Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Appellant, an experienced bankruptcy attorney, represented Debtor, who sought relief under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code. During the proceedings, Appellant engaged in conduct that caused the bankruptcy court to order Appellant to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9011(b)(2). The bankruptcy court subsequently found that Appellant twice described the applicable law in a manner that it deemed to be misleading and imposed a sanction in the form of a non-monetary penalty. The First Circuit affirmed the bankruptcy court’s order imposing a sanction on Appellant, holding that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in construing Appellant’s submissions as sufficiently misleading so as to warrant a sanction. View "Baker v. Harrington" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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During the underlying litigation, Attorney Jeffrey Ryan, counsel for the plaintiff, attempted to engage in allegedly surreptitious communication with his client while a question was pending at a deposition. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for discovery sanctions, concluding that Ryan did indeed attempt to communicate surreptitiously with his client, that Ryan manufactured false evidence, and that Ryan lied to the court. The court ordered Ryan to pay monetary sanctions and directed him to show cause why it should not revoke his permission to practice pro hac vice for the plaintiff for flagrant violations of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. After considering Ryan's response and conducting a de novo review of the entire record, the district court again found that Ryan lied to the court and opposing counsel and submitted false evidence and issued an order revoking Ryan’s pro hac vice admission. The First Circuit affirmed the orders revoking Ryan’s pro hac vice admission and imposing monetary sanctions, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the sanction for Ryan’s misbehavior. View "Ryan v. Astra Tech, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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In 2010, Plaintiff, then fifty-eight years old, applied for a job with Defendant. Defendant extended a written offer of employment, which Plaintiff accepted, but before Plaintiff started on the job, Defendant rescinded the offer. Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant alleging, among other claims, that the rescission of the employment offer was a by-product of age discrimination. Defendant removed the case to the federal district court. Thereafter, Plaintiff’s attorneys blundered time and again, which led to the district court issuing an order for Plaintiff to show cause why his case should not be dismissed. After the district court received no response from Plaintiff, it dismissed the case. Plaintiff subsequently filed a motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b) asking the court to set aside the judgment due to the neglect of one of Plaintiff’s attorneys. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, given Plaintiff’s persistent pattern of noncompliance, the district court’s refusal to set aside the order of dismissal was not an abuse of discretion. View "Rivera-Velazquez v. Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Appellant acted as counsel in district court for a criminal defendant (“Defendant”) who pleaded guilty to several charges arising out of a carjacking. The day before a disposition hearing was scheduled to take place, Appellant moved for a continuance, stating that she could not attend the scheduled sentencing because it conflicted with the commencement of a trial in another criminal case. The district court denied the motion. The court subsequently fined Appellant a monetary sanction, stating that Appellant had not been “candid with the Court” because she entered her appearance in the second case subsequent to requesting the continuance of Defendant’s sentencing. Appellant sought a vacation of the monetary sanction, asserting that she had been a key participant in the second case for several months. The district court denied relief. The First Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sanctions order and expunged the sanction, holding that the district court abused its discretion in sanctioning Appellant, as there was no appropriate basis for a finding that Appellant had not been candid with the court. View "In re Plaza-Martinez" on Justia Law

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When Plaintiff retained a Maine law firm to represent him in a legal action, he signed an attorney-client engagement letter that contained an arbitration provision. Plaintiff later sued the law firm and individual defendants (collectively, Defendants) for malpractice and violations of Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Act. Defendants moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. The district court granted the motion under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred in enforcing the arbitration clause. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting the motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the action, as (1) Maine professional responsibility law for attorneys permits arbitration of legal malpractice claims so long as there is no prospective limitation on the law firm's liability; and (2) Maine law, like the FAA, is not hostile to the use of the arbitration forum, and Maine would enforce the arbitration of malpractice claims provision in this case. View "Bezio v. Draeger" on Justia Law

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After the Office of Professional Responsibility of the Department of Justice found Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey Auerhahn and others had withheld exculpatory information from two federal criminal defendants who were convicted and served substantial terms in prison, the Massachusetts district court asked the Massachusetts Bar Counsel to investigate Auerhahn's conduct and recommend whether to initiate disciplinary proceedings. Bar Counsel filed a petition for an order to show cause why Auerhahn should not be terminated. A three-judge panel appointed by the court denied Bar Counsel's petition in all respects, concluding that Auerhahn had not violated any rules of professional conduct. Bar Counsel appealed. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, holding that Bar Counsel lacked standing to appeal the district court's decision because Bar Counsel was not a party to Auerhahn's disciplinary proceedings. View "In re Auerhahn" on Justia Law

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James "Whitey" Bulger was the leader of a criminal organization in Boston from 1972 to 1999. An indictment returned by a federal grand jury charged Bulger with a number of federal offenses, including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and the indictment alleged that Bulger committed nineteen murders ancillary to the RICO conspiracy. Bulger's case was assigned to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns. Bulger moved that Judge Stearns recuse himself, arguing that the judge's prior employment as head of the U.S. Attorney's Criminal Division in Boston and his close friendship with FBI Director Robert Mueller created an appearance of impropriety necessitating recusal. Judge Stearns denied the motion. Bulger subsequently petitioned the First Circuit Court of Appeals for a writ of mandamus requiring reversal of the judge's order denying the motion for recusal. In an opinion written by Hon. David H. Souter, the First Circuit granted the petition and ordered the case to be reassigned to a different judge "because it is clear that a reasonable person would question the capacity for impartiality of any judicial officer with the judge's particular background in the federal prosecutorial apparatus in Boston during the period covered by the accusations." View "In re Bulger" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from the behavior of Appellant, an attorney, during a case in which he made accusations against opposing counsel. After the trial in the case, the trial court held that sanctions were warranted because of the "heedless and unnecessary damage" to the other attorney's reputation. The court admonished Appellant under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b) for his conduct but did not impose any sanction beyond the admonishment itself. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in admonishing Appellant for the accusations he made against opposing counsel concerning conversion, usury, and false statements. View "Balerna v. Gilberti" on Justia Law

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In a suit alleging engine defects in Volkswagen and Audi vehicles, the district court awarded $30 million in attorneys' fees to several groups of plaintiffs' attorneys who achieved a class action settlement agreement. The award was based in federal law. The First Circuit vacated the fee award and remanded for calculation using Massachusetts law. In a diversity suit, where the settlement agreement expressly states that the parties have not agreed on the source of law to apply to the fee award and there is an agreement that the defendants will pay reasonable fees, state law governs the fee award. View "Volkswagen Grp of Am. v. McNulty Law Firm" on Justia Law

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Companion was authorized to license space in Wal-Mart stores to companies that sell durable medical equipment and entered into licensing agreements with defendants. In 2007, defendants shut down operations. Companion sued. Problems arose during discovery, including defense counsel motions to withdraw, allegations of inadequate responses to discovery requests, objections to the scope of discovery, refusal to attend depositions, motions to compel, multiple extensions, and claims of obstruction. After three years, the district judge imposed a default as to all counts, based on discovery violations by the defendants. The court eventually lifted the default except as to Companion's veil piercing claim, allowing the substantive claims to go to trial. A jury found for Companion and awarded more than $1 million in damages. Defendants, personally liable as a result of the default, appealed. The First Circuit vacated the default and remanded, "because the district court imposed such a severe sanction based on a very limited slice of the relevant facts." View "Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc." on Justia Law