Justia New York Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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The State Commission on Judicial Conduct sustained six charges of misconduct against Petitioner and recommended that he be removed from his judicial offices. Petitioner sought review, conceding his misconduct but challenging the Commission’s recommendation that he be removed. Petitioner specifically argued that the Court of Appeals direct that he be censured and restored to his judicial offices. The Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner’s contention and accepted the determined sanction of removal, holding that Petitioner’s conduct was “truly egregious” and could not be viewed as acceptable conduct by one holding judicial office. View "In re Simon" on Justia Law
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Ambac guaranteed payments on residential mortgage-backed securities issued by Countrywide. When those securities failed during the financial crisis, Ambac sued, alleging fraud. Ambac named Bank of America (BoA) as a defendant, based on its merger with Countrywide. Discovery ensued, and in 2012, Ambac challenged BoA's withholding of approximately 400 communications between BoA and Countrywide after the signing of the merger plan in January 2008 but before its closing in July. BoA claimed they were protected by the attorney-client privilege because they pertained to legal issues the companies needed to resolve jointly in anticipation of the closing. Although the parties were represented by separate counsel, the merger agreement directed them to share privileged information and purported to protect the information from outside disclosure. A Referee concluded that the exchange of privileged communications waives the attorney-client privilege and that the communications would be entitled to protection only if BoA could establish an exception, such as the common interest doctrine, which permits limited disclosure of confidential communications to parties who share a common legal (as opposed to business or commercial) interest in pending or reasonably anticipated litigation. The court held that the doctrine applies only if there is "reasonable anticipation of litigation." The Appellate Division reversed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed, reinstating the trial court order holding that privilege did not apply because the communication did not relate to pending or anticipated litigation. View "Ambac Assur. Corp. v Countrywide Home Loans, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2008, defendant was charged with attempted rape and was represented by his first attorney. Defendant retained his second attorney, Long, in 2009. Long represented defendant throughout a significant portion of the pre- and post-indictment proceedings, including plea negotiations and a Huntley hearing. In September 2009, defendant fired Long and retained a third attorney, who represented him for the remainder of the prosecution. Defendant was convicted and subsequently made successive CPL 440.10 motions to vacate the conviction based on newly discovered evidence relating to the credibility of witnesses. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction and the denial of both CPL 440 motions. In 2014, defendant moved to vacate his conviction pursuant to CPL 440.10, asserting that attorney Long had simultaneously represented the Albany County District Attorney Soares, that evidence of the conflict was newly discovered, that his conviction was obtained in violation of his right to counsel, that the conviction was based on misrepresentation or fraud by the prosecutor, and that Long had provided ineffective assistance. Four months before defendant retained Long, Long had written a letter in connection with Soares' reelection campaign, asking the Board of Elections asking to examine the machine ballots. In 2011-2012, Long was counsel of record for Soares in a disciplinary proceeding and in Soares' divorce. County Court denied the motion without a hearing. The Appellate Division and New York Court of Appeals affirmed, determining that there was no support for the assertion that there was an actual conflict and that defendant failed to show that any potential conflict had operated on the defense. View "People v Wright" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and resisting arrest. Robert Fisher, an attorney employed by New York County Defender Services (NYCDS), was assigned to represent defendant. It was later revealed that a different attorney from NYCDS had represented another person, Toi Stephens, who was involved in the incident forming the basis of Defendant’s charges. Based on a potential conflict of interest, the court relieved Fisher as Defendant’s attorney and assigned a new attorney, who represented Defendant at trial. The Appellate Division reversed on the ground that the trial court had abused its discretion in relieving Fisher because Fisher did not represent Stephens, and the relationship between NYCDS and Stephens did not constitute a conflict. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, under the circumstances of this case, Supreme Court did not abuse its discretion by relieving Defendant’s assigned counsel and appointing conflict-free counsel to represent him. View "People v. Watson" on Justia Law

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In the underlying federal action commenced by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against David Smith and his investment services firm, the SEC obtained a temporary restraining order freezing Smith’s assets and those of his wife, including the couple’s irrevocable trust (Trust). The Trust, represented by Jill Dunn, intervened in the matter. Due to Dunn’s actions in that action, the United States Magistrate Judge sanctioned Dunn with a public admonishment. Thereafter, the Committee on Professional Standards for the Third Department filed a petition alleging that Dunn had engaged in fraudulent conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The text of the Magistrate’s sanctions opinion was essentially the basis of the complaint. The Appellate Division concluded that collateral estoppel applied to the Magistrate’s sanctions order and found Dunn guilty of the charged misconduct. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that under the circumstances of this case, Dunn did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue of her alleged misconduct, and therefore, collateral estoppel did not apply in her disciplinary proceeding to bar her from challenging the findings of the Magistrate. View "In re Dunn" on Justia Law
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In 2012, Petitioner, the Albany County Surrogate, was served with a complaint alleging three charges of judicial misconduct based on her failure to disqualify herself from matters involving two of her personal attorneys and her campaign manager. The Commission on Judicial Conduct sustained the charges of misconduct against her and directed the she be removed from office. The Court of Appeals agreed with the findings of misconduct and accepted the sanction of removal, concluding that Petitioner did not meet her obligation of guarding against the impression of favoritism in the matters, and that Petitioner’s prior censure constituted a significant aggravating factor warranting a sanction of removal. View "In re Hon. Cathryn M. Doyle" on Justia Law
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Appellant-attorney was criminally prosecuted along with Judge Doe on violations of the campaign finance law. The criminal proceeding was eventually terminated, and the records were sealed. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct subsequently began an investigation into possible judicial misconduct by Judge Doe in the underlying criminal proceeding. Supreme Court granted the Commission’s motion to release the sealed records from the underlying criminal proceeding for use in the investigation. Appellant filed an application to vacate the release order, which Supreme Court denied. Appellant appealed. Meanwhile, the Commission censured Judge Doe for misconduct arising from her judicial election campaign. The Appellate Division dismissed Appellant’s appeal as moot and ordered that the records be resealed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed the order dismissing the appeal as moot and upheld the Commission’s authority to request and receive Appellant’s sealed records, holding that the Commission is authorized to request and receive records sealed under N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law 160.50 for its use in investigations. View "State Comm’n on Judicial Conduct v. Rubenstein" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs were two limited liability companies that made loans to Goldan, LLC. Goldan failed to repay the loans. Plaintiffs later discovered that their mortgages had not been recorded as agreed upon. Plaintiffs sued Goldan and its two principals, Mark Goldman and Jeffrey Daniels, alleging a number of claims. One claim was asserted against Daniels, a lawyer, for legal malpractice for failing to record the mortgages. Daniels' malpractice carrier, American Guarantee and Liability Insurance Company (American) refused to provide defense or indemnity coverage. Daniels defaulted in Plaintiffs' action against him. Daniels assigned to Plaintiffs his rights against American. Plaintiffs subsequently brought an action against American for breach of contract and bad faith failure to settle the underlying lawsuit. Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs' motions as to the breach of contract claims and dismissed the bad faith claims. The Appellate Division affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) by breaching its duty to defend Daniels, American lost its right to rely on policy exclusions to escape its duty to indemnify; and (2) the lower courts properly dismissed Plaintiffs' bad faith claims. View "K2 Inv. Group, LLC v. Am. Guar. & Liab. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Petitioner served as family court judge for twenty-seven years. The catalyst for Petitioner's resignation was the allegation that, in 1972, Petitioner engaged in sexual misconduct involving a five-year-old girl. Petitioner admitted to sexual contact with the child. In these post-resignation removal proceedings, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct sustained the charge of judicial misconduct against Petitioner and determined he should be removed from office. The Court of Appeals accepted the determined sanction of removal, holding that Petitioner engaged in misconduct warranting removal from office by committing an act of moral turpitude involving a child. View "In re Hedges" on Justia Law

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Complainant, a sitting Rochester City Court Judge, accused Defendant of sending her three offensive text messages. Defendant was charged with two misdemeanor counts of aggravated harassment in the second degree. A visiting judge from a neighboring county was assigned to preside over pretrial hearings. Despite repeated plea negotiations, the District Attorney's office did not offer Defendant a reduced charge or agree to a plea that included a favorable sentence. Defendant filed a motion and a renewed motion to disqualify the District Attorney due to the existence of a conflict of interest and requested that a special prosecutor be appointed. The District failed to rebut the allegations of disparate treatment with a single example of a comparable case it had similarly refused to resolve with a plea that included a favorable sentence. Both motions and requests were denied. Defendant was subsequently convicted of one count of aggravated harassment in the second degree. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because the District Attorney's office failed to take steps to dispel the appearance of inappropriate disparate treatment in this case, this was one of those rare cases in which a significant appearance of impropriety was created, requiring disqualification. View "People v. Adams" on Justia Law