineffective assistance of counsel.The Supreme Court of Georgia concluded that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to support the appellant's convictions. The evidence demonstrated a history of abuse, jealousy, and threats by the appellant towards Bowen, which escalated in the months leading up to the murders. The appellant's claims of trial court errors were also rejected, as the court found no abuse of discretion in the admission of testimony regarding the appellant's possession of a gun similar to the murder weapon and found no actual conflict of interest necessitating the disqualification of an assistant district attorney.Further, the appellant's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were also rejected. The court held that the appellant failed to demonstrate that his counsel’s performance was professionally deficient and that he suffered prejudice as a result.Therefore, the court affirmed the appellant's convictions and sentence. View "LEE v. STATE" on Justia Law