Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Mark Lazzo served as legal counsel for Schupbach Investments, L.L.C. in its Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. After confirming a liquidation plan for the debtor, the bankruptcy court entered a final fee order approving certain disputed fee applications Lazzo filed. Creditor Rose Hill Bank and Carl B. Davis, the trustee of the Schupbach Investments Liquidation Trust, appealed the final fee order to the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel (BAP). The BAP reversed those portions of the bankruptcy court’s order that: (1) confirmed post facto approval of Lazzo’s employment, and allowed fees incurred prior to approval of his employment; and (2) allowed postconfirmation fees. The Debtor, Lazzo, and his law firm, Mark J. Lazzo, P.A. appealed the BAP’s decision. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Davis v. Schupbach Investments" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs in this case alleged their former bankruptcy trustee breached professional duties due them because of conflicting obligations the trustee owed the bankruptcy estate. Plaintiffs sought recovery under state law. However, plaintiffs filed suit in federal court against the trustee alleging diversity jurisdiction and the right to have the case resolved in an Article III court. The trustee maintained the case should have been heard in an Article I bankruptcy court because the alleged-breached professional duties arose from the bankruptcy proceedings. The district court concluded the case should have been heard in the Article I court, and certified its decision for immediate appeal. The Tenth Circuit concluded that an Article III court had jurisdiction, and reversed the district court's order. View "Loveridge v. Hall" on Justia Law

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Pro se plaintiff George Farmer, a resident of Colorado and a licensed attorney, sued defendant Banco Popular under federal and state law to challenge Banco’s demand that he pay off the full amount owed under a $150,000 Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) his deceased father obtained in 2001. In 2012, the parties informed the district court they had reached a settlement: Banco was to pay Farmer $30,000 and forgive some principal, unpaid interest, and attorney’s fees. Farmer would pay $137,380.94 in satisfaction of the HELOC, due later that year. Farmer “began to negotiate a number of the . . . terms of the draft agreement.” Banco “sent Farmer the completed settlement agreement, but Farmer sought changes to the exhibits.” These exhibits included a deed in lieu of foreclosure and a satisfaction of mortgage. After Farmer received the revised exhibits he still would not sign the settlement agreement, but “again sought more changes, including the amount, timing, and structure of the payment.” Banco ultimately filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement. Notwithstanding his prior representations to the court, Farmer sought to reduce his net payment of $107,380.34 under the terms of the agreement to $100,000, but pay it by October 1 rather than by October 15. The court held another hearing on September 10 at which Farmer again told the court the settlement was fine: “‘[W]e are all in agreement to enforce the settlement,’ and ‘the only thing that remains is the date that my payment is due.’” The parties then agreed that Banco would not pay Farmer $30,000 as previously agreed, but instead, Farmer would pay Banco $107,380.34 by November 15, 2012. “Banco Popular sent Farmer an agreement reflecting the new amount and due date, but instead of signing, Farmer asked for changes and additions. Banco Popular refused most of those changes and asked Farmer to sign the revised agreement, which he never did.” A prior Tenth Circuit decision recited, in detail, Farmer’s ongoing conduct that led the district judge to “warn that he would impose the most severe sanctions and penalties if the parties did not comply with his order” enforcing the settlement. "Now here we are again:" Farmer appealed the district court order imposing fees and costs on him as a punitive sanction. The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's order, as modified: sanctions imposed on Farmer in the form of fees and costs due and payable to Banco totaled $50,824.53; Farmer was admonished that further prolongation of this appeal absent good cause would result in the Court imposing its own monetary sanctions on him pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 38. The Clerk of Court was directed to initiate a formal attorney disciplinary proceeding for the Court to consider further whether additional discipline is appropriate. View "Farmer v. Banco Popular" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the district court abused its discretion when it awarded Appellant Michael Zinna only $8000 in attorney's fees. The case was remanded to the district court to calculate a reasonable fee. In a separate order, the Tenth Circuit ruled Zinna was entitled to a reasonable attorney’s fee for the appellate proceedings and remanded the matter to the district court to calculate that fee also. On remand, the district court entered two orders: the first awarded Zinna $16,240 in trial fees and the second awarded him $18,687.50 in appellate fees. Zinna filed a notice of appeal within thirty days of the judgment. Upon re-review, the Tenth Circuit concluded Zinna's notice of appeal was timely as to both aspects of the fee award. Furthermore, the Court concluded the district court ignored our mandate, thereby abusing its discretion when it calculated attorney's fees for the trial court proceedings. Zinna's arguments relating to the award of appellate fees were waived due to inadequate briefing. The case was remanded one again for further proceedings.View "Zinna v. Congrove" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Thomas Hale filed for bankruptcy in 2005. During the course of that bankruptcy, he allegedly lied under oath and attempted to conceal from the bankruptcy trustee an agreement to sell property. After his relationship with the trustee became antagonistic, Hale sent her a package with unidentified material and a note that said, "Possible Haz-mat? Termites or Hanta virus [sic] from mice?" In 2013, Hale was convicted of making a materially false statement under oath in a bankruptcy case, concealing a contract from the bankruptcy trustee and creditors, and perpetrating a hoax regarding the transmission of a biological agent. Upon review of Hale's appeal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part: "instead of charging Hale with 'making a false declaration, certificate, verification, or statement under penalty of perjury' with regard to his representations in [his bankruptcy petition,] Hale was charged with falsely answering a temporally ambiguous question that inquired about numerous filings and was asked nearly a year after the documents were submitted. We do not think it proper to condone the prosecution’s creation of this ambiguity. We thus conclude that the error 'seriously affects the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.'" The Court reversed the conviction with regard to the false statement, but affirmed in all other respects. View "United States v. Hale" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant George David Gordon was a former securities attorney convicted of multiple criminal charges relating to his alleged participation in a "pump-and-dump" scheme where he (along with others) violated the federal securities laws by artificially inflating the value of various stocks, then turning around and selling them for a substantial profit. The government restrained some of his property before the indictment was handed down and ultimately obtained criminal forfeiture of that property. On appeal, Defendant raised multiple issues relating to the validity of his conviction and sentence, and the propriety of the government’s conduct (both before and after trial) related to the forfeiture of his assets. In the end, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed Defendant's conviction and sentence, as well as the district court’s forfeiture orders. View "United States v. Gordon" on Justia Law

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"By all appearances, Defendant Howard Kieffer had a successful nationwide criminal law practice." Defendant managed to gain admission to multiple federal trial and appellate courts across the country where he appeared on behalf of numerous criminal defendants. Defendant never attended law school, sat for a bar exam, nor receive a license to practice law. A North Dakota jury convicted Defendant of mail fraud and for making false statements. The jury found Defendant gained admission to the District of North Dakota by submitting a materially false application to the court, then relied on that admission to gain admission to the District of Minnesota, District of Colorado, and Western District of Missouri. The district court sentenced Defendant to 51 months' imprisonment and ordered him to pay restitution to six victims of his scheme. A jury in Colorado also convicted him of making false statements, wire fraud and contempt of court. The district court sentenced Defendant to 57 months' imprisonment to run consecutively to the 51 month sentence previously imposed on him in North Dakota. The court further ordered him to pay restitution to seven victims of his scheme unaccounted for in North Dakota, and directed him as a special condition of supervised release to obtain the probation office's preapproval of any proposed employment or business ventures. Defendant appealed his most recent convictions and sentence from Colorado, each based on his Sixth Amendment right to have the Government prove, and a jury find, all elements of the charged crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Further, Defendant presented five challenges to his sentence, three of which bore directly upon the district court’s application of the Sentencing Guidelines. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit found that the record reflected that by the time of Defendant's actual sentencing, the district court had decided to sentence him within the advisory guideline range. The court then proceeded to calculate Defendant’s guideline range incorrectly on the basis of numerous procedural errors, both factual and legal. As a result, the court selected a sentence from the wrong guideline range. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit vacated Defendant's sentence on Counts I and II of the superceding indictment and remanded the case for resentencing. The Court affirmed the district court in all other respects. View "United States v. Kieffer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Susan Rose, a Utah lawyer, initiated the underlying federal lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of state disciplinary proceedings brought against her by the Utah bar. She also sought a preliminary injunction to enjoin those proceedings. The district court denied the injunction, and while this appeal from the injunction decision was pending, it dismissed the underlying action. The Bar moved to dismiss the appeal, claiming it was mooted by the dismissal of the underlying action. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit agreed this appeal was moot, and granted the Bar's motion to dismiss.