Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Plaintiff-petitioner Jane Doe, a student-employee in the campus police department at Southwestern College, brought claims relating to sexual harassment and sexual assault against defendants-real parties Southwestern Community College District and three District employees. Her complaint also alleged sexual harassment of two other female District employees, which was presumably relevant to Doe's allegations because it provided notice to the District regarding similar misconduct by at least one of the involved employees, campus police officer Ricardo Suarez. Before her deposition could take place, one of those female employees, Andrea P., was contacted by one of Doe's lawyers, Manuel Corrales, Jr. When they discovered this contact, defendants moved to disqualify Corrales for violating Rule 4.2 of the California State Bar Rules of Professional Conduct, which generally prohibits a lawyer from communicating with "a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter." The trial court granted the motion. Although the District offered to provide counsel for Andrea, the Court of Appeal found there was no evidence that at the time of the contact she had accepted the offer or otherwise retained counsel. The Court issued a writ directing the superior court to vacate its order disqualifying Corrales as Doe's counsel in this matter. View "Doe v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from a civil action brought by United Grand to recover overdue rent from Malibu Hillbillies and its guarantor. After a default judgment, United Grand sought almost $2 million in attorney fees for its efforts to enforce the judgment against the guarantor. The trial court subsequently found that United Grand had engaged in extensive misconduct throughout the duration of the action and imposed a terminating sanction striking from the complaint United Grand's prayer for attorney fees. However, the trial court also entered judgment in favor of United Grand and against the guarantor in the amount of the unpaid rent and accrued interest she had already paid. The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of dismissal, the order dissolving the injunction and the order denying attorney fees on appeal. The court held that many of United Grand's claims were forfeited and the few cognizable claims of error were meritless. Finally, the court dismissed the appeal from the sanctions orders. View "United Grand Corp. v. Malibu Hillbillies, LLC" on Justia Law

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From 2011 to 2015, Appellant Attorney Joanna Vogel represented plaintiff-respondent Angele Lasalle in the dissolution of a registered domestic partnership with Minh Tho Si Luu. Lasalle repeatedly failed to provide discovery in that case, and the court defaulted her as a terminating sanction. She said her failure to provide discovery was caused by Vogel not keeping her informed of discovery orders, so she sued Vogel for legal malpractice. A default judgment was entered against Vogel. Vogel successfully moved to set aside the default judgment pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 473(b). In response, LaSalle’s new lawyer asked the trial court to take judicial notice of state bar disciplinary proceedings against Vogel which stayed her ability to practice law. The set aside motion was then denied, and a year later, a default judgment was entered against Vogel for $1 million. She appealed the default and denial of her motion to set aside the default. The Court of Appeal reversed: “[w]e sympathize with the court below and opposing counsel. We have all encountered dilatory tactics and know how frustrating they can be. But we cannot see this as such a situation, and cannot countenance the way this default was taken, so we reverse the judgment.” View "Lasalle v. Vogel" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the denial of his petition to compel arbitration of a fee dispute with his former attorneys pursuant to the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act (MFAA), Business and Professions Code section 6200, et seq. The trial court found that defendant waived his right to arbitration under the MFAA by failing to request arbitration within the required 30 days. The Court of Appeal held that it lacked jurisdiction to consider defendant's appeal because the denial of a petition to compel a MFAA arbitration is not an appealable order. The court held that Code of Civil Procedure section 1294, subsection (a) did not authorize the instant appeal, and the court declined to treat the appeal as a writ petition. Finally, the court held that sanctions were not warranted and LAK could not be awarded attorney fees for representing itself. View "Levinson Arshonsky & Kurtz LLP v. Kim" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal modified its prior opinion and inserted the following paragraph: The probate court's orders (1) striking Key's No Contest Petition under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16; (2) awarding attorney fees to prevailing parties on their motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16; and (3) denying Key's motion for attorney fees on appeal are reversed. The case is remanded for further proceedings on Key's petition and for determination of Key's reasonable attorney fees in defending Tyler's appeal in case No. B258055. On remand, the trial court shall determine whether those fees are to be paid solely from Tyler's share of the Trust estate (if any). Key is entitled to her costs on this appeal. The court's modification changed the judgment and the petition for rehearing was denied. View "Key v. Tyler" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The San Mateo County Assessor assessed Silverado’s assisted living facility’s fair market value for property tax purposes at $26.4 million for the October 2011 base year value assessment and the 2012/2013 regular assessment. Silverado appealed. The County Assessment Appeals Board found that the income approach analysis was appropriate for determining the fair market value based on the present value of the property’s expected future income stream. The trial court found that the Board appropriately used an income approach analysis but agreed with Silverado that the analysis did not adequately make “all necessary deductions” to remove the value of intangible assets that Silverado claimed had been impermissibly subsumed in the assessment value. The court remanded for the “narrow purpose” of allowing the Board to clarify its valuation using an income approach analysis, based on the evidence that had been admitted at the administrative hearings. Silverado sought attorney fees under Revenue and Taxation Code 1611.6 and 5152. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. Because the Board’s resolution of Silverado’s appeals was neither arbitrary nor capricious, nor caused by a legal position taken in bad faith, no award is warranted under section 1611.6. With respect to section 5152, there was no basis for finding that a tax law or regulation was unconstitutional or invalid. View "SSL Landlord, LLC v. County of San Mateo" on Justia Law

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In July 2012, Maguire, represented by attorney Bornstein, brought an unlawful detainer action against Connelly. In September 2012, Maguire voluntarily dismissed the unlawful detainer action. On September 16, 2014, Connelly sued Maguire and Bornstein for malicious prosecution, alleging the two “actively were involved in brin[g]ing and maintaining” the unlawful detainer action, which ended in appellant’s favor; “no reasonable person in [Maguire and Bornstein’s] circumstances would have believed that there were reasonable grounds” to bring and/or maintain the action; and Maguire and Bornstein “acted primarily for a purpose other than succeeding on the merits” of the action. The trial court dismissed, citing the one-year statute of limitations in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6(a), governing “[a]n action against an attorney for a wrongful act or omission, other than for actual fraud, arising in the performance of professional services.” The court of appeal affirmed, recognizing that finding section 340.6(a) applicable to malicious prosecution claims against attorneys will result in a one-year statute of limitations for such claims, while a two-year statute of limitations will apply to malicious prosecution claims against litigants. View "Connelly v. Bornstein" on Justia Law

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Jarvis Properties, a limited partnership, owns a parcel of land. Its general partners, Todd and James (brothers), each own a 50 percent interest in the partnership, which is less than the majority consent required to act on behalf of the partnership (Corp. Code, 15904.06(a)). The brothers cannot agree on what to do about the parcel. Their partnership agreement does not address decision-making deadlocks. James sought partition by sale, naming Todd and Jarvis Properties as defendants. Todd hired his own lawyer and hired a separate lawyer, Roscoe, to represent the partnership. James objected to having Roscoe represent the partnership and moved to disqualify Roscoe. James argued that Roscoe was not authorized to act by the requisite majority of the general partners and that Roscoe, who took the position that he was not subject to the direction of either partner and was being paid by Todd, was not acting in the best interests of the partnership and would run up unnecessary litigation costs and deplete the partnership’s limited assets. The court of appeal affirmed an order disqualifying Roscoe. James had a sufficient interest to challenge Roscoe’s authority, having demonstrated a risk that Roscoe's representation may advance Todd’s interests and may not be in the Partnership's best interests. On remand, the court may wish to explore options for resolving deadlock at the entity level and consider appointing a receiver or other neutral. View "Jarvis v. Jarvis" on Justia Law

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Richmond issued its first medical marijuana collective permit to RCCC. Three other permits were later issued. The ordinance was amended to reduce the number of dispensary permits from six to three; if a permitted dispensary did not open within six months after the issuance of a permit, the permit would expire. RCCC lost its permit. RCCC filed an antitrust complaint under the Cartwright Act, alleging that the other dispensaries paid for community opposition to RCCC’s applications and also purchased a favorably zoned property. Defendants filed a joint anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16), which was granted as to allegations related to protected activity--statements made before the city council and defendants’ actions in opposing RCCC’s application. Allegations related to the property purchase were not stricken. Some defendants sought attorney fees. The trial judge determined that “defendants prevailed on their” anti-SLAPP motions and awarded 7 Stars $23,120 plus costs of $688.12. The court of appeal affirmed. There is no conflict between the anti-SLAPP statute, which permits an award of attorneys’ fees to a defendant and the Cartwright Act, which permits only a plaintiff to be “awarded a reasonable attorneys’ fee together with the costs of the suit” (Bus. & Prof. Code 16750(a)). View "Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation" on Justia Law

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Following the termination of his employment, plaintiff Fernando Martinez sued Stephen Stratton O’Hara (O’Hara), Career Solution and Candidate Acquisitions (CSCA), O’Hara Family Trust, OCRE, Inc., Professional Realty Council, Inc., and Pacific Valley Realty, Inc. (collectively, defendants) alleging five employment-related claims. Plaintiff’s wage claim was resolved before trial and his fraud claim was dismissed when the trial court granted defendants’ motion for nonsuit. A jury returned a verdict awarding a total of $8,080 in damages on the claim for sexual harassment in violation of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Following a bench trial of plaintiff’s remaining claims seeking an injunction for unfair advertising and unfair business practices, the trial court found in favor of defendants. Plaintiff moved for attorney fees, which was denied. Plaintiff appealed the fee order, but the Court of Appeal affirmed. The Court reported plaintiff’s attorney Benjamin Pavone to the California State Bar for manifesting gender bias: the notice of appeal signed by Mr. Pavone on behalf of plaintiff referred to the ruling of the female judicial officer as “succubustic.” The Court published this portion of the opinion to make the point that gender bias by an attorney appearing before the Court would not be tolerated. Furthermore, the attorney was reported to the Bar for a statement in the notice of appeal suggesting the trial court attempted to thwart service of the signed judgment on plaintiff in an effort to evade appellate review and statements in the appellate briefs he signed on behalf of plaintiff accusing the judicial officer who ruled on the motion for attorney fees of intentionally refusing to follow the law. None of these serious charges was supported by any evidence. View "Martinez v. O'Hara" on Justia Law