Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around Clark Chandler Anderson, who was convicted of malice murder for shooting and killing Kevin Murr. Anderson argued that the killing was voluntary manslaughter, not murder, as he shot Murr after being seriously provoked. However, the jury found Anderson guilty of malice murder. Anderson appealed, contending that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions, that the trial court should have given his requested jury instruction about voluntary manslaughter, and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to certain testimonies.Previously, Anderson was found guilty of malice murder, felony murder predicated on aggravated assault, aggravated assault of Murr, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for malice murder, with a consecutive term of five years in prison for possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed Anderson's convictions. The court concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support Anderson’s conviction for malice murder as it showed that he intentionally shot Murr 16 times. The court also concluded that no jury instruction about voluntary manslaughter was required because the provocation that Anderson claimed was not enough to excite the “sudden, violent, and irresistible passion” that could warrant a jury instruction on voluntary manslaughter. Furthermore, the court found that Anderson's counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to the coworkers’ testimony, as the counsel wanted the jury to hear some of the testimony because it would serve counsel’s strategy of trying to evoke the jury’s sympathy. View "Anderson v. State" on Justia Law

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The case involves the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans ("Archdiocese") which sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief due to numerous lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests. The United States Trustee appointed an Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors ("Committee"), which included the appellants. The appellants' attorney, Richard Trahant, violated a protective order by disclosing confidential information related to abuse allegations against a priest. The bankruptcy court found Trahant's breach to be a disruption to the bankruptcy process and ordered the removal of Trahant's clients, the appellants, from the Committee.The appellants appealed their removal from the Committee to the district court, arguing that the district judge who was originally assigned their appeal should have recused himself earlier. The district court dismissed the appeal, concluding that the appellants lacked standing to appeal their removal from the Committee. The appellants then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. It found that the district court did not err in declining to vacate the judgment, and the appellants lacked standing under Article III to prosecute this appeal. The court held that the appellants failed to demonstrate an injury to any legally protected interest. Their substantive rights as creditors in the bankruptcy case were not impaired by their removal from the Committee. The court also noted that the bankruptcy court's order did not amount to a personal sanction against the appellants, but was a consequence of the conduct of their attorney. View "Adams v. Roman Catholic Church" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around the appellant, Jeffery Woods, who filed a legal malpractice lawsuit in the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas. The defendant in the lawsuit filed a motion to dismiss the suit. Woods then attempted to remove the lawsuit to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. However, a United States magistrate judge recommended denying Woods's petition for removal and remanding the matter back to the state court. The federal court eventually adopted this recommendation. Meanwhile, before the federal court had ruled on Woods's objections, Judge Heekin of the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas granted the motion to dismiss Woods's legal malpractice lawsuit.Woods then filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus against Judge Heekin in the First District Court of Appeals, arguing that the common pleas court lacked jurisdiction over his legal malpractice lawsuit once he filed his notice of removal to federal court. He sought an order for Judge Heekin to vacate the judgment of dismissal. Judge Heekin filed a motion to dismiss Woods's mandamus complaint, arguing that Woods did not perform the necessary steps for effecting removal to federal court, and thus the common pleas court still had jurisdiction. The court of appeals dismissed Woods's mandamus complaint, but not for the reasons set forth in Judge Heekin’s motion. Instead, the court of appeals dismissed the complaint on the basis that “mandamus cannot be used to compel a particular ruling from a judge.”The Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the court of appeals' judgment, but disagreed with its reasoning. The Supreme Court held that if Woods was correct that Judge Heekin patently and unambiguously lacked jurisdiction to dismiss the legal-malpractice action, a writ of mandamus would be an appropriate remedy. However, the Supreme Court found that Woods did not complete all the necessary steps for removal to federal court, and thus the common pleas court did not patently and unambiguously lack jurisdiction to dismiss the legal-malpractice action. Therefore, the dismissal of Woods's mandamus complaint was correct. View "State ex rel. Woods v. Heekin" on Justia Law

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In 1996, Robert Pope was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. He sought post-conviction relief, but his lawyer, Michael J. Backes, abandoned him and failed to take necessary steps to protect Pope's rights. After 14 months of inaction, Pope sought help from Wisconsin's public defender, who informed him that he first needed an extension from the court of appeals. However, the court of appeals denied his request, stating that he had waited too long. Pope then sought relief from the trial court, which also denied his request due to the appellate decision. Despite multiple attempts to reinstate his appeal rights, all were unsuccessful until 2016 when the state acknowledged his right to an appeal.The state court of appeals and the Supreme Court of Wisconsin reversed a 2017 decision granting Pope a new trial due to the absence of a trial transcript, which was not ordered by his lawyer and was later destroyed. The Supreme Court of Wisconsin held that a new trial based on the absence of a transcript is only appropriate if the defendant first makes a "facially valid claim of arguably prejudicial error" that requires a transcript to substantiate. Pope, not being a lawyer and barely remembering the events of 1996, was unable to do so.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Pope filed a petition for collateral review under 28 U.S.C. §2254. The district court issued a conditional writ and directed the state to release Pope unless it set a retrial in motion within six months. The state appealed, leading to a deferral of the deadline. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision, modifying it to include deadlines for Pope's release on bail and unconditional release if a trial does not start within the specified timeframes. The court noted that Pope had suffered at least two violations of his constitutional rights: the right to assistance of counsel and the right to an appeal equivalent to that available to well-heeled litigants. View "Pope v. Taylor" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around Viktoriya Usachenok, an employee of the Department of Treasury, who filed an internal complaint alleging sexual harassment and a hostile work environment created by her supervisor. As part of the investigation, Usachenok was directed not to discuss the investigation with others, a directive she was accused of violating when she consulted her husband, an attorney, about a document related to the investigation. Usachenok subsequently filed a complaint challenging the confidentiality directive.The Appellate Division rejected Usachenok’s constitutional challenge to the regulation, focusing on the change from a directive to a permissive “request” through an amendment. The court found that the plain language of the regulation did not restrict speech and did not constitute an improper prior restraint of speech.The Supreme Court of New Jersey, however, disagreed with the Appellate Division. The court held that the regulation, which requires state investigators to request that anyone interviewed not discuss any aspect of the investigation with others, is overbroad under the State Constitution. The court found that the regulation chills constitutionally protected speech, as it encompasses a significant amount of protected speech and its consequences are real. The court therefore struck the relevant part of the regulation, reversing the judgment of the Appellate Division and remanding the case to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Usachenok v. State of New Jersey Department of the Treasury" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a lawsuit filed by Masimo Corporation against John Bauche, BoundlessRise, LLC (Boundless), and Skyward Investments, LLC (Skyward), represented by The Vanderpool Law Firm (Vanderpool). The lawsuit was based on Bauche's misappropriation of corporate funds while he was a Masimo employee. Bauche had fraudulently engaged Boundless, a company he solely owned, as an "outside vendor" for Masimo, and later transferred the money paid for fraudulent vendor services to Skyward, another company he solely owned. Masimo's attempts to obtain substantive discovery responses from the defendants were met with boilerplate objections, leading to a motion to compel responses and a request for discovery sanctions.The case was stayed twice, first due to Bauche's appeal from the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion, and then to allow a federal criminal case against him to be resolved. The referee supervising discovery recommended that the motion to compel be granted and Masimo be awarded $10,000 in discovery sanctions. The trial court agreed and entered an order to that effect, awarding sanctions against Vanderpool and the three defendants.In the Court of Appeal of the State of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three, Vanderpool appealed the order, arguing that it had substituted out of the case as counsel before the motion to compel was filed and was therefore unsanctionable. The court rejected this argument, stating that it is not necessary to be counsel of record to be liable for monetary sanctions for discovery misuse. The court affirmed the order, concluding that Vanderpool and its clients were liable for discovery misuse. The court also criticized Vanderpool for its lack of civility in the proceedings. View "Masimo Corporation v. The Vanderpool Law Firm, Inc." on Justia Law

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Solomon Bolen was convicted of multiple offenses, including attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery. Bolen appealed, arguing that the district court violated his due process rights by not instructing the jury on his plea of not guilty by reason of mental illness or deficiency (NGMI). He also claimed that his attorneys were ineffective for not seeking those instructions. Additionally, Bolen contended that his convictions for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery violated his right against double jeopardy.The district court had found Bolen mentally fit to proceed with the trial. Despite Bolen's NGMI plea, the court-designated examiner, Dr. Wilkinson, opined that Bolen did not meet the statutory criteria for an NGMI defense. She noted that Bolen's altered state of mind and psychosis at the time of the crimes were caused by self-induced intoxication, which is specifically excluded from the statutory definition of mental illness or deficiency. Bolen's attorneys did not pursue the NGMI defense and focused instead on the self-induced intoxication defense.The Supreme Court of Wyoming affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that Bolen did not present competent evidence to support an NGMI defense, and thus was not entitled to have the jury instructed on the defense. The court also found that Bolen's attorneys were not ineffective for not pursuing the NGMI defense, as the instructions would not have been proper even if they had renewed their request for them. Lastly, the court held that Bolen's convictions for attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault and battery did not violate his right against double jeopardy, as the crimes contained separate elements. View "Bolen v. State" on Justia Law

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Levi Rudder, a non-lawyer, was sanctioned by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas for engaging in unauthorized practice of law. Rudder had contacted a detainee facing federal firearm charges and attempted to involve himself in the case, despite being told not to by the defense counsel. He held an unprivileged, monitored video meeting with the detainee, offered legal advice, and encouraged the detainee to sign a form appointing him as additional counsel. The district court found Rudder guilty of unauthorized practice of law and imposed a monetary sanction of $500. He was also barred from filing documents in the Northern District of Texas without the court's permission.Rudder appealed the decision, arguing that the district court lacked the authority to impose these sanctions. He contended that the Constitution does not afford federal courts inherent powers to sanction individuals for engaging in unauthorized practice of law.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit disagreed with Rudder's argument. The court cited previous cases that established federal courts' inherent power to police the conduct of litigants and attorneys who appear before them. The court also noted that a party cannot be represented by a non-lawyer and that a minimum level of competence is required to protect the client, their adversaries, and the court from poorly drafted, inarticulate, or vexatious claims. Therefore, the court concluded that a federal court's power to regulate and discipline attorneys extends to conduct by non-lawyers amounting to practicing law without a license. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the sanctions on Rudder and affirmed the lower court's decision. View "In re: Rudder" on Justia Law

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The case involves Donald Herrington, who was charged with multiple counts of perjury, obtaining money by false pretenses, filing false or fraudulent income tax returns, failure to file an income tax return, and drug possession. Herrington chose to represent himself in court, waiving his right to counsel. He was eventually convicted on several charges and sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment. Herrington appealed his conviction, arguing that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated and that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to bring two meritorious arguments on direct appeal.The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, which rejected Herrington's arguments and denied his petition. Herrington then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions. The court found that Herrington knowingly, unequivocally, and voluntarily waived his right to counsel, thus affirming that aspect of the district court's decision. However, the court agreed with Herrington that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the jury was erroneously instructed on the requirements for a conviction for failure to file a tax return. The court reversed this part of the district court's decision and remanded the case with instructions to issue a writ of habeas corpus unless Herrington is afforded a new state court appeal in which he may raise this claim. View "Herrington v. Dotson" on Justia Law

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Keith Henyard was charged with eight drug-related felonies in Wisconsin. During his preliminary hearing, Court Commissioner Frank Parise presided. Later, Henyard hired Parise as his attorney. Parise secured a plea deal for Henyard, who pleaded guilty to four of the eight charges. The remaining four charges were dismissed but considered during sentencing. Henyard did not raise any objections about Parise's potential conflict of interest during these proceedings. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison followed by 5 years of extended supervision for one count, and 6 years of probation for the other three counts.Henyard later petitioned the Kenosha County Circuit Court for postconviction relief, arguing that Parise's previous role in his preliminary hearing constituted a conflict of interest, rendering his representation ineffective. The circuit court denied his petition, finding that Henyard had not demonstrated an actual or serious potential conflict of interest. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals also rejected Henyard's petition, stating that he had failed to show that Parise's alleged conflict of interest had adversely affected his performance. The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied Henyard's petition for review.Henyard then sought a writ of habeas corpus from the federal district court, which also denied his petition. The court found that Henyard needed to show a conflict that affected counsel's performance, as per the precedent set by the United States Supreme Court. The court concluded that the Wisconsin Court of Appeals' decision complied with this precedent and reasonably applied the law to deny Henyard relief.In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, Henyard argued that Parise's conflict of interest rendered his representation ineffective. The court affirmed the lower courts' decisions, stating that Henyard had not demonstrated that Parise actively represented conflicting interests or that the alleged conflict adversely affected his performance. The court concluded that the state court's denial of Henyard's petition was neither contrary to nor an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent. View "Henyard v. Eplett" on Justia Law