Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Judge Richard Hagar of the North Central Judicial District filed exceptions to the Judicial Conduct Commission's recommended findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to diligently and promptly decide judicial matters assigned to him and by failing to work with the presiding judge. He also objected to the Commission's recommended sanction. After review, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded there was clear and convincing evidence Judge Hagar violated N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Rules 2.5 and 2.7. The Court ordered that Judge Hagar be suspended from his position as district court judge for three months without pay and that he be assessed $10,118.67 for the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law

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DeWayne Johnston, individually, and as registered agent of Johnston Law Office, P.C., appealed the invalidation of a notice of attorney lien recorded against Johnston's former client and ordering Johnston Law Office and Johnston, individually, to pay $1,330 in costs and attorney fees. Wayne and Janel Nusviken acquired real property from Johnston's former client Barbara McDermott on October 2, 2013. On October 8, 2013, Johnston recorded a "notice of attorney lien" against McDermott. The notice of attorney lien included the legal description of Nusviken's property and stated McDermott owed Johnston nearly $66,000 in attorney's fees relating to Johnston's representation of McDermott in earlier matters unrelated to the sale of the property. The Nusvikens petitioned the district court to invalidate the notice of attorney lien, arguing McDermott no longer owned any interest in the property. The court issued an order to show cause directing Johnston to appear and show why the notice of attorney lien should not be declared void. At the hearing, Johnston argued the notice of attorney lien was not a nonconsensual common-law lien but a valid attorney's lien under N.D.C.C. ยง 35-20-08, and therefore, the court did not have jurisdiction to invalidate the lien. In response Nusviken's attorney stated the notice of attorney lien was invalid because McDermott no longer had an interest in the property and no attorney-client relationship existed between Johnston and the Nusvikens. The court concluded the purported lien was a nonconsensual common-law lien and not a valid attorney's lien because it failed to satisfy the statutory requirements for an attorney's lien. After review, the Supreme Court modified the judgment to relieve Johnston of personal liability and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "Nusviken v. Johnston" on Justia Law

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Blume Construction, Inc. appealed a district court judgment affirming a Job Service North Dakota decision, finding Blume did not file a valid appeal and the agency's determination assigning Blume a final penalty tax rate. Blume received a notice of determination from Job Service informing Blume that it would be assigned a penalty tax rate for unemployment insurance. The notice stated the agency conducted an audit and concluded there was a transfer of ownership and payroll between Blume and another company that was knowingly done to obtain a lower tax rate for unemployment insurance. The notice informed Blume it would be assigned the highest tax rate assignable for the next three years. The notice advised Blume the determination would become final unless a written appeal was made to Job Service within fifteen days. Job Service received an electronic appeal request for Blume signed by Craig Fidler. Fidler was identified as a licensed attorney from Colorado. Fidler was not licensed to practice law in North Dakota. In approximately May 2014, Fidler notified the referee he was unable to secure a sponsoring attorney licensed in North Dakota. During that same time period, the referee was informed a North Dakota attorney would be representing Blume. Blume argued the referee erred in finding Blume's attorney engaged in the unauthorized practice of law and the appealed request the attorney filed was void. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Blume Construction, Inc. v. North Dakota" on Justia Law

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The last will and testament of Donald Amundson provided for his entire estate to be distributed to the Donald G. Amundson Trust. The Trust owned farmland jointly with the Kenneth Amundson Trust, which was set up by Donald Amundson's brother. Donald Amundson's Trust declaration directed the Trust assets were to be distributed upon his death to four charities, with the remainder distributed to ten nieces and nephews. Debra Magers and Gladys Gleason were initially appointed as co-personal representatives of the Estate. Magers, Gleason, and Todd Graveline were appointed as co-trustees of the Trust. John Widdel, Jr. represented all parties in relation to the administration of the estate. Magers eventually became sole personal representative and trustee of the Trust and Estate. In August 2013, the beneficiaries of the Estate petitioned for court determination of reasonableness of fees and for settlement and distribution of estate. The petition objected to the fees charged by Magers and Widdel for their services to the Estate and Trust. In September 2014, the district court found Magers had breached her fiduciary duty in several ways, which included paying Widdel large fees without question. The court also found administration of the Estate and Trust was not complicated and Widdel's fees were unreasonable in light of the nature of the work performed. The court ordered Widdel to return attorney's fees in the amount of $95,000. Widdel appealed the district court judgment ordering him to repay $95,000 of the attorney's fees he charged in the administration of the Estate. He argued the district court abused its discretion in finding the attorney's fees were unreasonable, and that the district court abused its discretion by not holding an evidentiary hearing on the issue of substituting his professional corporation as the named party on the judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court, concluding the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding the fees charged by Widdel were unreasonable and in finding Widdel could properly be held personally liable on the judgment. View "Estate of Amundson" on Justia Law

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Richard L. Hagar, judge of the district court for the North Central Judicial District, filed exceptions to the Judicial Conduct Commission's recommended findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct by failing to diligently and promptly decide judicial matters assigned to him. He also objected to the Commission's recommended sanctions. The Supreme Court adopted the Commission's findings of fact and ordered that Judge Hagar be suspended from his position as district judge for one month without pay commencing April 1, 2014. Moreover, the Court assessed $3,710.49 for the costs and attorney fees necessary for the prosecution of these proceedings. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Rodney Brossart appealed a default judgment entered against him in a collection action brought by Plaintiff-Appellee Raymond J. German, Ltd. for legal services allegedly rendered to him. On appeal, Appellant argued the district court erred in granting German a default judgment, and German failed to prove the existence of an attorney-client agreement between itself and Appellant, precluding the default. Upon review, the Supreme Court modified the default and affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in entering a default in favor of German, because Appellant "appeared" under N.D.R.Civ.P. 55(a) and German provided him with notice of the motion for a default judgment under N.D.R.Civ.P. 55(a)(3). Furthermore, the Court held that it was reasonable for the trial court to ask for written proof of the attorney-client relationship prior to entering the default judgment. View "Raymond J. German, Ltd. v. Brossart" on Justia Law

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The Judicial Conduct Commission recommended that Northwest District Court judge Richard Hagar be censured for violating Canon 3(B)(1) of the Code of Judicial Conduct. In 2011, Judge Hagar was served formal charges for allegedly not promptly deciding "Ringuette v. Ringuette" when a trial was held in his court in 2010. Upon review, the Supreme Court accepted the Affidavit of Consent and Agreement agreed to by the parties, censured Judge Hagar for his conduct, and ordered him to pay $500 in costs for the disciplinary proceeding. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Hagar" on Justia Law