Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
United States v. Kieffer
"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
Trinity Mortgage Companies, Inc. v. Dryer
Trinity Mortgage Companies, Inc. (Trinity) appealed the district court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of David Dryer and Dryer and Associates, P.C. (Dryer). Trinity, formerly a mortgage brokerage company owned by Shawn Cremeen, entered into a franchise agreement with 1st Class Lending, Inc., which was owned by Dennis Junker and Richard Gheisar. In April 2007, Junker sued Gheisar and Trinity in Oklahoma state court for breach of contract, fraud, defamation, and conversion, all concerning his alleged wrongful termination. Between May 2007 and April 2008, Dryer represented Trinity, without a written contract. In October 2007, while the lawsuit was pending, Trinity entered into an agreement to sell most of its assets and to stop originating loans. Meanwhile, after Trinity failed to file an answer in the pending lawsuit, Junker moved for a default judgment against Trinity. Because Dryer failed to object to entry of default judgment against Trinity, the state court granted the motion against Trinity in January 2008. The another firm replaced Dryer as Trinity’s counsel, who unsuccessfully sought to vacate the default judgment against Trinity. Cremeen and Junker eventually entered into a settlement agreement concerning the lawsuit. Trinity confessed a final judgment in favor of Junker but the only recovery of this amount would be through his ownership interest in Trinity, which was the action against Dryer. Trinity moved for partial summary judgment on its malpractice and breach of contract claims. Dryer moved for summary judgment, contending that all claims were barred as a matter of law because Trinity unlawfully assigned them to Junker. In response, Trinity argued that there had not been an assignment of tort causes of action; there was never any collusion between Trinity and Junker; and that the malpractice case was not contingent upon disproving the merits of the underlying suit against Trinity. The district court granted Dryer’s motion for summary judgment and denied Trinity’s motion for partial summary judgment. Upon review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Dryer.
Rose v. Utah State Bar
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.
Wright v. Compgeeks.com
In 2001, a company calling itself âComputer Geeks, a California corporation,â sued Plaintiff Jason Wright in Utah state court for failing to assign a domain name. Mr. Wright did not respond to the companyâs motion for summary judgment, and in 2006, the state court granted the motion and entered judgment against him. Mr. Wright hired Appellant-Attorney Russell Cline to have the judgment set aside or modified. In 2008, Appellant filed a motion to set the judgment aside. As it turns out, âComputer Geeks, a California corporationâ is not related to the company that held the Utah state judgment. Appellant was made aware of the mistaken identity soon after Appellant served âComputer Geeks, a California corporation.â Appellant represented to the clerk of the district court that he had properly served âComputer Geeks, a California corporation.â The clerk entered a default, and Appellant moved for a default judgment. Within a few weeks, Defendant CompGeeks.com moved to vacate the default judgment. At the hearing, Appellant acknowledged he knew the difference between the two companies, but that he served the correct holder of the Utah judgment. The district court found that Appellant had filed a frivolous action in violation of state law, and dismissed the case. The court referred Appellant to the state attorney disciplinary committee, and awarded attorneyâs fees to CompGeeks.com, making Mr. Wright and Appellant jointly and severally liable for the award. Appellant moved to vacate the award of attorneyâs fees, alleging the district court abused its discretion in its decision. On review, the Tenth Circuit âsympathize[d] with the district courtâs frustration with [Appellantâs] conduct,â but held that â Rule 11 does not allow a sua sponte award of attorney fees.â Accordingly the monetary sanctions order was vacated, and the Court remanded the case for further proceedings.