Justia Professional Malpractice & Ethics Opinion Summaries

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Fred and Sandra Monaco took legal action against the Faulkner County Assessor and the Faulkner County Tax Collector concerning the 2021 assessment of their property. Sandra Monaco had purchased a parcel of timberland in 2005 and later built a home on it. The property was assessed as agricultural without a building until 2020 when the Assessor's office discovered the improvement and reassessed the property's value. In July 2021, Sandra deeded the property to herself and her husband, Fred, and subsequently filed a form asserting a homestead right on the property and her right to an assessment freeze under amendment 79 of the Arkansas Constitution. Following the Board's upholding of the Assessor's valuation and assessment, Fred filed a petition for writ of mandamus in circuit court, which was denied.The Supreme Court of Arkansas upheld the circuit court's decision on several grounds. Firstly, Fred's attempt to represent Sandra's interests was deemed unauthorized practice of law, rendering the petition null with respect to Sandra's claims. Secondly, Fred could not claim a writ of mandamus as there were other remedies available to him such as appealing the Board's decision. The court found that a writ of mandamus is an extraordinary remedy only issued to enforce an established right or the performance of a duty, and it requires the petitioner to show a clear and certain right to the relief sought and the absence of any other remedy. In this case, Fred failed to meet these requirements. View "MONACO v. LEWIS" on Justia Law

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This case originates from the Supreme Court of Ohio and concerns a defendant, Tyler Wilson, who was charged with attempted murder and felonious assault. The charges stemmed from an altercation at a gas station where Wilson fired a gun out his car window to scare off the other party involved in the dispute. Wilson claimed he acted in self-defense, but the trial court determined that he was not entitled to a self-defense jury instruction because he did not intend to harm or kill the other party. Wilson was found guilty of felonious assault, but not attempted murder.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling that an individual does not need to intend to harm or kill another person to be entitled to a self-defense jury instruction in a criminal trial. The court found that Wilson’s testimony supported the intent element for self-defense and that his trial counsel was ineffective by failing to request a self-defense jury instruction. As such, the court vacated Wilson’s conviction and remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "State v. Wilson" on Justia Law

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In this case, a Georgia Supreme Court decision, the defendant, Remond Sinkfield, was convicted of felony murder and other crimes related to the death of Levi Atkinson. Atkinson died after either jumping or being pushed out of a moving vehicle during an altercation with Sinkfield. The vehicle was then struck by another car.Sinkfield appealed the convictions arguing that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions for felony murder and theft, that the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress a pretrial interview by police, and that the trial court committed plain error in several ways. Moreover, Sinkfield claimed that he was denied effective assistance of counsel due to his trial counsel's deficiencies, including by failing to retain a medical expert to testify as to the cause of Atkinson's death.The Supreme Court of Georgia rejected all of these claims and affirmed the convictions. The court found that the evidence was sufficient to support Sinkfield's convictions, that the trial court did not commit plain error, and that Sinkfield was not denied effective assistance of counsel. The court also found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in various evidentiary rulings. View "SINKFIELD v. THE STATE" on Justia Law

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This case involves two appeals from rulings in a pretrial order related to the indictment of John Ledbetter for two separate murders. The State appeals the trial court's decision to grant Ledbetter’s motion to suppress evidence provided by Ledbetter’s former attorney, Dennis Scheib, to law enforcement, asserting the information was protected by attorney-client privilege. Ledbetter cross-appeals the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress cell phone records obtained through two search warrants.The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed both orders. The court found that the trial court properly granted Ledbetter's motion to suppress evidence provided by Scheib, holding that Ledbetter’s attorney-client privilege had been violated by Scheib’s disclosures to Detective Leonpacher. The court also held that the trial court order did not suppress physical evidence provided by Scheib or "derivative evidence", but rather prohibited the State from presenting evidence to the jury that Scheib, Ledbetter’s attorney, was the source of the physical evidence given to law enforcement.Regarding Ledbetter's cross-appeal, the court concluded that the trial court correctly denied Ledbetter’s motion to suppress his cell phone records. The court found that the search warrants were supported by probable cause and rejected Ledbetter's various challenges to the warrants. Consequently, the court affirmed the trial court's pretrial order in its entirety. View "THE STATE v. LEDBETTER" on Justia Law

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In this case, the California Board of Psychology revoked the license of Dr. Robert Geffner after it found that he had violated the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. The violations were based on his evaluation of two children for suicide risk without their father’s consent, failure to consult their existing therapist, making recommendations beyond the scope of an emergency risk assessment, and delegating the duty to warn the father of one child's thoughts about killing him. Dr. Geffner petitioned for a writ of mandamus to vacate the Board’s decision, but the trial court denied the petition. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the evidence did not support the trial court’s conclusions. The appellate court clarified that the father's consent was not necessary in cases of emergency, as the circumstances suggested, and that Dr. Geffner did not make any custody recommendations. Moreover, the court found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Geffner had a duty to personally warn the father of his son's threat, and thus did not violate any ethical standards. The court directed the trial court to grant Dr. Geffner's petition and reverse the Board's findings. View "Geffner v. Board of Psychology" on Justia Law

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The case involves Magnus Sundholm, a former member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), who sued the HFPA for breach of contract and other claims after his expulsion from the organization. The HFPA moved to disqualify Sundholm's attorneys from the case, asserting that they had reviewed privileged documents that belonged to the HFPA. The trial court granted the motion, leading to Sundholm's appeal.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, found that while Sundholm's attorney had improperly refused to produce documents in response to a subpoena from the HFPA, disqualification of the attorney was not the appropriate remedy. This is because disqualification affects a party's right to counsel of choice and should not be used to punish an attorney for improper conduct. The court further found that there was no evidence that the possession of the HFPA's documents by Sundholm's attorney would prejudice the HFPA in the proceeding.Thus, the court reversed the trial court's order disqualifying Sundholm's attorneys. The summary of this case is based on the court's opinion and does not include any additional information or interpretation. View "Sundholm v. Hollywood Foreign Press Assn." on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the petitioner, Monta Anderson, sought to vacate his guilty plea for conspiring to distribute heroin, claiming that his plea was not knowing and voluntary due to his counsel's alleged ineffective assistance. Anderson argued that his counsel advised him to plead guilty without first consulting a toxicology expert on whether the heroin he distributed was a but-for cause of a user's death. Previously, the court had remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing, concluding that Anderson had articulated a viable claim of attorney ineffectiveness.On remand, Anderson presented evidence that consultation with a toxicology expert would have revealed the government's inability to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the heroin he supplied was a but-for cause of the user's death. However, the government argued that even without the death-results enhancement, Anderson would have faced a mandatory life term due to his prior felony drug convictions and the fact that two individuals suffered serious bodily injuries from overdosing on heroin supplied by Anderson.Having considered the evidence and arguments, the court concluded that Anderson was not prejudiced by any alleged ineffectiveness of his counsel. Even if the death-results enhancement were discounted, Anderson still faced a mandatory life term due to his prior felony drug conviction and the serious bodily injuries caused by his heroin distribution. As such, his decision to plead guilty and accept a 20-year sentence was reasonable. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's judgment denying Anderson's motion to vacate his guilty plea. View "Anderson v. United States" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Supreme Court of Colorado considered a petition from GHP Horwath, P.C., Nadine Pietrowski, Bohn Aguilar, LLC, Michael G. Bohn, and Armando Y. Aguilar, asking the court to permanently enjoin Nina H. Kazazian from proceeding pro se in Colorado state courts. Over the past eleven years, Kazazian, a pro se litigant and former attorney, had initiated at least ten lawsuits and twice as many appeals, most of which were found to be duplicative, meritless, or frivolous. Her actions led to her disbarment and multiple sanctions. The court noted that while every person has the right to access Colorado courts, this right is not absolute and may be curtailed when a pro se party persistently disrupts judicial administration by filing meritless and duplicative claims. The court found that Kazazian's actions placed a strain on judicial resources and were harmful to the public interest. Therefore, the court granted the petitioners' requested relief and ordered that Kazazian be permanently enjoined from proceeding pro se in Colorado state courts. View "GHP Horwath, P.C. v. Kazazian" on Justia Law

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In Nebraska, a man named Hope T. Npimnee was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and sentenced to 35 to 40 years in prison. The victim, identified as S.M., claimed that she was intoxicated when Npimnee had non-consensual sexual contact with her. Npimnee appealed his conviction, arguing that the jury instructions were incorrect and contradictory, that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory that S.M. was so intoxicated as to be incapable of resisting, that the court failed to instruct the jury on the defense of consent, and that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance. The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s conviction and sentence, finding that the jury instructions were correct and that there was sufficient evidence to support the theory that S.M. was so intoxicated as to be incapable of resisting. The Court also found that there was no need for an additional instruction on the defense of consent, as the jury was already required to find that the sexual contact was without consent in order to convict Npimnee. Npimnee's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were dismissed due to insufficiently specific allegations. View "State v. Npimnee" on Justia Law

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In this case, Mike Austin Anderson, the defendant, was convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon, assault resulting in serious bodily injury, and using a gun during a crime of violence. These charges stemmed from an incident that took place on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Mississippi, where Anderson shot Julian McMillan after an argument. On appeal, Anderson contested that the district court erred in ruling that the prosecution presented sufficient evidence for the jury to return guilty verdicts, despite the court's self-defense instruction. He also argued that the district court wrongly denied his pretrial motion to recuse the lead prosecutor and the entire United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Mississippi due to a conflict of interest. Anderson claimed that the lead prosecutor had previously represented him and his father while working as a public defender in Choctaw Tribal Court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, holding that the evidence against Anderson was sufficient and that the district court did not err in denying his recusal motion. The appellate court found no substantial relationship between the prosecutor's prior representation of Anderson and the current federal prosecution against him. View "USA v. Anderson" on Justia Law