Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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After Hickory fired Carter from her job as a nursing assistant in 2007, Carter filed an unlawful discrimination claim with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission. That agency filed a parallel charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. For six years, the complaint inched its way through the state system. In November 2013, the Ohio Commission ordered Hickory to reinstate Carter and to pay her lost wages. Carter asked the EEOC for a right-to-sue letter. Because Carter had moved without notifying that agency, it mailed the letter to her old address. Over the next few months, Carter’s attorney, Gilbert, contacted the agency, and in November 2014 procured a copy of the letter dated February 2014. Carter filed suit in December 2014. The court concluded that Carter’s claim was time-barred because she filed it more than 90 days after the date on her right-to-sue letter and imposed a $25,995.32 sanction on attorney Gilbert for advancing a clearly time-barred claim. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. It is irrelevant that Hickory did not move for dismissal but waited until summary judgment to raise the statute of limitations; it instead contacted Gilbert and informed him of the flaws in his case. The court awarded fees and costs incurred only after that time. View "Carter v. Hickory Healthcare Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Ayers, an experienced Kentucky criminal-defense attorney, was indicted in 2008 on five counts of failing to file state tax returns. Ayers represented himself throughout the 21 months between his indictment and trial, but never formally elected to do so. He never waived his right to counsel on the record, filed a notice of appearance, or moved to be allowed to proceed pro se. The court allegedly failed to inform him at his arraignment that he had a right to counsel and never subsequently sought to determine whether Ayers’s self-representation was a voluntary, intelligent, and knowing waiver of his right to counsel. When Ayers asked for a continuance a day before trial was scheduled to begin so that he could hire an attorney with whom he attested he was already in negotiations, the court denied his request and forced him to proceed pro se. Ayers was convicted. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of habeas relief. The Kentucky Supreme Court acted contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent when it held that trial courts need not “obtain a waiver of counsel” before allowing “experienced criminal trial attorneys” to represent themselves. Applying de novo review, the court concluded that Ayers did not validly waive his right to counsel. View "Ayers v. Hall" on Justia Law

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In November 2010, Hayes engaged Cybriwsky to represent him related to the denial of Hayes’s application for Social Security disability benefits. In February 2011, the case was remanded for further administrative hearings (42 U.S.C. 405(g)) because faulty recordings of the hearings rendered the record inaudible. On remand, the Administrative Law Judge entered a fully favorable decision for Hayes in August 2011. The district court affirmed in April 2012. The next month Cybriwsky sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2414. The court granted attorney’s fees of $2,225 in August 2012. In April 2017, Cybriwsky moved, under 42 U.S.C. 406(b), seeking more than $11,000. in fees. He subsequently provided documentation of the fee arrangement, benefits paid to Hayes, and an itemized description of the work performed. By the time Cybriwsky filed his 2017 motion, the SSA had released the 25% of past-due benefits normally reserved to pay attorney’s fees; $5,300 was awarded to Hayes’s attorney at the administrative level and the remainder was released to Hayes. Any fees awarded to Cybriwsky would have to be recovered from Hayes, either directly or by having fees taken from Hayes’s monthly disability payments. The Sixth Circuit affirmed denial of the motion as untimely and determined that the circumstances did not merit the exercise of equitable tolling. View "Hayes v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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In Ohio, judges in all courts of record are selected by election. Ohio Code of Judicial Conduct, Canon 4, governs the fundraising and political conduct of judicial candidates. Platt, an Ohio attorney, formed the Platt for Judge Campaign Committee in 2013. Platt believes that parts of Canon 4 violate his rights to free speech, due process, and equal protection: Rule 4.1(A)(2), which prohibits a candidate from making speeches on behalf of a political party or another candidate for office; Rule 4.1(A)(3), which prohibits a candidate from publicly endorsing or opposing a candidate for another public office; Rule 4.4(A), which, save for three exceptions, prohibits a judicial candidate from personally soliciting campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(E), which creates a permissible window for soliciting and receiving campaign contributions; Rule 4.4(F), which limits the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates defeated before the general election; and Rule 4.4(G), which regulates the solicitation and receipt of contributions for candidates who die or withdraw from the election. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rejection of all of Platt’s claims. Ohio’s rules strike the delicate balance between the Constitution’s commands and the state’s desire to protect judicial integrity. View "Platt v. Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline of the Ohio Supreme Court" on Justia Law

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Cathedral Buffet, an Ohio for-profit corporation, does not generate a profit. Its sole shareholder is Grace Cathedral, a 501(c)(3) non-profit religious organization, which subsidizes the restaurant. The restaurant separated its workers into “employees” and “volunteers.” Volunteers performed many of the same tasks as employees, who received an hourly wage. Reverend Angley recruited volunteers from the pulpit on Sundays, suggesting that members who repeatedly refused to volunteer were at risk an unforgivable sin. The Department of Labor (DOL) filed suit; the district court held that Buffet’s religious affiliation did not exempt it from Fair Labor Standards Act. The Sixth Circuit reversed. To be considered an employee under the FLSA, a worker must first expect to receive compensation; Buffet volunteers had no such expectation. Buffet then sought “prevailing party” costs and attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412, arguing that the DOL’s position throughout the litigation was not substantially justified. The Sixth Circuit declined to address the issue: “in the usual case in which fees are sought for the entire litigation, the determination of whether the government was ‘substantially justified’ . . . is for the district court” because that court “may have insights not conveyed by the record.” Buffet did not wish to argue before the district court, which adopted the DOL’s position, but that is not a legitimate reason to forgo judicial economy. The district court is better-equipped to determine the fees, if any, that should be awarded for work at that level. View "Acosta v. Cathedral Buffet, Inc." on Justia Law

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Three-and-a-half years ago, a Kentucky state court issued a judgment in plaintiffs’ favor against class-action plaintiffs’ attorney Chesley for $42 million. Since then, the plaintiffs have been trying to collect on that judgment. Chesley has successfully evaded them with the help of his confidantes. In the process, five lawyers have been disbarred; two have been put in jail. Chesley has managed to transfer most of his assets elsewhere, rendering himself judgment-proof and forcing the plaintiffs to file the fraudulent conveyance action underlying this appeal. While that fraudulent conveyance action was pending, Chesley initiated an Ohio state probate court action. He claims the action was started for legitimate purposes—to pay off his law firm’s creditors in a judicially-supervised forum. The district court disagreed. Sensing Chesley was using the probate action to continue to conceal his assets, it issued a preliminary injunction freezing those assets. In the time since the injunction was entered (and this appeal was filed), that probate action was dismissed and declared fraudulent. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the preliminary injunction, which is worded broadly enough to remain effective despite the probate action’s dismissal, and is still adequately supported by the record evidence and is still necessary. View "McGirr v. Rehme" on Justia Law

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The Honorable Michael J. Theile is a Michigan state-court judge. In 2020, the year of the next election for the seat he now holds, Theile will be 71 years of age. Because the Michigan Constitution and a statute prohibit a person who has attained the age of 70 from being elected or appointed to judicial office, Theile will not be eligible to run for re-election, Mich. Const. art. VI, section 19(3); Mich. Comp. Laws 168.411. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his complaint, in which he asserted a violation of the Equal Protection Clause and asked the court to dispense with rational-basis review of age-based classifications and adopt intermediate scrutiny. The court declined to reverse the settled precedent of the Supreme Court and of the Sixth Circuit mandating rational-basis review for age-based classifications and precedent identifying multiple rational bases for judicial age limitations. View "Theile v. State of Michigan" on Justia Law

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NPC’s adversary proceeding against the Chapter 7 Trustee and his surety alleged that the trustee breached his fiduciary duties with respect to one of the Debtor’s assets, a former Benton Harbor manufacturing facility. NPC’s attorney (Demorest) served five non-parties with subpoenas duces tecum under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45. The ensuing discovery dispute, including several motions, hearings, and orders, resulted in an award of attorney fees and costs to the non-parties, $104,770.00 to one group and $61,417.50 to another. After a subsequent finding of civil contempt for failure to pay, payment was made and the bankruptcy court ordered payment of an additional $4,725.00 in attorney fees and costs incurred in connection with the contempt proceedings. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed. The bankruptcy court specifically found, after a case-specific inquiry, that the subpoenas issued to the non-parties were unduly burdensome, given the undisputedly broad scope of the requests and the temporal reach of the requests. As an experienced commercial litigator, Demorest would have known that complying with such subpoenas would involve considerable time and resources, implicate significant concerns about customer privacy, and require review for privileged communications and attorney work product. The bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in finding that sanctions were warranted. View "New Products Corp. v. Dickinson Wright PLLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, members of Global Fitness gyms, believed that Global misrepresented the terms of its gym memberships and sued as a class. The parties settled: Global agreed to pay $1.3 million to the class members, class counsel’s fees as ordered by the court, and the claims administrator’s fees and costs. The court approved the agreement over the objections of some class members and ordered its implementation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari. In the meantime, Global had sold all of its gyms and funneled $10.4 million of the proceeds to its managers through “tax distributions.” The payments Global owed to the class were in escrow under the terms of the settlement agreement, which made no similar provision for class counsel and the claims administrator. Days before its payment obligation under the agreement came due, Global notified the court it could not meet its remaining obligations. The court held Global Fitness and its managers in civil contempt. The Sixth Circuit reversed. Global had no legal obligation to conserve funds to pay class counsel and the claims administrator while the appeals were pending. Its obligation to pay became definite and specific only once the appeals were exhausted. The court erred in considering any of Global’s conduct from before that date and by holding the managers jointly and severally liable. View "Gascho v. Global Fitness Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Kerr sought judicial review of the final determination that Kerr’s husband was not disabled and not entitled to any Social Security disability insurance benefits before his death. Kerr was due to receive any payment owed to Mr. Kerr. The parties stipulated to reversal and remand under 42 U.S.C. 405(g). Kerr then sought an award of $3,206.25 in attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412(d), with any fees awarded “be made payable to Plaintiff’s counsel,” attaching an “Affidavit and Assignment of EAJA Fee.” The Commissioner did not oppose the motion. The district court granted the award, declined to honor Kerr’s assignment, and concluded that it was required to order payment to Kerr as the prevailing party. The court held that it could not “ignore the Anti-Assignment Act,” which prohibits “an assignment of a claim against the United States that is executed before the claim is allowed, before the amount of the claim is decided, and before a warrant for payment of the claim has been issued” but “le[ft] it to the Commissioner’s discretion to determine whether to waive the Anti-Assignment Act and make the fee payable to Mr. Marks.” The Commissioner responded that she would accept [Kerr’s] assignment and suggested that the court deny as moot Kerr’s Rule 59(e) motion. The district court and Sixth Circuit agreed that Kerr’s motion was moot, and did not reconsider the application of the AAA to the EAJA assignment. View "Kerr v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law