Justia Connecticut Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Defendant was an attorney who represented clients in contingency fee matters that originated while he was a member of a two-person law firm with Plaintiff. After the dissolution of that firm, Defendant continued to represent those clients, and those fees were not paid until after the dissolution. Plaintiff brought this action claiming that Defendant’s failure to pay him those fees constituted, inter alia, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. The trial court concluded that Plaintiff was entitled to recover on his claim of unjust enrichment with respect to the contingency fee cases and found that Defendant owed Plaintiff $116,298.89. Defendant appealed, arguing that the award violated the fee splitting provisions of Rule 1.5(e) of the Rules of Professional Conduct because the clients had not consented to the fee sharing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court properly awarded Plaintiff a portion of the contingency fees that Defendant collected subsequent to the firm’s dissolution. View "Horner v. Bagnell" on Justia Law
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After being sanctioned, Plaintiff, an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of Connecticut, was suspended from practice before the Appellate Court for a period of six months. Plaintiff filed a writ of error, asserting that the Appellate Court abused its discretion in suspending her from practice because the conduct for which she was sanctioned did not violate rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Supreme Court dismissed the writ of error, holding (1) the Appellate Court did not abuse its discretion in suspending Plaintiff from the practice of law before the Appellate Court on the basis of her repeated failure to comply with Appellate Court rules and deadlines, and for filing a frivolous appeal; and (2) Plaintiff’s argument that rule 8.4 provides an exclusive list of misconduct for which an attorney may be sanctioned is patently frivolous. View "Miller v. Appellate Court" on Justia Law
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John McConnell created a trust naming his three children - James McConnell, Kathleen Hewitt, and Amy Sheridan - as beneficiaries. A decade later, Hewitt filed an application for, inter alia, a trust accounting and removal of a trustee. Plaintiffs in error represented Hewitt during the proceedings on the application. The probate court approved a stipulated agreement authorizing certain distributions to Hewitt and Sheridan from the trust. McConnell appealed, claiming that he did not receive notice of the probate proceedings and would not have consented to the terms of the stipulated agreement if he had had the opportunity to participate. The trial court issued an order to show cause why McConnell’s appeal should not be sustained and the probate court’s order vacated. The court ordered the Plaintiffs in error to appear at the hearing on the order to show cause. The plaintiffs in error appeared at the hearing and testified about their involvement in the proceedings before the probate court. Thereafter, the plaintiffs in error filed this writ of error challenging the trial court’s authority to order that they appear in court. The Supreme Court dismissed the writ of error, holding that the trial court’s order was not a final judgment from which a writ of error may be brought. View "McConnell v. McConnell" on Justia Law

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In 2009, the dissolution court dissolved the marriage of James and Diana Jordan. The court ordered that, after payment of attorneys fees and other obligations, the balance of the parties’ account at Northwestern Mutual (account) be divided equally between the parties. Plaintiff, Diana’s father, brought this action against James to collect the outstanding balance on James’s promissory note to him. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff. James then filed a claim for a determination of interests in the account. Defendants, the attorney and firm that represented James in the dissolution action, also sought a determination of interests in the account, claiming that they had a claim prior in right to Plaintiff’s claim by virtue of the charging lien arising by operation of law in the dissolution action. The trial court concluded that Defendants had no superior interest in the account because a charging lien in connection with a dissolution action would be prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Appellate Court reversed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that attorneys are not entitled by operation of law to equitable charging liens on marital assets for fees and expenses incurred in obtaining judgments for their clients in marital dissolution proceedings. View "Olszewski v. Jordan" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of sixteen federal felony offenses arising from actions he took while acting as the mayor of Bridgeport. After his release from prison, Defendant applied for reinstatement to the bar. The local standing committee issued a report in which it concluded that Defendant was fit to practice law and recommended that he be reinstated. The trial court denied Defendant’s application, concluding that the record did not substantiate a finding of good moral character and fitness to practice law. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court properly concluded that the standing committee abused its discretion when it determined that Defendant was presently fit to practice law and recommended his reinstatement.View "State Grievance Comm. v. Ganim" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff and Spouse divorced in 1979. In postdissolution proceedings during which Plaintiff sought modification of the alimony award, Spouse was represented by several different attorneys (Defendants). All defendants failed to disclose the true financial circumstances of Spouse. In 2008, the trial court ruled that information concerning Spouse's inheritance had been concealed from Plaintiff, causing Plaintiff to incur more than $400,000 in legal expenses and other costs. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint against Defendants for fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The superior court rendered judgment in favor of Defendants, concluding that such claims against attorneys for conduct that occurred during judicial proceedings were barred as a matter of law by the doctrine of absolute immunity. The appellate court affirmed, determining that the claims were precluded by the litigation privilege. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the appellate court properly determined that attorneys are protected by the litigation privilege against claims of fraud for their conduct during judicial proceedings; and (2) therefore, Plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, which was derivative of his claim of fraud, was also properly rejected. View "Simms v. Seaman" on Justia Law

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The primary issue in this case was whether a nonparty attorney may bring a writ of error from a trial court's order requiring the attorney to comply with a clear and definite discovery request. The plaintiff in error, Finn, Dixon & Herling, LLP (Finn Dixon) brought this writ of error from an order of the trial court requiring it to comply with a subpoena duces tecum issued by the defendants in error, Shipman & Goodwin, LLP, and Carolyn Cavolo (Defendants), who were also the defendants in the underlying case. Finn Dixon contended that the trial court improperly denied its motion to quash, in which it claimed that Defendants sought materials protected by the attorney-client privilege and the attorney work product doctrine. The Supreme Court granted the writ, holding (1) the trial court's order was an appealable final judgment; and (2) the trial court improperly denied Finn Dixon's motion to quash the subpoena. Remanded. View "Woodbury Knoll, LLC v. Shipman & Goodwin, LLP" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Jonathan Keller and a group of business entities, filed a vexatious litigation claim against Defendant, executrix of the estate of Robert Beckenstein. The trial court concluded it lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' complaint because the claim had yet to ripen into a cognizable claim. The appellate court affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the appellate court improperly determined that the trial court correctly had concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' complaint at the time it was filed, as Conn. Gen. Stat. 45a-363 provides the superior court a limited grant of jurisdiction over a complaint filed pursuant to that statute, even if the claim is not ripe when filed. View "Keller v. Beckenstein" on Justia Law