Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Claimant appealed the district court's fee award after he prevailed against the federal government in a civil asset forfeiture action and became entitled to an award of attorney’s fees under the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), 28 U.S.C. 2465(b)(1)(A). The court concluded that the district court correctly noted that the the lodestar method, which calculates a fee award by multiplying the market billing rate by the hours reasonably expended, applies to CAFRA awards even when there is a contingency agreement. The court concluded that the fee target has, through its inaction in the district court, waived any right on appeal to present new evidence to challenge the district court’s factual finding of reasonableness; nor can the target challenge the absence of an evidentiary hearing in the district court. The court concluded that the district court erred in several respects: it failed to afford claimant's rate of presumption of reasonableness; the district court entirely ignored the hourly rates discussed in the three declarations from forfeiture experts; the district court erred in finding that forfeiture work resembled criminal defense litigation; the district court erred in finding that the claimed hourly fee should be lowered because much of the work could have been delegated to associates with lower billing rates at a large law firm; and the district court erred by relying on an award almost nine years old in determining the prevailing market hourly rate. Further, the district court erred by reducing the hours claimed by over forty percent where the district court only identified 6.75 hours that it found objectionable. Finally, the district court also erred by reducing the lodestar because of the contingency fee. Accordingly, the court vacated the fee award and remanded for recalculation. View "United States v. Moser" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Kaass Law challenged the district court's grant of Wells Fargo's motion for sanctions against it under 28 U.S.C. 1927. The district court ruled that “Kaass Law acted in bad faith by knowingly raising frivolous arguments against Wells Fargo and other defendants[.]” The court reversed and vacated the district court's order, holding that section 1927 does not permit the imposition of sanctions against a law firm. View "Kaass Law v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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After claimants defeated the Government's attempts to forfeit property seized in connection with a criminal investigation, claimants received significant awards of attorney's fees. Claimants' lawyer asked the district court that he be paid those fees directly, pursuant to an assignment in their representation agreement. The Government asserts that the Anti-Assignment Act, 31 U.S.C. 3727, voids such an assignment. The court concluded that the Government is not estopped from asserting the Anti-Assignment Act; the Act applies to and voids an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), 28 U.S.C. 2465; and an award of attorney's fees under CAFRA is a claim against the United States to which the Act applies. The Act does not prevent an attorney from taking an interest in the fees that is effective against the Government; it merely forbids an assignment of the right to be paid directly from the United States Treasury. The court vacated the district court's order awarding attorney's fees directly to the lawyer because the Act applies to void the assignment in the representation agreement between claimants and the lawyer. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Kim" on Justia Law

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Sanctionees Hancock, Musnuff, and Goodyear appealed from the district court's award of sanctions, arguing that the district court abused its discretion in relying upon its inherent power to impose sanctions, and in determining the amount and the nature of the sanctions imposed. The court concluded that Sanctionees’ argument that the district court should have relied on Federal Rule of Civil Produce 37 fails because the district court's inherent power is not limited by overlapping statutes or rules. The court held that it was not an abuse of discretion for the district court to rely on its inherent power to sanction the conduct at issue in this case, and to determine that Rule 37 did not provide the appropriate remedy, especially since the discovery fraud was not discovered until after the case had settled. In this case, it is clear the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Hancock, Musnuff, and Goodyear acted in bad faith in this litigation; the district court acted well within its discretion in awarding all the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by plaintiffs after Goodyear served its supplemental responses to plaintiffs’ First Request; and the court affirmed the monetary and non-monetary sanctions set forth in the district court’s Order. View "Haeger v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co." on Justia Law

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The United States filed a petition for a writ of mandamus challenging a district judge’s policy restricting the pro hac vice admission of government attorneys. After the petition was filed, the district judge reversed his previous order denying an attorney in this case pro hac vice admission. The court concluded that the case was not moot and that the controversy remains live where it was reasonably likely that the judge will again deny the pro hac vice applications of attorneys for the United States; while the reversal of the challenged order did not render this controversy moot, it rendered a formal writ of mandamus a superfluous or ineffective remedy here; in this case, the judge acted outside his discretion by failing to provide a valid reason to deny the attorney's application for pro hac vice admission; the judge committed clear error; the first and second Bauman v. U.S. District Court factors weighed in favor of issuing mandamus when the petition was filed, and weigh in favor of offering guidance to the district court; the fact that the judge's order in this case was not an isolated occurrence weighed in favor of granting mandamus relief when the petition was filed; the district court's order raises important problems or issues of first impression and weighed in favor of mandamus relief when the petition was filed and weighs in favor of offering guidance to the district court even though a formal writ is no longer necessary; and issuing a formal writ would have been an appropriate remedy but for the judge’s voluntary cessation. Accordingly, the court denied the petition without prejudice. View "USA V. USDC-NVR" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against justices of the Arizona Supreme Court challenging the Arizona Supreme Court Rule 34(f) (the AOM Rule). The AOM Rule permits admission on motion to the Arizona Bar for attorneys who are admitted to practice law in states that permit Arizona attorneys to be admitted to the bars of those states on a basis equivalent to Arizona’s AOM Rule, but requires attorneys admitted to practice law in states that do not have such reciprocal admission rules to take the uniform bar exam (UBE) in order to gain admission to the Arizona Bar. The court concluded that although plaintiffs can establish Article III standing based on injuries suffered by Plaintiff Girvin, plaintiffs failed to establish that the AOM Rule is unconstitutional on First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, or Privileges and Immunities Clause grounds. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the justices. View "NAAMJP V. Berch" on Justia Law

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Appellant, an attorney, appealed the district court's order finding that he committed ethical violations, and disqualifying him from representing plaintiff in a pending action against Gateway. Appellant's violations stemmed from his use of knowledge gained from questionably-obtained emails to prepare a public records request. The court dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because the ethical violations are intertwined with the disqualification order and the United States Supreme Court has held that disqualification is not subject to interlocutory appeal. View "Thurbon v. Gateway Unified Sch. Dist." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that defendants failed to provide necessary services for students with diabetes in California public schools. The parties subsequently entered into a settlement agreement and the district court retained limited jurisdiction to enforce the agreement. After the district court's jurisdiction had expired per the terms of the settlement agreement, plaintiffs filed a motion seeking attorneys' fees for monitoring defendants' compliance with the agreement. The district court denied the motion for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that the district court erred in failing to recognize the distinction between ancillary jurisdiction to enforce the settlement agreement and ancillary jurisdiction over an attorney's fees dispute. While the settlement agreement limited the district court's ancillary jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the parties' settlement, it did not affect the district court's ancillary jurisdiction over an attorneys' fees dispute. Thus, the district court has ancillary jurisdiction over plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees. The court reversed and remanded. View "K.C. v. Torlakson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Ringgold and Ringgold-Lockhart appealed the district court's vexatious litigant order. The court concluded that the district court provided proper notice and an opportunity to be heard, in accordance with the court's case law's first procedural requirement and due process; the district court compiled an adequate record to permit the court to review the basis of its order; the district court failed to consider alternative sanctions before issuing this injunction; the district court erred by issuing an order against Ringgold-Lockhart on the basis of state litigation in which he played no part; and the scope of the order is too broad in several respects. Accordingly, the court vacated the order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ringgold-Lockhart v. County of Los Angeles" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs commenced this action against their attorney and his law firm in state court for legal malpractice, alleging that the attorney was negligent in the performance of his duties as counsel to the unsecured creditors' committee. At issue was whether the bankruptcy court properly exercised jurisdiction over the malpractice action for the committee and correctly dismissed the claim. The court concluded that the district court properly concluded that the bankruptcy court had jurisdiction over the removed legal malpractice action because it was a core proceeding. In this case, the employment of the attorney was approved by the bankruptcy court and was governed by 11 U.S.C. 1103; the attorney's duties pertained solely to the administration of the bankruptcy estate; and the claim asserted by plaintiffs was based solely on acts that occurred in the administration of the estate. The court also concluded that the district court correctly concluded that the bankruptcy court did not err in dismissing the complaint because the attorney did not owe an individual duty of care. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the case on the merits. View "Schultze, et al. v. Chandler, Sr., et al." on Justia Law