Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Prior to filing condemnation proceedings the Appellee Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) offered Appellants, Cedars Group, L.L.C., A. Sam Coury and Bush, Ltd. d/b/a Deer Creek Texaco, (collectively, Coury Defendants), $562,500.00 for the acquisition of certain real property. The offer was not accepted and ODOT commenced two condemnation proceedings. In one, a commissioners' report estimated the value of just compensation for the property to be $285,000.00. In the second proceeding, the value of just compensation was estimated as $177,500.00. The combined value of the two commissioners' awards totaled $462,500.00. The Coury Defendants hired Gregg Renegar's law firm to provide representation in the condemnation proceedings. Pursuant to the firm’s attorney-client agreement, the Coury Defendants agreed to pay forty percent of the difference between an award and jury verdict, plus any attorney’s fees allowed by the court. A jury trial was held, and the jury awarded just compensation of $525,000 for the two tracts. Defendants applied for attorney fees. The trial court determined Defendants were not entitled to an award of fees because they never actually incurred any. In the end, the trial court awarded appraisal fees but denied reasonable attorney, engineering and expert witness fees, costs and expenses of Defendants. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part; the case was remanded for a determination of reasonable attorney fees, engineering and expert witness fees, and costs. View "Oklahoma ex rel. Dept. of Trans. v. Cedars Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court's review was whether the district court erred in sustaining a legal parent's motion to disqualify opposing counsel. More specifically, the question centered on whether the integrity of the judicial process was likely to suffer real harm when an attorney who represents a client in a proceeding to establish paternity and to determine custody of a minor child failed to report suspected child abuse to the proper authorities as required by statute, conducts a forensic interview of the child to obtain evidence to support the client's position, did not obtain the legal parent's permission prior to the interview, and filed his own affidavit attesting to the credibility of the child's affidavit. Brandy Poindexter (Mother) is the legal parent of a minor child (Child) born in 2005. On September 6, 2006, Michael Jensen (Client) filed a paternity action seeking joint custody of Child. William D. Thomas (Attorney) filed an entry of appearance on Client's behalf, becoming Client's fourth attorney in the paternity proceeding. The issue of paternity is not contested, but the district judge has yet to enter a final paternity decree. Child again alleged that he had been abused by Mother and her husband. This time, Client did not report the new allegations to DHS, but instead brought the Child to Attorney to be interviewed. On January 12, 2014, Attorney conducted a forensic interview of Child without seeking permission from Mother or securing independent counsel for Child. Only Attorney and Child were present during the interview. At a subsequent hearing on paternity, Mother moved to disqualify Attorney. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the district court did not err in sustaining the motion to disqualify opposing counsel when the attorney likely compromised the legal parent's right to a fair proceeding by contaminating the fact-finding procedure and by establishing a relationship of undue influence with the child. View "Jensen v. Poindexter" on Justia Law

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Petitioner, Miami Business Services LLC (Miami), and Real Parties in Interest were involved in a joint venture. The law firm of Phillips Murrah, P.C. (Phillips) served as general counsel for Miami as well as Real Parties in Interest and their joint venture. Over the course of that joint venture, Jennifer Fogg, one of the defendants, acted as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Miami and acted as the principal in the real party in interest business entities. While COO of Miami, Fogg sought counsel from Phillips regarding issues affecting Miami's operations and for work undertaken by Real Parties in Interest and the joint venture. Miami terminated Fogg from her role as its COO in October, 2010. Subsequent to Fogg's termination, Miami brought suit against Real Parties in Interest, including Fogg, for breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, breach of contract, and civil conspiracy. Phillips entered its appearance in the suit on behalf of the Real Parties in Interest. Miami then filed a motion to disqualify Phillips, claiming that Phillips had a conflict of interest which violated Rules 1.7 and 1.9 of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct, stemming from Phillips' involvement with both Miami and Real Party in Interest Asset Group, Inc. The trial judge denied Miami's motion and Miami appealed. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court recast Miami's appeal as an application for original jurisdiction and petition for mandamus. In granting the petition, the Court held that denial of a motion to disqualify was immediately appealable as a final order affecting the substantial rights of a party pursuant to 12 O.S. 2011 sec. 953 and that the addition of Comment 3 to Rule 1.9 of the Oklahoma Rules of Professional Conduct did not alter the requirement for an evidentiary hearing on motions to disqualify counsel for conflicts of interest based upon possession of confidential information. View "Miami Business Services, LLC v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Tracy Stanfield was injured in 1992. A settlement relating to his injuries resulted in an annuity providing periodic payments to Stanfield from Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (MetLife). Stanfield assigned certain annuity payments, and the assignee in turn assigned them to J. G. Wentworth S.S.C. Limited Partnership (Wentworth). Stanfield later caused MetLife to ignore the assignments to Wentworth. Wentworth filed an action in a Pennsylvania state court and obtained a judgment against Stanfield. Wentworth then filed a motion for a judgment against MetLife for the same amount. A Pennsylvania court granted the motion. Soon thereafter, Stanfield's mother Mildred filed a petition in an Oklahoma district court to be appointed guardian of her son's estate. MetLife filed an interpleader action in a Pennsylvania federal district court and named Wentworth and Mildred in her capacity as guardian of her son's estate as defendants. Mildred asked attorney Loyde Warren to accept service of process on her behalf, and he agreed. Stanfield signed Warren's contingency fee agreement; Warren then engaged local counsel in Pennsylvania. At the settlement conference the parties agreed that Wentworth's judgment would be withdrawn; payments would be paid from Stanfield's annuity payments to Wentworth; the annuity assignment was rescinded; and future annuity payments from MetLife to Stanfield, as guardian, would be made payable in care of Warren. In 2009, Warren filed a motion in the open and continuing guardianship case before the Oklahoma district court for approval of both the 2001 contract for legal representation and the payment of legal fees made pursuant to that contract. Mildred objected and among her arguments, she maintained that a contingency fee for successfully defending a client from a judgment was improper, and that the fee agreement was unenforceable because it had not been approved by the guardianship court. The district court denied Warren's motion, "[b]ecause the application was not filed prior to payment of the fee and was not filed until nearly eight years after the contract was executed." The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed, and Warren appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that (1) the district court possessed jurisdiction to adjudicate a guardianship proceeding a motion seeking court approval of a lawyer's contingent fee contract; (2) the guardian's failure to obtain court approval of a contingent fee agreement prior to payment pursuant to that agreement is not, by itself, a legally sufficient reason for a court to deny a motion to approve the agreement; and (3) the mere passage of time between creation of a contingent fee agreement and when it is presented to a court for approval in an open and continuing guardianship proceeding is not a legally sufficient reason to deny approval of that agreement. View "In the matter of the Guardianship of Stanfield" on Justia Law

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The trial court granted summary judgment to Defendants-Appellees Seymour Law Firm, R. Thomas Seymour and Scott A. Graham, based on the legal theory that its failure to enforce an attorney's lien within one year after it became aware of a settlement precluded Plaintiff-Appellant Gina Cowley from enforcing a contract she held with co-counsel. Specifically, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the expiration of the lien prohibited Plaintiff's lawyer from suing her co-counsel for breach of contract over the distribution of attorney fees from the settlement of the underlying case. Upon review, the Court held that the applicable one-year statute of limitations did not preclude a lawsuit arising over a contract dispute between Plaintiff's lawyers. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cowley v. Seymour Law Firm" on Justia Law