Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & 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. § 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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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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Joan Johnson, as personal representative of the Estate of Herman B. Johnson, and Marguerite Johnson, Herman Johnson's widow, appealed a district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing their action against Mid Dakota Clinic. On the morning of December 18, 2012, Herman Johnson experienced confusion and swelling of his legs and calves. That morning, Joan Johnson, Herman Johnson's daughter and attorney-in-fact, called the Veteran's Administration Clinic to schedule an appointment for Herman, but the VA Clinic did not return her call. As a result, Joan Johnson called Mid Dakota to schedule an appointment. Although she had requested a specific doctor, she was advised she would not be able to see him that day and was given an appointment with Donald Grenz, M.D. later that afternoon. Upon arriving at Mid Dakota Clinic at Gateway Mall, Joan and Herman Johnson checked in with the receptionist approximately seven minutes late for the appointment. Because they were more than five minutes late, they were told Dr. Grenz would not see them but they could reschedule with Dr. Grenz for another day or go to the emergency room or the "Today Clinic," a walk-in clinic within Mid Dakota's main clinic downtown. Joan and Herman Johnson subsequently left the clinic to seek alternative care. Upon entering the east vestibule of the Gateway Mall, Joan Johnson decided to seek the assistance of the VA Clinic, which was located in the mall immediately adjacent to Mid Dakota. As Joan and Herman Johnson turned to re-enter the mall, Herman Johnson fell and hit his head on the floor of the vestibule. As a result, he suffered a laceration along his forehead. Joan Johnson then returned to Mid Dakota and announced that Herman Johnson had fallen and was injured. A registered nurse employed by Mid Dakota assisted Herman Johnson until he was taken by ambulance to St. Alexius Medical Center and was admitted for observation. While Herman Johnson was hospitalized, he suffered two episodes of respiratory arrest, and he died on December 27, 2012. The Johnsons sued Mid Dakota for negligence, breach of contract and professional negligence. Because the Johnsons failed to present sufficient evidence to raise genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Johnson v. Mid Dakota Clinic, P.C." on Justia Law

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Respondent Wickham Corwin, judge in the East Central Judicial District, objected to the Judicial Conduct Commission's findings that he violated provisions of the Code of Judicial Conduct and its recommendation that he be suspended for two months, without net pay, and be assessed the costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded there was clear and convincing evidence Judge Corwin violated N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Canons 3(C)(1), and N.D. Code Jud. Conduct Canon 3(C)(2). The Court ordered Judge Corwin be suspended from his position as district judge for one month without pay effective December 1, 2014, and that he be assessed costs and expenses of the disciplinary proceedings. View "Judicial Conduct Commission v. Corwin" 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