Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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A federal grand jury issued a subpoena to a law office, commanding production of documents relating to a real estate transaction. The attorney obtained the client's consent and complied. The client changed his mind, notified USAO that the documents were privileged, and moved to quash the subpoena.The district court found that the documents were not privileged. The First Circuit affirmed. The district court acted within its discretion in conducting an in camera review; the client's generalized assertion of privilege did not establish that privilege attached to any particular document. The documents would have been disclosed at closing and the attorney essentially acted as a scrivener and disburser of funds. The request for production did not implicate the privilege against self-incriminating testimony.

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The former (2001-2006) Assistant Secretary of State for Protocol Affairs at the Puerto Rico State Department sued the Secretary of State under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the official fired him due to his political affiliation. The district court dismissed, holding that plaintiff could be terminated without cause because he held a trust position for which party affiliation was an appropriate qualification, and fined plaintiff's attorneys $1000 each, concluding that the pleadings and responses that they submitted violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b). The First Circuit affirmed; plaintiff's position was not federally protected against political discrimination. The pleadings at issue consisted, in large part, of speculation and conclusory allegations lacking evidentiary support.

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In a suit under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 106, described by the court as the equivalent of hand-to-hand combat, the plaintiff settled with some defendants for $30,000. After trial plaintiff obtained injunctive relief and statutory damages in the amount of $40,000 against others, offset by the $30,000 settlement. The court awarded $98,745 in attorney fees; a motion for costs, initially denied, remained pending. The First Circuit affirmed, first noting that the district court had cured a jurisdictional defect by awarding $3,413.05 in costs. The district court correctly applied the lodestar method. Although the fees exceed the award, the violation was willful and the injunctive relief may be worth more that the award of damages. While a rejected Rule 68 offer, not improved upon at trial, obligates the plaintiff to pay the defense costs incurred subsequent to the rejection the offer plaintiff made before trial was not a Rule 68 offer.