Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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Providence Alaska Medical Center terminated Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges without an opportunity to be heard after determining he had violated hospital policy by failing to report an Alaska State Medical Board order requiring him to undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner unsuccessfully challenged this action through the hospital's hearing and appeal procedures. Brandner thereafter took his cause to court, seeking reinstatement and damages for the alleged due process violations both in the procedures used and in the substantive standard applied in his termination. The superior court found no such violations and that he was not entitled to reinstatement. Brandner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, finding that Brandner was not entitled to reinstatement or post-termination-hearing damages. However, the doctor's due process rights were violated when he was not given a hearing following termination of his hospital privileges. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "Brandner v. Providence Health & Services" on Justia Law

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Following a disciplinary sanction, a judge was not recommended for retention by the Alaska Judicial Council. Although the judge chose not to campaign, an independent group supported his retention and campaigned on his behalf. After the election the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct filed a disciplinary complaint against the judge and later imposed an informal private admonishment on the judge because he did not publicly address allegedly misleading statements made by the independent group. Because the statements clearly originated with the independent group rather than the judge, and the judge had no knowledge of one statement, the judge had no duty to publicly address any of the statements. Accordingly, we reverse the Commission’s admonishment and dismissed the Commission’s complaint against the judge. View "In Re District Court Judge" on Justia Law

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A client personally financed the sale of his business corporation. His attorney drafted documents that secured the buyer’s debt with corporate stock and an interest in the buyer’s home. Over seven years later the government imposed tax liens on the corporation’s assets; according to the client, it was only then he learned for the first time that his attorney had not provided for a recorded security interest in the physical assets. The client sued the attorney for malpractice and violation of the Alaska Unfair Trade Practice and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). The superior court held that the statute of limitations barred the client’s claims and granted summary judgment to the attorney. But after review, the Alaska Supreme Court concluded that it was not until the tax liens were filed that the client suffered the actual damage necessary for his cause of action to be complete. Therefore, the Court reversed the superior court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Jones v. Westbrook" on Justia Law

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Appellant William Foondle appeals the superior court’s dismissal of his claims for legal malpractice against the public defenders who represented him in a criminal case. A grand jury indicted William Foondle for felony driving under the influence (DUI) in 2007. The DUI charge was a felony because Foondle had been convicted of DUI twice in the preceding ten years: once earlier in 2007 and once in North Dakota in 1999. Assistant public defenders Angela O’Brien and Daniel Lord were assigned to defend Foondle. In dismissing Foondle’s malpractice claims, the superior court relied on the public policy principle that precluded criminally convicted plaintiffs from civil recovery based on the alleged negligence of their former defense counsel. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that the superior court’s legal analysis was correct, and affirmed the judgment on that basis. Furthermore, the Court rejected, as unsupported, Foondle’s argument that the dismissal violated his rights to due process and access to the courts. View "Foondle v. O'Brien" on Justia Law

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Dr. Michael Brandner’s hospital privileges at Providence Alaska Medical Center were revoked after he violated hospital policy by failing to disclose an order from the Alaska State Medical Board that he undergo an evaluation of his fitness to practice medicine. Brandner appealed to the hospital’s Fair Hearing Panel and Appellate Review Committee, but the termination was upheld. Brandner filed suit against the hospital and several doctors involved in the termination proceedings, alleging breach of contract and denial of due process. The superior court granted summary judgment in favor of the individual doctors because they were immune from suit. Finding that the executive committee and hearing panel reasonably interpreted the policy, the Supreme Court found Brandner did not raise any material evidence tending to show that the executive committee and hearing panel were motivated by malice. As such, the Court affirmed the superior court's order dismissing Brandner's claims against the individual doctors. View "Brandner v. Bateman" on Justia Law

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A client sued his lawyer for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, misrepresentation, and professional negligence in a fee agreement dispute. After a jury found in favor of the lawyer and judgment was entered, the client appealed, arguing that the superior court erred by issuing certain jury instructions regarding contract interpretation and by denying the client's motion for a new trial or judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that any error in the superior court's jury instructions was not prejudicial, and affirmed the superior court's decision to deny the client's post-trial motions because there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find for the lawyer on each of the claims. View "Zamarello v. Reges" on Justia Law

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Shareholders of a closely held corporation brought a derivative suit against a shareholder-director and the corporation's former attorneys for fiduciary fraud, fraudulent conveyance, legal malpractice, and civil conspiracy. After an evidentiary hearing, the superior court ruled all the claims were time-barred. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's dismissal of most claims, but reversed its dismissal of two and remanded those claims for further proceedings. View "Gefre v. Davis Wright Tremaine, LLP" on Justia Law

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In early April 2012 the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct (Commission) referred to the Supreme Court its unanimous recommendation for removal of Judge Dennis Cummings, a district court judge in Bethel. However in December 2011, Judge Cummings had announced his retirement and he retired shortly after the Court received the Commission's recommendation. Despite Judge Cummings's retirement, the Court considered this matter a live controversy - a judge's retirement did not extinguish the Commission's and the Supreme Court's jurisdiction to complete disciplinary proceedings, and "there [were] important policy reasons to do so." After independently reviewing the record and the Commission's recommendation to remove Judge Cummings, the Court accepted the Commission's recommendation for removal. View "In Re Cummings" on Justia Law

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A bar served a man alcohol while he was visibly intoxicated, and the man murdered a woman later that evening. The lawyer representing the bar in the subsequent dram shop action did not attempt to add the murderer as a party for apportionment of fault. Following entry of a large judgment against the bar, the bar brought a legal malpractice suit against its attorney. The attorney moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, arguing that where case law is unsettled, as a matter of law an attorney cannot be held liable for an error in judgment. The superior court granted the motion and the bar appealed. "Because the existence of unsettled law does not excuse an attorney from fulfilling a duty of care," the Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "L.D.G., Inc. v. Robinson" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Alaska's Board of Certified Real Estate Appraisers imposed professional sanctions on appraiser Appellee-Cross-Appellant Kim Wold for violations of the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP). The Board relied in large part on the views of a distinguished expert in Alaskan real estate appraisal who performed a "desk review" of Appelle's work. The expert concluded that the appraiser committed numerous violations of the USPAP. Though the Supreme Court reviewed the Board's findings with great deference, it concluded that none of the Board's findings of USPAP violations were supported by substantial evidence in light of the whole record. The Court thus affirmed the superior court's reversal of the Board's findings of USPAP violations, and reversed the single violation that the superior court affirmed. View "Dept. of Commerce & Economic Development v. Wold" on Justia Law