Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Commission) and the Committee of Credentials of the Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Committee) appealed a judgment and peremptory writ of prohibition directing them to discontinue certain investigative proceedings against present and former public school administrators Kathy Little, Simone Kovats, and Debra Sather (together, the administrators). The Committee commenced an initial review of the administrators’ fitness to continue as credential holders in 2019. Nonparty John Villani was a special education teacher employed by the District between 2011 and 2014. Villani sued the District in 2016 alleging the District unlawfully retaliated against him after he reported that a teacher-aide, David Yoder, was “grooming” and paying inappropriate attention to some of the minor students in his care. Yoder was subsequently charged and convicted of several felony sex offenses against minors, including an offense against one of the aforementioned students. As relevant here, Villani’s lawsuit also alleged the administrators ignored his concerns about Yoder. The Commission learned about Villani’s lawsuit from a news article; the Commission thereafter launched its investigation. The administrators objected to the manner in which the Commission had obtained documents and information from Villani and argued the Committee had not established jurisdiction to review their credentials. The administrators demanded the Commission cease the investigation and the Committee drop the scheduled meetings. The Commission and Committee argued the trial court erred in ruling the administrators were excused from exhausting administrative remedies and misinterpreted Education Code section 44242.5, which defined the scope of the Committee’s jurisdiction. Finding no error, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment and writ. View "Little v. Com. on Teacher Credentialing" on Justia Law

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Memphis attorney Skouteris practiced plaintiff-side, personal injury law. He routinely settled cases without permission, forged client signatures on settlement checks, and deposited those checks into his own account. Skouteris was arrested on state charges, was disbarred, and was indicted in federal court for bank fraud. At Skouteris’s federal trial, lay testimony suggested that Skouteris was not acting under any sort of diminished cognitive capacity. Two psychologists examined Skouteris. The defense expert maintained that Skouteris suffered from a “major depressive disorder,” “alcohol use disorder,” and “seizure disorder,” which began during Skouteris’s college football career, which, taken together, would have “significantly limited” Skouteris’s “ability to organize his mental efforts.” The government’s expert agreed that Skouteris suffered from depression and alcohol use disorder but concluded that Skouteris was “capable of having the mental ability to form and carry out complex thoughts, schemes, and plans.” Skouteris’s attorney unsuccessfully sought a jury instruction that evidence of “diminished mental capacity” could provide “reasonable doubt that” Skouteris had the “requisite culpable state of mind.”Convicted, Skouteris had a sentencing range of 46-57 months, with enhancements for “losses,” abusing a position of trust or using a special skill, and committing an offense that resulted in “substantial financial hardship” to at least one victim. The district court varied downward for a sentence of 30 months plus restitution of $147,406. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, the jury instructions, and the sentence. View "United States v. Skouteris" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming Defendant's conviction of disclosing confidential information in violation of Ohio Rev. Code 102.03(B), holding that a person who is subject to the jurisdiction of the Ohio Ethics Commission (Commission) may be criminally prosecuted for a violation of section 102.03(B) without the Commission first investigating or prosecuting the charge.Defendant, a sheriff, was found guilty of violating section 102.03(B), a provision of Ohio's ethics law, for posting confidential information on the website of the sheriff's office. At issue on appeal was whether a criminal prosecution may be brought alleging a violation of section 102.03(B) without a prior review of the charges by the Commission. The court of appeals held that the trial court properly refused to dismiss the charges against Defendant on these grounds. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that prosecutions may be brought by a prosecuting authority before the Commission initiates or completes its investigation. View "State v. Towns" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the court affirming a decision of the Board of Registration in Podiatry that revoked Thomas Franchini's license to practice podiatry in Massachusetts, holding that the Board's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, was supported by substantial evidence, and did not suffer from any other defect enumerated under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 30A, 14(7).A hearings officer found that Franchini knowingly made certain false and misleading statements in his licensure application and recommended that the Board impose disciplinary sanctions. The Board largely adopted the hearing officer's decision, finding that Franchini engaged in gross misconduct such as to call into question Franchini's ability to practice podiatry, dishonesty, fraud, or deceit, and knowingly making false statements in his application to the Board. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Franchini should be subject to disciplinary sanctions. View "Franchini v. Bd. of Registration in Podiatry" on Justia Law

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Crane filed a complaint for retaliatory discharge, alleging that his employment with Midwest was terminated after he reported numerous health and safety violations to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. Crane was awarded $160,000 in compensatory damages and $625,000 in punitive damages. The appellate court affirmed. After losing the underlying action and paying damages to its former employee, Midwest filed a legal malpractice complaint against its attorneys and the Sandberg law firm, alleging that the attorneys failed to list all witnesses intended to be called at trial in compliance with Illinois Supreme Court Rule 213(f), resulting in six defense witnesses being barred from testifying, and several other errors.The circuit court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss but certified a question for immediate appeal: Does Illinois’ public policy on punitive damages and/or the statutory prohibition on punitive damages [in legal malpractice actions, 735 ILCS 5/2-1115] bar recovery of incurred punitive damages in a legal malpractice case where the client alleges that, but for the attorney's negligence in the underlying case, the jury in the underlying case would have returned a verdict awarding either no punitive damages or punitive damages in a lesser sum?” The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court answered the question in the negative and affirmed the judgment. View "Midwest Sanitary Service, Inc. v. Sandberg, Phoenix & Von Gontard, P.C." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the order of the court of appeals denying a motion for writs of prohibition and mandamus, holding that there was no error.In the underlying medical negligence action, Petitioners filed a petition seeking a writ of prohibition in the court of appeals to prohibit the enforcement of a circuit court order directing them to provide Norton Healthcare with nine years of Facebook data. Alternatively, Petitioners sought a writ of mandamus directing the circuit court to enter a more constrained discovery order. The court of appeals denied the motion for writs of prohibition and mandamus. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Petitioners' series of general objections were without merit, and therefore, the court of appeals did not err in denying the writ. View "Leslie-Johnson v. Hon. Audra Eckerle" on Justia Law

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On November 4, 2016, Kernan had an External Cephalic Version (ECV) procedure to rotate her healthy 39-week fetus from a breech position. The hospital recorded the ECV as successful. Post-procedure fetal monitoring was “reassuring.” The next day, Kernan could not detect fetal movement and returned to the hospital. After an ultrasound, doctors informed Kernan that she had suffered an intrauterine fetal demise and that they could not determine the cause of death. They noted that nothing in the literature linked ECV with fetal demise. Kernan delivered a stillborn baby on November 7. The delivery doctor, Vargas, told Kernan that he could not see any indicators as to why Kernan’s baby died. Kernan eventually ordered an autopsy. After months of delay due to Dr. Vargas not responding to Kernan’s requests to review the autopsy report with her, Kernan met with Dr. Kerns on July 10, 2017, and learned that doctors had discussed her case during a morbidity and mortality conference. Kernan claims she first became subjectively suspicious of medical negligence during that meeting. On November 6, 2017, Kernan served notice of her intention to file suit. Within 90 days, she filed her negligence complaint.The court rejected the suit as time-barred under Code of Civil Procedure 340.5’s one-year limitations period. The court of appeal reversed. The hospital’s records demonstrate that reasonable minds could differ as to whether Kernan should have suspected negligent performance of the ECV on November 5, 2016. View "Kernan v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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In 2002, Douglas Coe, Jacqueline Coe, and GFLIRB, LLC (collectively the “Coes”) were involved in the sale of a company in which they held a substantial interest. Their accountants, BDO Seidman, LLP (“BDO”), advised them of a proposed tax strategy in which the Coes could invest in distressed debt from a foreign company in order to offset their tax obligations. In connection with the proposed tax strategy, BDO advised the Coes to obtain a legal opinion from an independent law firm, Proskauer Rose LLP (“Proskauer”). The Coes followed BDO’s advice, obtained a legal opinion from Proskauer, and claimed losses on their tax returns as a result. But in 2005, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) initiated an audit, which ultimately led to a settlement in 2012. After settling with the IRS, the Coes filed suit against Proskauer in December 2015, asserting legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and other claims. After limited discovery on whether the statute of limitation barred the Coes’ claims, the trial court concluded that it did and granted summary judgment in favor of Proskauer, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals erred in determining that the Coes failed, as a matter of law, to exercise reasonable diligence to discover Proskauer’s allegedly fraudulent acts. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Coe, et al. v. Proskauer Rose, LLP" on Justia Law

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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

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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