Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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This disciplinary proceeding stemmed from allegedly false statements contained in a campaign-issued flyer disseminated while Stephen O. Callaghan, Judge-Elect of the 28th Judicial Circuit was a candidate for Judge of the 28th Judicial Circuit. The West Virginia Judicial Hearing Board recommended that Judge-Elect Callaghan be disciplined for three violations of the West Virginia Code of Judicial Conduct and one violation of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. The Supreme Court adopted the Board’s recommended discipline, with modification, and found that it was appropriate to suspend Judge-Elect Callaghan from the judicial bench for a total of two years without pay, along with the recommended fine of $15,000, and reprimand as an attorney, holding (1) there was clear and convincing evidence of improper conduct presented in support of each of the violations found by the Board; and (2) Judge-Elect Callaghan’s constitutional arguments were unavailing. View "In re Hon. Stephen O. Judge-Elect Callaghan" on Justia Law

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In 2001, the decedent presented to the Wetzel County Hospital Emergency Room in New Martinsville and came under the care of Dr. Murthy, a surgeon; she slipped into shock and died the next day. Her estate filed a medical negligence action, alleging that Murthy failed to perform exploratory surgery to identify, diagnose and correct the decedent’s “intraabdominal condition.” A jury awarded $4,000,000 in compensatory damages. After the trial, the circuit court allowed amendment of the complaint to add Murthy’s insurance carrier, Woodbrook, alleging that Woodbrook made all relevant decisions for Murthy’s defense and acted vexatiously and in bad faith. Following a remand, Murthy paid a reduced judgment, plus interest, in the total amount of $1,162,741.60 and filed motions in limine to preclude certain matters from consideration on the issue of attorney fees and costs, including an unrelated case that resulted in a $5,764,214.75 verdict against Dr. Murthy in March 2007. The court dismissed Woodbrook as a party-defendant and awarded the estate attorney fees and costs. The precise calculation was to be later determined. The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia reversed, concluding that the lower court’s reliance on certain conduct by Murthy did not justify the award. View "Murthy v. Karpacs-Brown" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, an attorney practicing primarily in the Twenty-Third Judicial Circuit (judicial circuit), sought a writ of prohibition to prevent Respondents, the mental hygiene commissioners of the judicial circuit, from appointing legal counsel for alleged protected persons in actions instituted under the West Virginia Guardianship and Conservatorship Act (Act). Specifically, Petitioner asserted that W. Va. Code 44A-2-7(a) mandates that circuit courts, rather than mental hygiene commissioners, make such appointments. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding that the provisions of section 44A-2-7(a) require the circuit court to appoint legal counsel for the alleged protected persons instituted under the Act, and therefore, Respondents exceeded their legitimate powers by appointing legal counsel for alleged protected persons under section 44A-2-7(a). View "State ex rel. Barrat v. Dalby" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Petitioner, an attorney, and Respondent, a non-lawyer, entered into a fee-sharing agreement in connection with certain lawsuits. Petitioner later filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment on the issue of whether Respondent was entitled to compensation for services he performed in relation to the litigation, seeking a ruling as to whether a sharing of legal fees with Respondent would violate Rule 5.4 of the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct. The federal district court certified the following question to the Supreme Court: “Are the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct statements of public policy with the force of law equal to that given to statutes enacted by the West Virginia State Legislature?” The Supreme Court affirmed the question, as modified, in the affirmative, holding (1) Rule 5.4, which proscribes the sharing of fees between lawyers or law firms and non-lawyers, is an explicit judicial declaration of West Virginia public policy with the force and effect of law; and (2) accordingly, a fee-sharing agreement between a lawyer or law firm and the non-lawyer that violates the provisions of Rule 5.4 is void as against public policy and wholly unenforceable. View "Rich v. Simoni" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Legal Ethics

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Jaymie Godwin Wilfong, a circuit court judge in Randolph County, admitted to having had a more than two-year-long affair with a local man. The judge deliberately intertwined the affair with her judicial office, and the evidence before the Judicial Hearing Board “established a clearly articulable nexus between the judge’s extrajudicial misconduct and her judicial duties.” The Hearing Board determined that the judge’s conduct constituted eleven separate violations of seven Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct and recommended that she be severely sanctioned. The Supreme Court adopted the Hearing Board’s finding that the judge committed eleven violations of seven Canons and held that the judge must be censured, suspended until the end of her term, and required to pay the costs of investigating and prosecuting these proceedings. View "In re Judge Jaymie Godwin Wilfong" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The Office of Disciplinary Counsel and the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board (collectively, the ODC) issued an informal advisory opinion that determined (1) the Attorney General did not have authority to prosecute criminal cases outside of the limited prosecutorial authority granted by W. Va. Code 5-3-2, and (2) the Rules of Professional Conduct would be violated if the Attorney General prosecuted assisted county prosecutors in certain criminal prosecutions. The Attorney General subsequently filed the instant petition for a writ of prohibition to prevent ODC from enforcing the informal advisory opinion, contending that county prosecutors have authority to request the Attorney General to assist with criminal prosecutions and that the office of the Attorney General has independent common law authority to prosecute criminal cases. The Supreme Court denied the writ, holding (1) county prosecutors do not have statutory authority to appoint the Attorney General as a special prosecutor; and (2) under the state Constitution and statutory law, the common law criminal prosecutorial authority of the Attorney General was abolished. View "State ex rel. Morrisey v. W. Va. Office of Disciplinary Counsel" on Justia Law

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Petitioner here was Gaddy Engineering Company, and Respondents were an individual lawyer, Thomas Lane, and a law firm in which Lane was a partner (Bowles Rice). Petitioner contended that the Lane agreed to pay Petitioner one-third of all sums Bowles Rice received in connection with its legal representation of a group of land companies in a case to be filed against a company for alleged underpayment of gas royalties. The circuit court granted summary judgment to Respondents as to all claims. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding, inter alia, that the trial court (1) correctly applied the doctrine of impracticability as to Petitioner's breach of contract claims; (2) did not err in ruling that no attorney-client relationship existed between Petitioner and Respondents, and thus the trial court did not err in granting summary judgment on Petitioner's professional negligence claim; (3) correctly granted summary judgment on Petitioner's claim of fraud; and (4) did not err in granting summary judgment on Petitioner's claim seeking relief in quantum meruit. View "Gaddy Eng'g Co. v. Bowles Rice McDavid Graff & Love, LLP" on Justia Law

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This matter involved two consolidated writs of prohibition filed under the original jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. Petitioners sought a writ of prohibition to prevent enforcement of circuit court orders that denied their motions to disqualify private attorneys from representing the State as special assistant attorneys general, contending that the fee arrangements of the special assistant attorneys general violated the West Virginia Governmental Ethics Act and the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct and that the attorney general lacked the authority to appoint special assistant attorneys general. The Supreme Court denied the writs, holding (1) Petitioners failed to establish that the special assistant attorneys general actually engaged in any improper conduct that caused an injury; (2) the Court improperly held in Manchin v. Browning, which was heretofore overruled, that the office of attorney general did not retain inherent common law powers; and (3) while the circuit courts relied on the wrong reasons for rejecting the motions to disqualify the special assistant attorneys general, those courts nevertheless were correct in denying the motions. View "State ex rel. Discover Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law

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William Watkins became a family court judge in 2002. In 2011, Judge Watkins became the subject of numerous complaints filed with the Judicial Investigation Commission. The Hearing Board concluded that Judge Watkins had committed twenty-four separate violations of nine separate canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Judge Watkins conceded that he was repeatedly intemperate with litigants, showed disrespect for authority, and was unable to properly manage his office and staff. The Board recommended that the Supreme Court censure Judge Watkins on each of his violations; suspend Watkins, without pay, until his present term of office ended in four years; and require Judge Watkins to pay the costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of these proceedings. The Supreme Court adopted the Board's recommended sanctions, holding (1) the Court had the constitutional authority to impose such a lengthy suspension; and (2) the sanctions were appropriate in this case. View "In re Judge Watkins" on Justia Law

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Respondents were former employees of Verizon West Virginia, Inc. who filed wrongful termination claims against Verizon based upon alleged violations of the West Virginia Human Rights Act. Petitioners were Verizon and various of its managerial and similar-positioned employees (collectively, Verizon) who were named as defendants in the underlying wrongful termination proceedings. At issue before the Supreme Court was Verizon's contention that Respondents' counsel's (Law Firm) prior representation of other former employees of Verizon in substantially related matters that were settled and dismissed required Law Firm to be disqualified. The circuit court permitted Law Firm to continue its representation of Respondents. Verizon subsequently requested the issuance of a writ of prohibition disqualifying Law Firm. The Supreme Court denied the writ, finding that Verizon was not entitled to prohibitory relief because (1) Law Firm's successive representation of its former and current clients did not constitute a conflict under the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct; and (2) moreover, the relief requested by Verizon would impermissibly restrict Law Firm's right to practice law in contravention of the Rules of Professional Conduct. View "State ex rel. Verizon West Virginia, Inc. v. Circuit Court" on Justia Law