Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
by
Respondent, magistrate judge of Greenwood County Walter Martin, and the South Carolina Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC) entered into an Agreement for Discipline by Consent (Agreement) pursuant to Rule 21 of the Rules for Judicial Disciplinary Enforcement (RJDE) contained in Rule 502 of the South Carolina Appellate Court Rules (SCACR). In the Agreement, Respondent admitted misconduct, consented to any sanction ranging from a confidential admonition up to a six-month definite suspension, and agreed to attend anger management counseling and pay costs. This discipline stemmed from two incidents in 2021 in which Respondent used profanity toward plaintiff's counsel at a jury trial, and for complaining "in a loud and agitated manner" toward a scheduling clerk for failing to provide him timely notice of a jury trial. The South Carolina Supreme Court accepted the Agreement and issued a public reprimand. View "In the Matter of Walter Rutledge Martin of the Greenwood County Magistrate's Court" on Justia Law

by
On July 25, 2021, Mark Thompson, Judge for the 5th Colorado Judicial District, got into a heated verbal confrontation with his 22-year-old adult stepson. The confrontation began in the street in front of Judge Thompson’s home and continued inside the home. After the confrontation moved inside the home, Judge Thompson was alleged to have pointed an AR-15 style rifle at his stepson’s chest. Judge Thompson retrieved the rifle from a gun safe in the home before allegedly pointing it at his stepson. The stepson left the house and called 911. The Sherriff’s Department began an investigation. Once the Summit County Sheriff’s Department recognized that Judge Thompson was the Chief Judge for their judicial district, it recused itself and transferred the case to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. In early January 2022, Judge Thompson pled guilty to a class 2 misdemeanor for disorderly conduct, for which he was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation with a requirement of continued anger management. The Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline (“the Commission”) recommended that the Colorado Supreme Court approve a Stipulation for Public Censure and Suspension, which was executed between Judge Thompson and the Commission pursuant to Rules 36(c), 36(e), and 37(e) of the Colorado Rules of Judicial Discipline (“RJD”). Consistent with the Stipulation, the Commission recommended that the Supreme Court issue a public censure and a thirty-day suspension of Judge Thompson's judicial duties without pay. The Supreme Court adopted the Commission’s recommendation. View "Matter of: Judge Mark D. Thompson" on Justia Law

by
At issue before the Georgia Supreme Court in this case was an agreement between the Director of the Judicial Qualifications Commission (“JQC”) and the City of Atlanta Municipal Court Judge Terrinee Grundy. The agreement would resolve formal charges against Judge Gundy, alleging excessive tardiness and absenteeism, with a suspension of 30 to 90 days and a public reprimand, pursuant to Rule 23 of the JQC’s Rules. The Supreme Court accepted the agreement and ordered Judge Gundy be suspended without pay for 90 days and publicly reprimanded. View "Inquiry concerning Judge Terrinee Gundy" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of in favor of Defendants and dismissing Plaintiffs' legal malpractice action on the grounds that Defendants did not breach any duty of care to Plaintiffs, holding that the district court did not err.In 2017, Plaintiffs, various liquor stores in Whiteclay, sought to renew multiple liquor licenses, but when the cause was appealed, the Supreme Court determined that it did not have jurisdiction. Plaintiffs then brought this action against their counsel, alleging legal malpractice. The district court granted summary judgment for Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in concluding that, as a matter of law, Defendants did not breach the applicable standard of care. View "Kozal v. Snyder" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court granted a petition sought by the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for expedited consideration and report of uncontested sanction following its investigation of complaints against Pope County District Court Judge Don Bourne, holding that Judge Bourne's conduct warranted sanctions.Several complaints involving two counts were filed against Judge Bourne involving his conduct toward unrepresented litigants. Judge Bourne did not contest either count, waived a formal disciplinary hearing, and accepted the investigatory panel's recommended sanction of suspension without pay for ninety days, with seventy-five days held in abeyance for one year. The commission accepted the recommended sanction. The Supreme Court suspended Judge Bourne from the bench without pay for ninety days with seventy-five days held in abeyance if he agrees to, among other things, never again to hold judicial office after his current term expires, ordering that the mandate shall issue immediately. View "Arkansas Judicial Discipline & Disability Commission v. Bourne" on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the terms of a settlement resulted in a de facto assignment of a corporation's theoretical legal malpractice claim to Amit Shah by using the corporation as his alter ego, holding that there was no error.In 2013, Shah and another minority shareholder of Duro, Inc. brought this action against Duro and its third shareholder, alleging money laundering and racketeering. In 2015, Plaintiffs added a shareholder derivative claim of legal malpractice, nominally on behalf of Duro, against a law firm and its attorneys (May Oberfell), who had represented Defendants in the case. In 2017, Plaintiffs settled their claims, preserving any claims Duro might have against May Oberfell. Shah subsequently took effective control of Duro and transferred all of Duro's assets except the legal malpractice claim. Thereafter, Shah, through Duro, filed a complaint against May Oberfell. The district court granted summary judgment for May Oberfell, concluding that the legal malpractice claim had undergone a "de facto" assignment, and therefore, the claim was barred under Indiana law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that May Oberfell was entitled to summary judgment. View "Duro, Inc. v. Walton" on Justia Law

by
Wang sued her former attorney Nesse, alleging professional malpractice in his representation of Wang in her marital dissolution action. Following Nesse’s death, his estate moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Wang’s complaint, filed on December 21, 2015, was barred by the one-year statute of limitations, Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6. According to Nesse’s estate, although Wang and Nesse filed a substitution of attorney form on December 30, 2014, Nesse’s representation of Wang had actually ended earlier, on December 3 or December 17 at the latest, when Wang “discharged” Nesse or “consented” to his withdrawal. The trial court agreed and granted the motion. The court of appeal reversed. There is a triable issue of material fact as to whether Nesse continued to represent her on December 21, 2014, so Nesse’s estate failed to establish that the statute of limitations bars her complaint as a matter of law. View "Wang v. Nesse" on Justia Law

by
Lawyers brought claims against schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400. After the claims failed, the schools sought their attorney’s fees from the lawyers under the IDEA’s fee-shifting provision. The School Districts alleged that, during the administrative process, the attorneys presented sloppy pleadings, asserted factually inaccurate or legally irrelevant allegations, and needlessly prolonged the proceedings. The lawyers asked their insurer, Wesco, to pay the fees. Wesco refused on the ground that the requested attorney’s fees fell within the insurance policy’s exclusion for “sanctions.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Wesco. The IDEA makes attorney misconduct a prerequisite to a fee award against a party’s lawyer, so the policy exclusion applied. The court noted that the legal community routinely describes an attorney’s fees award as a “sanction” when a court grants it because of abusive litigation tactics. View "Wesco Insurance Co. v. Roderick Linton Belfance, LLP" on Justia Law

by
For about 10 years Victaulic and three of its insurers, members of the American Insurance Group (AIG), have been engaged in litigation. One case is this lawsuit filed by Victaulic in 2012; in 2013, the Pillsbury law firm became counsel for Victaulic and has represented it since, ultimately winning a $56 million judgment. In 2018, that judgment was reversed based on a combination of errors by the trial judge. Following remand, Victaulic filed an amended complaint; the vigorous litigation continued. In 2021 the insurers learned that two attorneys who had done work for a claims-handling arm of AIG had recently joined the Pillsbury firm, about six years after they left employment at the earlier firm. The insurers moved to disqualify the lawyers and the Pillsbury firm, generating thousands of pages of pleadings, declarations, and exhibits, and two hearings.The trial court concluded that the insurers failed to meet their burden. The court of appeal affirmed. There was no showing that the two attorneys had any confidential information and no “direct professional relationship with the former client in which the attorney personally provided legal advice and services on a legal issue that is closely related to the legal issue in the present representation.” View "Victaulic Co. v. American Home Assurance Co." on Justia Law

by
While driving a forklift at work, Lori Chandler was hit by another forklift and injured. She retained Turner & Associates to file a workers’ compensation claim. But Turner & Associates failed to file her claim within the statute of limitations. Adding to that, the firm’s case manager engaged in a year-and-a-half-long cover-up, which included false assurances of settlement negotiations, fake settlement offers, and a forged settlement letter purporting to be from Chandler’s former employer. Because of this professional negligence, Chandler filed a legal malpractice action. The only issue at trial was damages. The trial judge, sitting as fact-finder, concluded that Chandler had suffered a compensable work-related injury—an injury that caused her to lose her job and left her unemployed for nearly two years. Based on her hourly wage, the trial judge determined, had Turner & Associates timely filed Chandler’s workers’ compensation claim, Chandler could have reasonably recovered $50,000 in disability benefits. So the trial judge awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages. The trial judge also awarded Chandler $100,000 in punitive damages against the case manager due to her egregious conduct. The Court of Appeals affirmed the punitive-damages award. But the court reversed and remanded the compensatory-damages award. Essentially, the Court of Appeals held that Chandler had failed to present sufficient medical evidence to support a $50,000 workers’ compensation claim. The Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the appellate court: "Were this a workers’ compensation case, we might agree with the Court of Appeals. But this is a legal malpractice case. And part of what Chandler lost, due to attorney negligence, was her ability to prove her work-related injury led to her temporary total disability. ... the Court of Appeals erred by applying exacting statutory requirements for a workers’ compensation claim to Chandler’s common-law legal malpractice claim." The Court reversed on the issue of compensatory damages and reinstated the trial judge’s $50,000 compensatory-damages award. Because this was the only issue for which Chandler sought certiorari review, it affirmed the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ decision, which affirmed the punitive-damages award but reversed and remanded the grant of partial summary judgment against attorney Angela Lairy in her individual capacity. View "Turner & Associates, PLLC, et al. v. Chandler" on Justia Law