Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Election Law
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After losing their bids for the November 2019 elections for Quitman County Chancery and Circuit Clerk, Shirley Smith Taylor and Tea “Windless” Keeler, respectively, filed election contests. In July 2020, following a two-day trial of the consolidated contests, the court entered its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, dismissing the election contests with prejudice and finding that six enumerated claims brought by Taylor and Keeler were frivolous.Further, the court denied Brenda Wiggs’s and T.H. “Butch” Scipper’s requests that Taylor and Keeler be sanctioned, and that Wiggs and Scipper be awarded attorneys’ fees under Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) and the Litigation Accountability Act of 1988 (LAA). The Mississippi Supreme Court affirmed in part the circuit court’s denial of an award of attorneys’ fees under Rule 11(b) since the court’s decision was not an abuse of discretion. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded in part the circuit court’s decision to deny the imposition of sanctions and award of attorneys’ fees under the LAA in light of its finding that six of Taylor’s and Keeler’s claims were frivolous. View "In Re: Contest of the November 5, 2019 General Election for the Chancery Clerk of Quitman, Mississippi" on Justia Law

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Zena Collins Stephens appealed both the court of appeals’ denial of a pretrial writ of habeas corpus and its reversal of the district court’s decision to quash Count I of the indictment. Stephens was elected to the position of sheriff of Jefferson County, Texas in 2016. While investigating someone else, the FBI uncovered information regarding potential campaign-finance violations concerning Stephens. The FBI then turned this information over to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers’ investigation concluded Stephens received individual cash campaign contributions in excess of $100. A grand jury indicted Stephens on three counts: Count I: tampering with a government record in violation of Texas Penal Code section 37.10 “by reporting a $5,000.00 individual cash contribution in the political contributions of $50.00 or less section of said Report;” iIn Counts II and III, unlawfully making or accepting a contribution in violation of Texas Election Code section 253.033(a) by accepting cash contributions in excess of $100 from two different individuals. On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Stephens asked: could the Texas Legislature delegate to the Attorney General, a member of the executive department, the prosecution of election-law violations in district and inferior courts? To this, the Court answered "no:" because Texas Election Code section 273.021 delegated to the Attorney General a power more properly assigned to the judicial department, the statute was unconstitutional. Therefore, the Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and remanded the case to the trial court to dismiss the indictment. View "Texas v. Stephens" on Justia Law

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The Yakima County clerk was ordered by a superior court judge to procure a supplemental bond to maintain her elected office. The court warned that failure to comply would result in the court declaring the office vacant. The clerk sought a writ of prohibition from the Washington Supreme Court to prevent enforcement of the superior court's order. The Supreme Court denied the writ: the superior court judge did not exceed the court's jurisdiction by issuing the supplemental bond order; the clerk could have availed herself of "a plain, speedy and adequate remedy at law - an injunction. Thus, prohibition will not lie." View "Riddle v. Elofson" on Justia Law

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Petitioner served two terms as a Public Service Commissioner (PSC). While serving his first term at the PSC, Respondent, campaign manager for Petitioner's opponent in the upcoming election, filed four complaints against Petitioner with the Commissioner of Political Practices (Commissioner), alleging that Petitioner had violated the statutory Code of Ethics by accepting gifts of substantial value from two corporations with which the PSC regularly dealt and by using state resources to aid his reelection campaign and for personal business. Following a three-day hearing on Respondent's complaints, a hearing examiner determined that Petitioner violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-104 two times by receiving "gifts of substantial value" and violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-121 five times by using state facilities and equipment for election purposes. The Commissioner affirmed, ordering Petitioner to pay $5,750 in fines and $14,945 for the costs of the hearing. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by concluding (1) Respondent had legal standing to file ethics complaints against Petitioner; (2) Petitioner received unlawful gifts; (3) Petitioner improperly used State facilities for political purposes; and (4) the penalty statute for ethics violations was not unconstitutionally vague. View "Molnar v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Petitioners Albert Ugas and Daniel Fishburn filed a recall petition against Respondent Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist, charging him with misfeasance and/or malfeasance and breach of his oath of office. Petitioners alleged that Mr. Lindquist failed to investigate alleged corruption and falsification of records by a former county assessor-treasurer. Additionally, Petitioners contended that Mr. Lindquist obstructed justice by deterring law enforcement from investigating the assessor-treasurer. The lower court dismissed Petitioners' affidavit of prejudice and held that the recall petition was legally and factually insufficient. The court awarded Mr. Lindquist $50,000 in attorney fees for Petitioners' intentionally filing a frivolous recall petition in bad faith. Petitioners argued on appeal that their recall petition was legally and factually sufficient and that they should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees. Upon review of the petition and the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision. View "In re Recall of Lindquist" on Justia Law