Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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The director of the Missouri State Public Defender System filed a complaint against the Honorable Christina Kunza Mennemeyer (Respondent), alleging, inter alia, a judicial practice of deliberately postponing the appointment of counsel to indigent defendant in probation violation cases for the overt reason of preventing the public defender from disqualifying her. The Commission on Retirement, Removal and Discipline found serious violations of the Code of Judicial Conduct, as well as misconduct under article V, section 24 of the Missouri Constitution, and sought discipline against Respondent. The Supreme Court held that the evidence supported each of the charges brought against Respondent and accepted the recommendation of the Commission. The Court then suspended Respondent, without pay, for a period for six months. View "In re Honorable Christina Kunza Mennemeyer" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The Missouri Real Estate Appraisers Commission denied Funk’s application for certification as a state-certified appraiser. The Administrative Hearing Commission (AHC) granted the application and, after judicial review, awarded Funk attorney fees (RSMo 536.0871) based on its determination that the Commission’s appeal was not substantially justified because a court is required to defer to the AHC’s factual and credibility findings. The circuit court reversed that award; the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed. A prevailing party in an agency proceeding normally must apply for attorney’s fees from that agency within 30 days of its decision; the request is held in abeyance until final disposition of the case. Because Funk represented himself before the AHC, he did not incur attorney’s fees at the agency level, however, and that requirement had no application. He should have applied for fees with the court of appeals, the first forum in which he prevailed while represented by an attorney. Because Funk wrongly submitted his application to the AHC within 30 days of the final decision by the court of appeals, and only requested attorney’s fees from the court of appeals after the deadline for seeking fees from that court had expired, his request was untimely. The court further stated thatCommission’s position in the original proceeding was reasonably based on fact and law and was substantially justified. The AHC erred in considering evidence that was not before the Commission when it made the decision to deny Funk’s application. View "Mo. Real Estate Appraisers Comm'n v. Funk" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs believed that Arnold police department employees had accessed their confidential records in the “Regional Justice Information System” database and filed a complaint. The department completed an internal affairs investigation. Pursuant to Missouri’s Sunshine Law, RSMo 610.010, plaintiffs sought parts of the report “for the purpose of investigating civil claims.” The city’s attorney replied that there had been no criminal investigation, but only an internal affairs investigation, and that the resulting report and other requested documents were closed because they contain personnel information. Plaintiffs again demanded the documents, citing section 610.100.4, which refers to obtaining records "for purposes of investigating a civil claim.” Plaintiffs filed suit, claiming that, whatever the original motivation for the investigation, someone who “intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains … information from any protected computer” commits a crime, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2). On remand, the trial court ordered disclosure of the report with redaction of employees’ timesheets. Plaintiffs moved, under RSMo 610.027, for attorney’s fees and a fine for a purposeful or knowing violation. The court denied the motion. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed. To prove a “knowing” violation, a party must do more than show that the city knew that it was not producing the report; section 610.027.2 requires proof that the public entity knew that its failure to produce the report violated the Sunshine Law. The court upheld a finding that the city’s failure to disclose the investigative internal affairs report was neither knowing nor purposeful. View "Laut v. City of Arnold" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of one count of first-degree statutory sodomy. Defendant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred by (1) denying his motion to disqualify the entire Newton County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office (NCPAO) due to a conflict of interest, and (2) entering a written judgment reflecting convictions of two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy when, in fact, Defendant was convicted of only one count of that offense. The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment as to one count of first-degree statutory sodomy and vacated the judgment as to the second count of first-degree statutory sodomy, holding (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in overruling Defendant’s motion to disqualify the entire NCPAO; and (2) because the written judgment erroneously stated that Defendant was found guilty on two counts of first-degree statutory sodomy, the written judgment must be corrected to reflect what actually occurred. View "State v. Lemasters" on Justia Law

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John Dilks filed a pro se petition to recover damages he suffered as a result of a flood. The “Plaintiffs” identified in the allegations of the petition were Dilks, individually, and Naylor Senior Citizens Housing, LP and Naylor Senior Citizens Housing II, LP (collectively, “Partnerships”), both of which were Missouri statutory limited partnerships. The trial court dismissed the Partnerships’ claims on the ground that, because Dilks was not a licensed attorney and he attempted to assert claims on behalf of the Partnerships, the petition was a nullity and had no legal effect for purposes of asserting claims on behalf of the Partnerships. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, as statutory entities, the Partnerships may not appear in Missouri court except through a licensed attorney, and because Dilks was not a licensed attorney, his attempt to assert claims on behalf of the Partnerships constituted the unauthorized practice of law and may not be given effect. View "Naylor Senior Citizens Housing, LP v. Sides Constr. Co." on Justia Law

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JLB Corporation, a mortgage brokering service, entered into an agreement with Bonnie Hargis to refinance her home. JLB then prepared Hargis's loan application and other financial disclosure documents. JLB alleged it played no role in drawing the note or deed of trust, which were prepared by third parties, and it did not charge for their preparation. Hargis, however, filed a three-count petition against JLB, alleging, inter alia, that JLB engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of JLB on all counts. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the grant of summary judgment to JLB as to the first two counts relating to the unauthorized practice of law where the record showed that JLB assisted Hargis only in preparing financial documents and did not show that JLB procured or assisted in the drawing of Hargis' note, deed of trust, or other legal documents; and (2) reversed the grant of summary judgment to JLB on the third count alleging unjust enrichment, as JLB's summary judgment motion failed to negate any element of Hargis' unjust enrichment claim. Remanded. View "Hargis v. JLB Corp." on Justia Law