Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Brock-Miller pled guilty, with a plea agreement, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin. She received a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. She then challenged her conviction under 28 U.S.C. 2255, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. The court declined to hold a hearing and denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for a hearing. The district court erred when it concluded that her prior conviction under Indiana Code 16- 42-19-18 was a felony drug offense under 21 U.S.C. 802(44) and that Brock-Miller was eligible for a recidivist enhancement. The court analyzed the wrong version of the state law; there is little to no overlap between the controlled substances listed in the federal definition of “felony drug offense” and the prescription “legend drugs” regulated by the Indiana law. Counsel’s apparent error in identifying the applicable Indiana statute and failure to file a plainly meritorious objection could constitute deficient performance if proved. View "Brock v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Dobbs hired McLaughlin to represent him in a products liability suit against DePuy for a 35% contingency fee agreement. The attorney filed Dobbs’s complaint in the DePuy Hip Implant Multidistrict Litigation in the Northern District of Ohio. In 2013, DePuy proposed a settlement, offering parties represented by counsel on a certain date $250,000 and parties not represented $177,500. Dobbs stated that he did not want to settle. McLaughlin advised Dobbs to accept the settlement due to the costs of going to trial. Dobbs moved to remove McLaughlin as his counsel. The motion was granted in January 2015, leaving Dobbs unrepresented. In February 2015, Dobbs decided to accept the settlement offer. Though he was then unrepresented, he was considered a represented party under the settlement terms, entitling him to a base award of $250,000. McLaughlin asserted a lien on Dobbs’s award and sought attorneys’ fees under quantum meruit. The fee dispute was transferred to the Northern District of Illinois, which awarded McLaughlin 35% of Dobbs’s base settlement award, $87,500. Following a remand, the court considered evidence, addressed each quantum meruit factor, and again awarded $87,500. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court considered all of the relevant evidence and engaged in a thoughtful analysis of the factors required by Illinois law, given that it was not the court that presided over the underlying litigation. View "Dobbs v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2002 a Greyhound bus struck and killed Claudia. Her daughter, Cristina, age seven, witnessed the accident. In 2016 Cristina settled claims against Greyhound and other potentially responsible persons for $5 million. Klein, Cristina’s stepfather, believes that Cristina allocated too much of the settlement to herself as damages for emotional distress and not enough to him. His suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged that Cristina conspired with state judges, law firms, Greyhound, and others, to exclude him from financial benefits. Klein sued as the purported administrator of Claudia’s estate although he had not been appointed as administrator. Klein and Cristina became co-administrators, but Klein was soon removed by a state judge. Defendants asked the federal judge to dismiss the suit as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which only the U.S. Supreme Court may review the civil state court judgments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal on the merits. Collateral litigation in federal court is blocked by principles of preclusion and by Rooker's holding that errors committed in state litigation cannot be treated as federal constitutional torts. The court noted that the “long and tangled history" of the case was caused by Klein’s (or his lawyer’s) "inability or unwillingness to litigate as statutes and rules require.” They had neither briefed the proper issue on appeal nor attached the judgment, as required. “They are not entitled to divert the time of federal judges” and will be penalized for any further attempts. View "Xydakis v. O'Brien" on Justia Law

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Jansen pleaded guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and tax evasion, 26 U.S.C. 7201. Before sentencing, Jansen’s third attorney (Steinback) withdrew. His new attorney, Beaumont, requested Rule 16 discovery and obtained 42,700 documents. Jansen filed a pro se motion to continue his sentencing proceedings because none of his prior attorneys had requested or reviewed those documents. Weeks later, Beaumont withdrew, citing irreconcilable differences; he was replaced by Richards. Jansen indicated to the court that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea as not “knowing and voluntary” because of ineffective assistance of counsel. Richards also withdrew. The court permitted Jansen to proceed pro se but denied his motion to withdraw his plea and sentenced Jansen to 70 months’ imprisonment with a restitution payment of $269,978 to the IRS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, remanding the issue of restitution to allow the district court to clarify that its imposition of restitution is a condition of supervised release rather than a criminal penalty. The district court made the sound factual finding that Jansen hired Steinback “to negotiate the best possible plea agreement,” not to go to trial. Steinback formulated a “four-fold” “tactical strategy” that included forgoing investigation and discovery so that such a strategy was objectively reasonable. View "United States v. Jansen" on Justia Law

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Doe sought lawful permanent residence in the U.S. under the EB-5 visa program, which requires applicants to invest in a new U.S. commercial enterprise, 8 U.S.C. 1153(b)(5)(A). Doe invested $500,000 in Elgin Assisted Living EB-5 Fund, to build and operate a memory care facility. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied Doe’s petition because the facility had not been built since it was proposed in 2011. Doe filed suit. The court granted the government summary judgment. Doe is represented by the three-attorney Kameli Law Group. Floss, an associate, is Doe’s counsel of record. Kameli is the firm’s principal. While briefing was underway, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit, accusing Kameli of defrauding 226 immigrants who invested over $88 million. Kameli allegedly misappropriated the memory care center's funds. The Seventh Circuit disqualified the firm from Doe’s appeal. The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit representation if “there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest.” Neither of Kameli's conflicts can be waived by informed client consent. It “strains credulity to think that Kameli would be diligent.” Kameli would not advise Doe to allege fraud and seek reconsideration of the USCIS decision. Kameli also has divided obligations to his investor-clients, which create an unacceptably high risk of materially limiting Doe’s representation by Floss. View "Doe v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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Jaworski provided construction services to Master Hand, an Illinois general contractor, over several years. Some of these services went unpaid. Jaworski alleged violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and the Employee Classification Act, which makes it unlawful for construction firms to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor. The Classification Act presumes that the complainant is an employee unless the contractor proves otherwise; a misclassified employee is entitled to double “the amount of any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to the person by reason of the violation.” The judge held that Master Hand had misclassified Jaworski and was entitled to the compensation guaranteed by the Minimum Wage Law and Wage Payment and Collection Act without having to prove that he is an employee. Those statutes do not include the presumption that plaintiffs are employees. The judge rejected Master Hand’s insolvency defense and ordered Master Hand to pay $200,000 in damages, plus $150,000 in attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, adding attorneys’ fees for the frivolous appeal. The court declined to review the rulings challenged by Master Hand, as a sanction for failure to follow court rules. View "Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law

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The district court ordered Jackson to pay Cooke the death benefit on her husband’s life insurance policy and to reimburse Cooke’s legal expenses. The court concluded that her husband died before the end of a grace period allowed for late premium payments and that Jackson should have expedited the litigation by attaching documents to its answer and by making some arguments sooner. The court’s order granted Cooke summary judgment but stated: This case is hereby dismissed with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction under the final-decision rule, 28 U.S.C. 1291. The order is contradictory and does not provide relief. It states that a motion has been granted and an award made, but it does not say who is entitled to what; it “transgresses almost every rule applicable to judgments.” A second document avoided the internal contradiction but lacked vital details and the judge’s signature. The court later entered an order specifying that Jackson must pay $191,362.06 on the insurance policy, plus 10% per annum simple interest, which Jackson paid, but did not specify the amount of attorneys’ fees. A declaration of liability, including an award of attorneys' fees, lacking an amount due is not final and cannot be appealed. View "Cooke v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Shen Zhen was to renovate a Los Angeles hotel and operate it using Hyatt’s business methods and trademarks. Later, Hyatt declared that Shen Zhen was in breach. An arbitrator concluded that Shen Zhen owes Hyatt $7.7 million in damages plus $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed an order of enforcement, Shen Zhen stated that it is unwilling to reimburse Hyatt's legal expenses unless Hyatt prevails in a separate arbitration, then asked the American Arbitration Association to dismiss on the ground that the award of fees is exclusively a judicial matter. Shen Zhen also petitioned the Central District of California to relieve it of any obligation to comply with the award and “countermand a final decision of the Seventh Circuit.” The court stated “it is hard to find words to describe the conduct of a party that refuses to accept not only the arbitrator’s decision but also a final judicial outcome and scours the nation in search of a different opinion” and ordered Shen Zhen to pay Hyatt’s fees and costs in the district court and on appeal as a sanction for unnecessary and pointless litigation. The court ordered Shen Zhen’s lawyers to show cause why they should not be held jointly and severally responsible for these fees under 28 U.S.C. 1927. View "Hyatt Franchising, L.L.C. v. Shen Zhen New World I, LLC" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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In 2007, Kaufman filed a class‐action lawsuit based on Amex’s sale of prepaid gift cards. The packaging declared the cards were “good all over.” Kaufman alleged that these cards were not worth their stated value and were not “good all over” because merchants were ill‐equipped to process “split‐tender” transactions when a holder attempted to purchase an item that cost more than the value remaining on his card. After 12 months Amex automatically charged a “monthly service fee” against card balances. Kaufman alleged Amex designed the program to make it difficult to exhaust the cards' balances. Following the denial of Amex’s motion to compel arbitration, settlement negotiations, and the entry of intervenors, the court certified the class for settlement purposes but denied approval of a settlement, citing the inadequacy of the proposed notice. Response to notices of a second proposed settlement was “abysmal.” A supplemental notice program provided notice to 70% of the class; the court again denied approval. After another round of notice, the court granted final approval in 2016, noting the small rate of opt‐outs and objectors. The court awarded $1,000,000 in fees and $40,000 in expenses to the Plaintiffs’ counsel, $250,000 to additional class counsel, and $700,000 in fees to intervenors' counsel: attorneys would receive $1,950,000. The court concluded the total value of the claims was $9.6 million, that, considering the number of claims and the value of supplemental programs, the total benefit to the class was $1.8 million, and that recovering $9.6 million was unlikely. The Seventh Circuit concluded that the court did not abuse its discretion, despite the settlement’s “issues.” View "Goodman v. American Express Travel Related Services Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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DeKelaita provided legal representation for immigrants applying for asylum under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42)(A). Applicants for asylum must sit for an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer and must provide a translator if one is needed. DeKelaita’s clients were primarily Assyrian or Chaldean Christians from Muslim‐ruled countries, such as Iraq. Many had suffered persecution, but their eligibility was doubtful because they either had already found refuge in another county or their history failed to meet the requirements for asylum. For at least nine clients, DeKelaita concealed evidence that the applicant had obtained legal status in a safe country or fabricated information about persecution. At the interview DeKelaita was able to ensure that applicants stuck to the script by coaching interpreters. He was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government and for three false statements he either made or induced on his final (Albqal’s) application. The court vacated the three convictions related to Albqal’s application. The jury unanimously found only one false statement in Albqal’s application, but the court ruled that this statement was immaterial to his receipt of asylum. The court concluded that the government had failed to prove an element of the substantive crimes, leaving only the conspiracy conviction, which the Seventh Circuit affirmed. DeKelaita argued that the government failed to prove an overarching conspiracy. The jury had sufficient evidence to convict DeKelaita for either the charged conspiracy or a subsection of it. View "United States v. Dekelaita" on Justia Law