Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Mark Cardilli Jr., who was convicted of manslaughter after shooting and killing Isahak Muse, the boyfriend of Cardilli's sister. Cardilli claimed he acted in self-defense, fearing that Muse, who was unarmed but physically aggressive, would take his gun and use it against him and his family. The trial court found that Cardilli's belief that deadly force was necessary was objectively unreasonable, leading to his conviction.Cardilli appealed his conviction, arguing that his trial attorneys failed to adequately argue that he acted in self-defense. The post-conviction court agreed, granting Cardilli's petition for post-conviction relief, vacating his conviction, and ordering a new trial. The court found that Cardilli's attorneys did not have a cohesive trial strategy and did not communicate effectively, which could have affected the trial court's fact-finding.The State of Maine appealed the post-conviction court's decision, arguing that Cardilli did not show prejudice resulting from the ineffective assistance of counsel. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court agreed with the State, finding that the trial court's factual findings left no room for any argument that Cardilli's use of deadly force against Muse was justified. The court concluded that the legal argument Cardilli claimed his counsel should have pursued was incompatible with the court's findings about what occurred. The court vacated the post-conviction court's judgment and remanded for the entry of a judgment denying Cardilli's petition for post-conviction relief. View "Cardilli v. State" on Justia Law

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The case involves Terrence Tyler, who was convicted of felony-murder in the first degree with the predicate felony of attempted unarmed robbery and assault with intent to rob. The incident occurred during a planned robbery of a marijuana dealer, Wilner Parisse, who was shot and killed during a physical altercation. Tyler appealed his conviction and filed two motions for a new trial. The first motion argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for not requesting an involuntary manslaughter jury instruction. The second motion requested the retroactive application of a court decision (Commonwealth v. Brown) that abolished felony-murder as an independent theory of liability for murder. Both motions were denied.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reviewed Tyler's case and his motions for a new trial. The court held that the rule in Brown was intended to apply prospectively, and there was no reason to depart from that limitation. The court also found that Tyler's trial counsel did not err by failing to request an involuntary manslaughter instruction, as the pre-Brown default rule applies here. The court further held that the trial judge's instruction did not allow the jury to find Tyler guilty of felony-murder for conduct only sufficient to convict him of manslaughter. The court declined to reduce the verdict of murder in the first degree to a lesser degree of guilt. Therefore, Tyler's conviction was affirmed, and the orders denying his motions for a new trial were also affirmed. View "Commonwealth v. Tyler" on Justia Law

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Ramel Ortiz was convicted of six counts of sexual assault and other felonies after breaking into M.P.'s house and forcing her to engage in multiple sexual acts. Four of these sexual assault counts arose from an incident during which Ortiz subjected M.P. to intercourse in different sexual positions. Ortiz appealed his conviction, arguing that his appellate counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence to support multiple sexual assault convictions.Ortiz's case was first reviewed by the Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County, which denied his postconviction petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Ortiz then appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Nevada.The Supreme Court of the State of Nevada found that appellate counsel's omission of a sufficiency challenge to the multiple convictions fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. The court concluded that because the sufficiency challenge stood a reasonable probability of success had it been raised on appeal from the judgment of conviction, Ortiz was prejudiced by appellate counsel's omission of that challenge. The court therefore reversed in part and remanded for the district court to vacate three of Ortiz's sexual assault convictions. However, the court affirmed the district court's decision as to Ortiz's remaining claims, which it found to lack merit. View "Ortiz v. State" on Justia Law

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Jeffrey Roads was convicted of transporting and accessing child pornography, and received a 324-month prison sentence. He appealed, alleging conflicts of interest among his defense counsel and the presiding judge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit previously vacated Roads's sentence and ordered a lower court to determine whether a conflict of interest among Roads's defense counsel may have affected his substantial rights. After re-assignment of the case to a different judge and changes in counsel, Roads's motions for disclosure of information and recusal were denied. His motion to withdraw his guilty plea was also denied, and he was re-sentenced to the same term of imprisonment.On appeal to the Eighth Circuit, Roads argued that the district court erred in denying his motions and in applying a two-level obstruction enhancement during sentencing. He claimed that a reasonable person may question the impartiality of the court due to perceived personal relationships with federal officials or court employees who had been threatened by another individual, Justin Fletcher.However, the Appeals Court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Roads's motions. It found that Roads had failed to provide any information suggesting the court could not be impartial. The court also found that Roads's reasons for recusal were based on inaccurate "facts" and mere speculation. The court denied Roads's motion to withdraw his guilty plea as he failed to show a fair and just reason for withdrawal. It concluded that the district court was correct in applying the obstruction enhancement, as Roads had attempted to destroy evidence. Therefore, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court, upholding Roads's sentence. View "United States v. Roads" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of appellants who allegedly purchased luxury vehicles with funds provided by Dilmurod Akramov, the owner of CBC and D&O Group. The appellants would then transfer the vehicle titles back to Akramov's D&O Group without receiving cash or equivalent in exchange. They would then claim a "trade-in credit" against the sales tax due on the purchase of a vehicle. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA) argued that these were not valid sales as required by Arkansas law and denied the sales-tax-refund claims.The appellants challenged the DFA's decision through the administrative review process, which affirmed the DFA's decision. The appellants then appealed to the Pulaski County Circuit Court for further review. The circuit court found that the appellants' attorney, Jason Stuart, was a necessary witness and therefore disqualified him from further representing the appellants. The court also held the appellants in contempt for failing to provide discovery per the court's order.The Supreme Court of Arkansas affirmed the circuit court's decision. The court held that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in disqualifying Stuart. The court applied the three-prong test from Weigel v. Farmers Ins. Co., which requires that the attorney's testimony is material to the determination of the issues being litigated, the evidence is unobtainable elsewhere, and the testimony is or may be prejudicial to the testifying attorney’s client. The court found that all three prongs were satisfied in this case. The court also affirmed the circuit court's decision to strike the third amended and supplemental complaint filed by Stuart after his disqualification. View "STUART v. WALTHER" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a district court's decision to impose sanctions on attorney Gregory Leyh and his law firm under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 55.03 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 for filing frivolous claims. The sanctions were requested by Martin Leigh, P.C., a party that Leyh had included in a series of lawsuits filed on behalf of Gwen Caranchini, who had defaulted on her home loan and was seeking to stop foreclosure proceedings.The district court had imposed sanctions after Leyh failed to respond to a warning letter and motion for sanctions served by Martin Leigh. On appeal, Leyh argued that the sanctions imposed were inappropriate because Martin Leigh had not complied with Rule 11(c)(2)'s safe harbor provision, which requires that a party be given an opportunity to withdraw or correct the offending document before a motion for sanctions is filed.The appellate court agreed with Leyh, finding that Martin Leigh had not adhered to the strict procedural requirements of Rule 11(c)(2). The court also noted that while Leyh's legal tactics were an abuse of the system, Martin Leigh had not pursued other possible avenues for sanctions, such as Rule 11(c)(3), 28 U.S.C. § 1927, or the court's inherent powers. The court thus reversed the sanctions and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to vacate the award. View "Martin Leigh PC v. Leyh" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around the dispute between Daniel Bader, a military officer who previously held the rank of Colonel but had attained the rank of Brigadier General at the time of his application for retirement in 2012, and the United States. Bader was found to have violated ethical standards set forth in 18 U.S.C. § 207(c) and 5 C.F.R. § 2635, which led to his retirement at the rank of Colonel, affecting his rate of retirement pay. Bader brought suit in the Court of Federal Claims seeking compensation for his allegedly lost pay. The court, however, ruled against him, finding no error in the decision to retire him at the lower rank of Colonel.Bader appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, arguing that he was unfairly penalized for holding both a military and civilian employment concurrently, which was permissible. He also contended that he was acting in accordance with multiple ethics opinions that he believed permitted his actions, and that his employer's operation through an Other Transactions Authority allowed him to engage in the conduct he was penalized for.The Appeals Court, however, affirmed the lower court's decision, stating that Bader's simultaneous employment in military and civilian capacities did not exempt him from ethical obligations. His reliance on ethics opinions didn't change the fact that he used his government position to benefit his private employer. The court also clarified that the Other Transactions Authority doesn't exempt government employees from generally applicable ethics regulations. Therefore, Bader's retirement at the rank of Colonel was deemed appropriate given his violations of ethical standards. View "BADER v. US " on Justia Law

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The case involves a domestic violence protective order (DVPO) issued in favor of a child's father (Jacob G.) against the child's mother (Savanah F.) following an incident of custodial interference that involved the mother taking the child from Alaska to Texas without the father's knowledge and in violation of a custody order. The father had sought attorney's fees, which were denied by the Superior Court without explanation.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska reversed the Superior Court's decision, holding that a person who successfully petitions for a DVPO is entitled to seek attorney’s fees from the respondent, and these can only be denied in exceptional circumstances. The Court held that neither of the arguments made by the mother in opposition to the fees - that her act of custodial interference was justified by the father’s substance abuse, and that she could not afford to pay the fees - constituted exceptional circumstances. The Court noted that the mother's argument fails to recognize the harm caused by custodial interference, and that her financial circumstances did not justify denial of the fees, given she had paid her own legal fees and had the ability to earn income. View "Jacob G. v. Savanah F." on Justia Law

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In this case handled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the plaintiff, Alexis Marquez, an attorney who represented herself, claimed that an Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice harassed her and subjected her to inappropriate behavior during her service as his court attorney. Marquez challenged two interlocutory rulings that dismissed the complaint as to one defendant and denied reconsideration. However, the district court dismissed the case as a penalty for Marquez's failure to comply with discovery orders, which Marquez did not challenge in this appeal.The Court of Appeals held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider Marquez's challenge to the interlocutory orders as it was not an appeal from a final decision of the district court. The Court explained that the merger rule, which allows an interlocutory order to merge into the final judgment, does not apply when a district court enters a dismissal as a sanction. If Marquez successfully challenges the sanction dismissal, she would then have the opportunity to challenge the interlocutory orders as part of any appeal from a final judgment on the merits. In this situation, however, the Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice due to lack of jurisdiction. View "Marquez v. Silver" on Justia Law

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The case arose from appellant Khamal Fooks' claim that his attorney misled him about the parole eligibility related to his plea agreement. Fooks had pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, conspiracy, and carrying an unlicensed gun in a Pennsylvania state court. He later alleged that his lawyer incorrectly assured him he would be eligible for parole after ten years, when in reality, he had to serve at least twenty. His allegations, if true, would demonstrate that his lawyer’s advice was ineffective.Both the state and the federal district courts dismissed his claims without providing an opportunity for an evidentiary hearing. Fooks then appealed this decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. The Circuit Court found that Fooks' allegations, if proven, would indeed establish ineffective assistance of counsel, thereby warranting habeas relief.The Circuit Court held that the district court erred in not affording Fooks an evidentiary hearing to substantiate his allegations. The court emphasized the importance of giving petitioners a fair chance to prove their allegations and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. The court did not rule on Fooks' entitlement to relief, instead emphasizing the need for a fair opportunity to present evidence supporting his claims. View "Khamal Fooks v. Superintendent Smithfield SCI" on Justia Law