Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, P.C. ("the firm"), appealed a circuit court judgment awarding postjudgment interest to Jason DuBois. DuBois sued asserting a worker's compensation claim and tort claims against various defendants. DuBois was represented in the underlying action by two attorneys who were employed by the firm. After DuBois's attorneys ended their employment with the firm, DuBois terminated the firm's representation. The two former attorneys of the firm, however, continued to represent DuBois. The firm then intervened in the action, asserting an attorney-fee lien and claiming attorney fees and expenses. DuBois subsequently obtained settlements from the defendants, which disposed of all the claims he had asserted, but the firm's claim for attorney fees and reimbursement of expenses remained pending. The trial court ordered the clerk of the Etowah Circuit Court ("the trial-court clerk") to deposit the settlement funds "in an interest bearing account and to retain said funds until further order of the court." Following a bench trial on the attorney-fee dispute, the trial court entered a judgment finding that the firm was not entitled to any fees or reimbursement of expenses. The firm appealed, but the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, concluding there was no money judgment against the firm that would permit the accrual of postjudgment interest. The settlement sum interpleaded into court from the underlying case "was not money that [the firm] owed to [DuBois] pursuant to any note, mortgage, judgment, or other indebtedness, nor was it awarded as the result of any legal claims against [the firm]." Accordingly, the firm was not required to pay postjudgment interest to DuBois. View "Pope, McGlamry, Kilpatrick, Morrison & Norwood, P.C. v. DuBois" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The State of Alabama petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a mandamus relief. The State sought the vacation of a circuit court order holding certain statutes and acts of Alabama unconstitutional, and to require the Mobile circuit clerk to withhold 10% of the funds collected as court costs and fees from litigants in Mobile County until such time the State adequately funds the clerk’s office. This matter arose out of a criminal proceeding in which a grand jury indicted Mandy Brady for trafficking methamphetamine. Brady posted bond on that charge and was released; however, she was subsequently arrested on a new charge, and the State moved to revoke her bond. The circuit court granted the State's motion and revoked Brady's bond. Despite the fact that Brady was in State custody when the circuit court revoked the bond, Brady did not appear at her scheduled trial on the trafficking charge. When Brady failed to appear, the circuit court issued a show-cause order to the circuit clerk, the Mobile County sheriff, "and/or" the warden of the Mobile County jail seeking an explanation as to why Brady was released from jail despite the fact that the circuit court had revoked her bond. The warden testified that he never received notice from the circuit clerk's office that Brady's bond had been revoked; the circuit clerk testified that an employee in her office had properly entered the circuit court's order revoking Brady's bond before Brady was released from the county jail but that employee apparently failed to send notice of the order to the county jail. The circuit clerk explained that this mistake occurred because she did not have the ability to fully train her employees before giving them the responsibility of managing a circuit judge's docket; ultimately the problem, according to the circuit clerk, was that she did not have adequate funding to retain well trained personnel. The Supreme Court determined the circuit court exceeded its authority in the Brady matter, “purporting to award declaratory and injunctive relief no party had requested.” The State’s petition for mandamus relief was granted. View "Ex parte State of Alabama." on Justia Law

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Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. ("MCG"), petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Jefferson Circuit Court to vacate its July 30, 2018 order denying MCG's motion for a change of venue and to enter an order transferring the underlying action to the Madison Circuit Court on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In late 2017, AAL USA, Inc. ("AAL"), a Delaware corporation doing business in Alabama, and Oleg Sirbu, a resident of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (collectively, "the plaintiffs"), sued MCG, asserting a claim of legal malpractice pursuant to the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"), and seeking, among other relief, disgorgement of all attorney fees paid by the plaintiffs to MCG. AAL maintained, repaired, and overhauled helicopters through various government contracts or subcontracts on United States military bases. MCG represented the plaintiffs from 2014 through October 28, 2016; two MCG attorneys, Jon Levin and J. Andrew Watson III, were shareholders of MCG whose allegedly wrongful conduct was performed within the line and scope of their employment with MCG. The events giving rise to this litigation began in September 2016, when AAL received a "base-debarment" letter notifying it that it no longer had access to certain military bases outside the continental United States. MCG chief financial officer Keith Woolford forwarded this letter to MCG, and, according to the plaintiffs, MCG "immediately embarked in a central role in [MCG CEO Paul] Daigle's and Woolford's scheme to steal the assets of AAL." The complaint alleged that Levin worked closely with Woolford and Daigle to draft the APA pursuant to which Black Hall Aerospace, Inc., Daigle, and Woolford would purchase all of AAL's assets, as a way to cure the base-debarment problem. The plaintiffs alleged that MCG knew that the APA would "gut" the plaintiffs –- its current clients –- while simultaneously benefiting Daigle, Woolford, and BHA –- other clients of MCG -- and that this "clear and irreconcilable conflict of interest ... was never disclosed to [the plaintiffs]." The Alabama Supreme Court concluded MCG carried its burden of showing that Madison County's connection to the action was strong and that Jefferson County's connection to the action was weak. Thus, the circuit court exceeded its discretion in refusing to transfer the case to the Madison Circuit Court in the interest of justice. MCG's petition for a writ of mandamus was granted. View "Ex parte Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C." on Justia Law

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In May 2017, Jerry Tarver, Sr., sued the Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee ("UBT") and numerous other defendants seeking damages based on alleged exposure to contaminated water purportedly caused by defendants' combined and concurring negligence. The UBT petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Macon Circuit Court to vacate its December 2017 order disqualifying UBT's retained counsel, Huie, Fernambucq & Steward, LLP (the Huie Firm) from representing it in Tarver's suit. The Supreme Court determined Tarver did not present evidence indicating that a Huie firm lawyer, in his capacity as a commissioner of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, was a conflict of interest regarding the attorney's representation of UBT. Therefore, the attorney was not disqualified under Rule 1.11(a), Ala. R. Prof. Cond., and no disqualification could be imputed to the Huie firm. View "Ex parte Utilities Board of the City of Tuskegee." on Justia Law

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D.A.R. appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing his complaint against R.E.L., D.H., and R.H. D.A.R., a licensed attorney practicing in Alabama, filed a complaint against R.E.L., D.H., and R.H. R.E.L. was also a licensed attorney, and was employed as an assistant general counsel for the Alabama State Bar ("the ASB"). D.H. and R.H. were brothers; they were not attorneys. According to the complaint, at some point before December 2007, R.E.L. and D.H. began "a personal, professional and/or sexual relationship," and R.E.L. and R.H. began "a personal and/or professional relationship." D.A.R. alleged that in December 2007, at R.E.L.'s recommendation and with his assistance, D.H. and R.H. "filed a baseless complaint against [D.A.R.] with the ASB." D.A.R. alleged that the motivation for the complaint was to use it "as a means to protect [D.H. and R.H.] from liability for a debt owed by [them] to a client represented by [D.A.R.] and/or as retaliation for his role in representing that client." According to D.A.R., R.E.L. knew when it was filed that the complaint against D.A.R. was baseless in fact and in law. R.E.L. asserted the defense of absolute immunity, but presented arguments to the trial court establishing why quasi-judicial immunity should apply to the facts presented in D.A.R.'s complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court found D.A.R. failed to demonstrate the trial court erred by dismissing his complaint on the grounds he presented to it, and as such, affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "D. A. R. v. R.E.L., D.H., and R.H." on Justia Law

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Seven members of the Supreme Court of Alabama, including the Chief Justice, recused themselves from consideration of all matters related to this mandamus petition pursuant to Canon 3.C of the Alabama Canons of Judicial Ethics. Their recusal left Associate Justices William Sellers and Brady Mendheim, Jr., to hear the petition. Justice Sellers, as Acting Chief Justice, notified the parties that an additional five justices would be selected by random drawing from a pool of retired justices and judges and active circuit judges, after which five judges were appointed to serve as Special Associate Justices. Former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore and his campaign committee, "Judge Roy Moore for US Senate" ("the Committee"), petitioned the Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Montgomery Circuit Court ("the trial court") to transfer an action filed by Leigh Corfman alleging defamation against Moore and the Committee to the Etowah Circuit Court. “Considering a mandamus petitioner's heavy burden” and all the materials before it, the Court concluded that the trial court did not exceed its discretion in denying the motion for a change of venue based on the interest of justice or on the convenience of the parties and the witnesses. Accordingly, it denied the petition. View "Ex parte Roy S. Moore and Judge Roy Moore for US Senate." on Justia Law

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Albert Daniels petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus compelling the Barbour Circuit Court to vacate its order severing and staying Daniels's claims against defendants Joseph Morris, Tracy Cary, and Morris, Cary, Andrews, Talmadge & Driggers, LLC ("the Morris firm"), and also to compel the circuit court to enter a default judgment. Sherry Johnson and Daniels were the parents of Alquwon Johnson. On June 4, 2011, Alquwon committed suicide while he was an inmate in the Barbour County jail. Johnson engaged the Morris firm to pursue a wrongful-death claim related to Alquwon's death. Johnson, as the personal representative of Alquwon's estate, filed a wrongful-death action in the Barbour Circuit Court. Johnson was represented by the Morris defendants in the wrongful-death litigation. The case was removed to federal court. In 2015, the case was settled. The Morris defendants distributed the settlement funds to Johnson; none of the proceeds were paid to Daniels. Daniels telephoned the Morris firm to inquire about retaining the firm to file a wrongful-death suit related to Alquwon's death. After speaking with an employee of the firm, Daniels was told that the firm had a conflict of interest and could not represent him. He later received a letter from Cary stating that "a lawsuit brought on your behalf would not be economically feasible given the nature, facts and circumstances surrounding your case." The Morris firm did not inform Daniels about the prior lawsuit and that it had settled the case and paid the settlement proceeds to Johnson. On September 18, 2015, Daniels filed suit against Johnson alleging that, as Alquwon's father, Daniels was entitled to 50% of the net settlement proceeds but that Johnson had wrongfully retained the entire amount. He asserted against Johnson claims of breach of fiduciary duty and conversion. Two years later, Daniels added as defendants the Morris defendants and asserting two claims against them. Count three of Daniels's amended complaint asserted a claim of fraud against the Morris defendants. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("ALSLA") did not require that Daniels's claims against the Morris defendants be bifurcated and stayed pending resolution of his claims against Johnson. Accordingly, the circuit court was directed to vacate its order bifurcating and staying Daniels's claims against the Morris defendants. Daniels, however, did not establish a clear legal right to a default judgment against the Morris defendants. Thus, as to the request for a default judgment, the petition was denied. View "Ex parte Albert Daniels." on Justia Law

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Larry Curry appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit against Gable Miller, Jr., and Auto Owners Insurance Company ("Auto Owners") on the ground of failure to prosecute. In 2014, Curry was injured when the vehicle in which he was driving was struck from the rear by a vehicle being driven by Miller. Curry retained attorney Russell Johnson to represent him in the matter. Johnson, on Curry's behalf, filed a personal-injury action against Miller. Johnson’s claim against Auto Owners sought uninsured/underinsured-motorist benefits. In 2017, the trial court set the case for a bench trial. At some point Curry's relationship with Johnson began to deteriorate, and Curry terminated Johnson's employment. On April 3, 2017, the trial court granted Johnson's motion to withdraw. On the same day, Johnson filed with the trial court a lien for attorney fees and expenses. Johnson stated in the lien that, during his representation of Curry, Miller had made an offer to settle Curry's claims for $17,000; that Curry had accepted the offer to settle but had refused to sign the necessary releases; and that Johnson had filed the personal-injury action on Curry's behalf to prevent Curry's claims from being barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court entered an order stating that the status conference had been held on April 11, 2017; that defense counsel had attended the conference; that Curry failed to appear at the conference; and that Curry was to notify the court within 30 days of his intention either to proceed pro se or to retain counsel. The order further stated that failure to comply with the order could result in sanctions, including dismissal of the lawsuit. On the same day, the trial court rescheduled the bench trial. On May 19, 2017, Miller and Auto Owners moved to dismiss Curry's claims for failure to prosecute, asserting that Curry had not attended the April 11, 2017, status conference and had not complied with the trial court's subsequent orders. The trial court deferred ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss for one week to give Curry ample opportunity to respond. Curry failed to respond, and the trial court entered an order dismissing, with prejudice, Curry's lawsuit against the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed this outcome, finding Curry simply offered the trial court no plausible explanation as to why, out of all the documents mailed to him at his address, he would have received only one of those documents: defense counsel's motion to dismiss the action for want of prosecution. The trial court had before it sufficient evidence to reject Curry's assertion that he did know that a lawsuit had been filed on his behalf. Accordingly, the trial court did not exceed its discretion in concluding that Curry's failure to prosecute his lawsuit was "willful" for purposes of Rule a 41(b) involuntary dismissal. View "Curry v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Larry Curry appealed the dismissal of his lawsuit against Gable Miller, Jr., and Auto Owners Insurance Company ("Auto Owners") on the ground of failure to prosecute. In 2014, Curry was injured when the vehicle in which he was driving was struck from the rear by a vehicle being driven by Miller. Curry retained attorney Russell Johnson to represent him in the matter. Johnson, on Curry's behalf, filed a personal-injury action against Miller. Johnson’s claim against Auto Owners sought uninsured/underinsured-motorist benefits. In 2017, the trial court set the case for a bench trial. At some point Curry's relationship with Johnson began to deteriorate, and Curry terminated Johnson's employment. On April 3, 2017, the trial court granted Johnson's motion to withdraw. On the same day, Johnson filed with the trial court a lien for attorney fees and expenses. Johnson stated in the lien that, during his representation of Curry, Miller had made an offer to settle Curry's claims for $17,000; that Curry had accepted the offer to settle but had refused to sign the necessary releases; and that Johnson had filed the personal-injury action on Curry's behalf to prevent Curry's claims from being barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court entered an order stating that the status conference had been held on April 11, 2017; that defense counsel had attended the conference; that Curry failed to appear at the conference; and that Curry was to notify the court within 30 days of his intention either to proceed pro se or to retain counsel. The order further stated that failure to comply with the order could result in sanctions, including dismissal of the lawsuit. On the same day, the trial court rescheduled the bench trial. On May 19, 2017, Miller and Auto Owners moved to dismiss Curry's claims for failure to prosecute, asserting that Curry had not attended the April 11, 2017, status conference and had not complied with the trial court's subsequent orders. The trial court deferred ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss for one week to give Curry ample opportunity to respond. Curry failed to respond, and the trial court entered an order dismissing, with prejudice, Curry's lawsuit against the defendants. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed this outcome, finding Curry simply offered the trial court no plausible explanation as to why, out of all the documents mailed to him at his address, he would have received only one of those documents: defense counsel's motion to dismiss the action for want of prosecution. The trial court had before it sufficient evidence to reject Curry's assertion that he did know that a lawsuit had been filed on his behalf. Accordingly, the trial court did not exceed its discretion in concluding that Curry's failure to prosecute his lawsuit was "willful" for purposes of Rule a 41(b) involuntary dismissal. View "Curry v. Miller" on Justia Law

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Georgia Urology, P.A., and several of its member physicians filed objections to challenge a $124 million attorney fee awarded by the Jefferson Alabama Circuit Court to class counsel as part of the settlement of Johnson v. Caremark Rx, LLC ("the Caremark class action). After the trial court overruled their objections and its judgment approving the settlement became final, the objectors appealed the attorney fee to this Court. Caremark Rx bought MedPartners; MedPartners was the subject of dozens of securities-fraud lawsuits alleging that it had made false statements regarding its financial condition and anticipated future performance. Many of those lawsuits were eventually consolidated into a class action. In 1999, the MedPartners class action was settled for $56 million based on MedPartners' assertions that the negotiated settlement exhausted its available insurance coverage and that it possessed limited other assets it could use to pay a larger award or settlement. Post-settlement, however, it was revealed in unrelated litigation that MedPartners actually held an excess-insurance policy providing unlimited coverage during the period in which the alleged fraud had been committed. In 2003, the Caremark class action was initiated against MedPartners' corporate successor Caremark Rx, and its previous insurer asserting fraud and suppression claims based on the $56 million settlement agreed to in the MedPartners class action. The objectors appealed the fee award to the Alabama Supreme Court, arguing that they had been given insufficient opportunity to object to class counsel's requested attorney fee inasmuch as their objections were due before class counsel's attorney-fee application was filed, and that the attorney fee ultimately awarded was excessive. The Supreme Court vacated the order entered by the trial court awarding class counsel an attorney fee of $124 million. On remand, class counsel may file a new attorney-fee application, including more detailed information regarding the time expended in this case and how that time was spent. The objectors would then be given a reasonable opportunity to review that application and may, if they still have objections to class counsel's new application, file those objections with the trial court. After the trial court considers those objections and enters a new order making an award of attorney fees, any party with a grievance may file a new appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. View "Walker v. Johnson" on Justia Law