Freivogel on Conflicts
Joint/Multiple Representation

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        Whether one calls the representation "joint" or "multiple," when a lawyer or law firm represents more the one person or entity, a number of things can go wrong.  The cases and opinions can be broken down into litigation and non-litigation.  The litigation cases are discussed at Part C below.  Non-litigation matters can be further subdivided.  The simplest kind are matters in which the lawyer clearly knew that she was representing more than one person or entity.  These are discussed at Part A.  The other kind of non-litigation representation is where the lawyer unwittingly gets herself into the situation where someone claims that he was a client, and the lawyer did not think that was the case.  We call those "unintentional" joint/multiple representations.  These are the most dangerous of all.  To read about those cases and opinions, go to Part B below.

A.  Non-Litigation Matters – Intentional Joint Representation – Confidences

              Two persons come to a lawyer and ask her to represent them both in a business transaction. In most circumstances, the lawyer may legally and ethically do this. (For the more difficult situations - buyer vs. seller, e.g. - see the section entitled "Commercial Negotiations.")  Frequently, the lawyer will need to obtain consent under her state’s equivalent of Model Rule 1.7. The single most troublesome issue in these representations has to do with confidences. What is the lawyer to do when she learns something from one client that would be valuable information to the other? This is a serious problem when the first client does not want the other client to have the information. The lawyer is torn between her duty of confidentiality under Rule 1.6 and her duty to keep all her clients informed under Rule 1.4.

              Privilege versus confidentiality under ethics rules. Good lawyers frequently fail to make the distinction. An excellent, and all too rare, discussion of this distinction appears in Brennan’s, Inc. v. Brennan’s Restaurants, Inc., 590 F.2d 168 (5th Cir. 1979). The attorney-client privilege deals with when a client’s communication with a lawyer can be discovered in litigation or revealed at trial. Without a proceeding, the privilege plays no role. A lawyer’s duty of confidentiality under Model Rule 1.6, or her state’s equivalent, is always present. The privilege rules in joint representations have been fairly well understood. If litigation erupts between the joint clients, the privilege will not apply as to information shared between them and with their lawyer. The privilege will continue to protect that information as to the outside world. When you switch to the ethics rules on confidentiality in joint representations, it is our position that application of the rules is not clear at all. More about that in a moment.

              Comments [26]-[33] to Model Rule 1.7 deal with joint representation in non-litigation contexts, and several of them were changed or added by the ABA House of Delegates in February 2002.  Particularly noteworthy is new Comment (31], which, as to confidences, provides as follows:

As to the duty of confidentiality, continued common representation will almost certainly be inadequate if one client asks the lawyer not to disclose to the other client information relevant to the common representation. This is so because the lawyer has an equal duty of loyalty to each client, and each client has the right to be informed of anything bearing on the representation that might affect that client's interests and the right to expect that the lawyer will use that information to that client's benefit. See Rule 1.4. The lawyer should, at the outset of the common representation and as part of the process of obtaining each client's informed consent, advise each client that information will be shared and that the lawyer will have to withdraw if one client decides that some matter material to the representation should be kept from the other. In limited circumstances, it may be appropriate for the lawyer to proceed with the representation when the clients have agreed, after being properly informed, that the lawyer will keep certain information confidential. For example, the lawyer may reasonably conclude that failure to disclose one client's trade secrets to another client will not adversely affect representation involving a joint venture between the clients and agree to keep that information confidential with the informed consent of both clients.

              Restatement. The Restatement deals with joint representations in a non-litigation setting at § 130.  The black letter says that consent may allow a lawyer to continue on behalf of fewer than all the clients if a conflict develops. The black letter does not deal with confidentiality, but cmt. l to § 60 does. More specifically, see illus. 2 and 3 at cmt. l. Basically, the comment provides that if the lawyer believes that the client without the information needs to know it, the lawyer has discretion to reveal it.

              A case that discusses this issue in detail, including the Restatement’s position, is A. v. B., 726 A.2d 924 (N.J. 1999). In that case a law firm was representing a husband and wife in estate planning. The firm discovered that the husband was a defendant in a paternity suit and believed the wife did not know about the suit. The law firm wanted to tell the wife, but the husband would not allow it. Litigation ensued, and the New Jersey Supreme Court, in a comprehensive analysis, found that the firm had discretion to tell the wife. The court specifically adopted the analysis of Comment l to § 130 of the Restatement. (The court also relied, in part, upon New Jersey’s version of Model Rule 1.6, which is pro-disclosure in cases of potential client fraud.) The court noted that ethics committees in New York and Florida would have prohibited the disclosure. N.Y. State Bar Op. 555 (1984); Fla. Bar Op. 95-4 (1997).  D.C. Op. 327 (March 2005), deals with the issue of confidences in joint representation.  If one client reveals something to the lawyer in confidence, and the information would be important to the other client, the law must withdraw.  The opinion discusses ways to avoid this result.

        Other authorities dealing with confidences and joint representation are: In re H. Children, 608 N.Y.S.2d 784 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1994); A.B.A. Op. 08-450 (2008); N.Y. Op. 761 (2003); N.Y. City Op. 2017-7 (2017); N.Y. City Op. 2005-05 (2005).

        N.Y. Op. 1249 (Jan. 5, 2023). Lawyer currently represents H and W simultaneously in estate planning. It is always a good idea to provide in an engagement document that Lawyer will keep no secrets of one joint client from the other. Authorities (including the Committee's opinion) suggest that even absent a written provision, there is normally an expectation that Lawyer will share the information. Suppose, however, Lawyer learned something from, or about, H during an earlier single representation of H. This opinion says that the usual duty to reveal does not apply in the current joint representation.

        Speaking of Fla. Op. 95-4 (1997)Chase v. Bowen, 711 So. 2d 1181 (Fla. App. 2000).  Bowen did estate planning and other legal work at various times for Naomi Chase and her mother, Reah Chase.  At one point Reah's will and trust provided that Naomi would get income for her life.  Reah asked Bowen to change her will and trust to exclude Naomi in favor of Reah's business associates.  After Reah passed away, and Naomi discovered the change, Naomi sued Bowen.  The trial court granted Bowen summary judgment.  The appellate court affirmed, providing almost no analysis.  It said simply:

It is our view that a lawyer who prepares a will owes no duty to any previous beneficiary, even a beneficiary he may be representing in another matter, to oppose the testator or testatrix in changing his or will and, therefore, that assisting that change is not a conflict of interest.

        The dissenting judge would have remanded and given Naomi an opportunity to replead.  His opinion was much longer than the majority's and contained the analysis one would have expected from the majority.  For example, The Florida Bar in Op. 95-4(1997) addressed the classic mistress situation.  The opinion said that when the husband calls the lawyer (who is also doing the wife's estate plan) to prepare a codicil for his mistress, the lawyer's duty is not to tell the wife, but decline to proceed on behalf of either.  The dissenting judge said that Naomi might be able to plead breach of fiduciary duty in connection with Bowen's failure to disclose his conflict of interest.   He also said Naomi might also be able to plead intentional interference with inheritance.  About that, the majority said simply, not "under the facts of this case."  ABA Op. 05-434 (Dec. 8, 2004) deals with this precise issue and cites Chase.

        Leff v. Fulbright & Jaworski, L.L.P., 2010 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 8531 (N.Y. App. Div. Nov. 18, 2010).  Law Firm did estate planning for W and H, but evidently separately and at different times.  After H's demise, in this action, W sued Law Firm for malpractice relating to its handling of H's estate plan.  In this opinion the court affirmed the trial court's order dismissing the complaint.  First, the court held that W did not have a cause of action as a beneficiary.  Second, the court held that under the circumstances W was not "in privity" with Law Firm with respect to its planning H's estate.  Last, the court held that damages would be "grossly speculative."

        For a wrong-headed discussion of these issues, see An Unnamed Attorney v. Kentucky Bar Ass’n., 186 S.W.3d 741 (Ky. 2006).

        Star Centers, Inc. v. Faegre & Benson, L.L.P., 644 N.W.2d 72 (Minn. May 16, 2002).  Faegre's Minneapolis office represented Star Centers in borrowing money from Consortium International.  Faegre had disclosed that it represented Consortium on several small unrelated matters, and obtained waivers from both parties to represent Star Centers in the loan transaction.  After several failed attempts to consummate the loan, and while the matter was pending, Faegre's Denver office began defending Consortium in litigation pending in Denver.  When Consortium announced that it was backing out of the loan, Star Centers asked Faegre to sue Consortium.  Faegre refused because of a conflict.  Eventually Star Centers sued Faegre for breach of fiduciary duty and malpractice.  It claimed that Faegre knew things about Consortium that it should have disclosed to Star Centers.  The trial court, the appellate court, and the Minnesota Supreme Court held that what Faegre knew about Consortium was not relevant to Star Centers and that failure to make disclosures to Star Centers caused it no damage.

        Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Mystic Transportation, Inc., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18564 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 16, 2004).  The defendants, represented by one law firm, entered into an insurance agreement with the plaintiff.  The plaintiff sued the defendants for the premium.  The defendants, represented by a new law firm in this case, alleged as one of their defenses that the agreement was not valid because their prior law firm had a conflict of interest in representing all the defendants.  The court held that they were sophisticated and had made no showing that there was a conflict.

        In Re Meucci, 2000 Ohio App. LEXIS 6094 (Ohio App. 2000).  Where all the parties to a guardianship proceeding stipulated that a person should have a guardian, it was not a conflict for the same lawyer to represent the person needing the guardian and the person bringing the proceeding.

        Vick v. Bailey, 777 So. 2d 1005 (Fla. App. 2000).  In a guardianship proceeding the court held that a lawyer could represent a friend of the ward and the ward in seeking to have the ward declared competent.

       More Cases on the Perils of Representing Multiple Family Members in Estate Planning, Estate Administration, Property Transfers, etc.  Meyers v. Sudfeld, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7634 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 2, 2007); Baker Botts, L.L.P. v. Cailloux, 224 S.W.3d 723 (Tex. App. 2007) (firm avoided $65.5 million verdict where it had represented various family members and a bank).

        N.H. Op. 2014-15/10 (2015). The opinion addresses joint representation in estate planning. It says that until the New Hampshire Supreme Court rules on the matter, the lawyer should obtain the consent of both parties, preferably in writing, that their information will be shared. The opinion also says that absent such an agreement, and in the face of one client demanding confidentiality, the lawyer may have to make a “noisy” withdrawal. This could be be informing the other client that the initial client is demanding confidentiality. 

        Abusive Tax Shelters.  We have collected cases involving tax opinions from law firms with conflicts of interest at the page entitled, “Investing . . . “

        Other Opinions. The following opinions are consistent with the approach taken by the Ethics 2000 Commission: Cal. Op. 2003-163 (undated); D.C. Bar Op. 296 (2/15/00); Assoc. of the Bar of the City of N.Y. Ops. 1999-07 & 1994-10; Fla. Bar Op. 95-4 (1997); and N.Y. State Bar Op. 555 (1984).

        Ga. Op. 03-2 (2003).  The opinion addresses a joint representation during which one client tells the lawyer something he wants held in confidence from the other client.  The opinion holds that if the information is of the sort that the lawyer should convey to the other client under Rule 1.4, the lawyer should not convey it and should withdraw.

        Mass. Op. 09-03 (2009).  Massachusetts has a different version of Rule 1.7 and a different Comment.  As a result, and because it involves joint representation in immigration matters this opinion has a different take from that of Ethics 2000.

        In-House Lawyer Employed by One Subsidiary May Perform Services for Another Subsidiary of the Same Parent.  Va. Op. 1838 (May 10, 2007).  The opinion holds that a patent lawyer employed in-house  by one wholly-owned subsidiary of a parent may perform legal services for another wholly-owned subsidiary of the same parent.  The opinion cautions that the lawyer must avoid conflicts of interest and follow other ethics rules, including the duty of confidentiality.

        Patent Infringement Case; Conflict Does not Trigger Equitable Estoppel Defense.  Vanguard Products Group v. Telefonix, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7306 (D. Ore. Jan. 16, 2009).  This suit is in part for patent infringement.  One of the defenses was equitable estoppel.  This was based upon a conflict of Law Firm in a related case.  The plaintiffs (collectively, "Vanguard") and the defendant ("MTI"), the parties in this case, were sued in the related case.  Law Firm for a time represented Vanguard and MTI jointly in the related case.  Before, or during, that representation Vanguard filed a patent continuation application related to the patent in this case.  Law Firm did not tell MTI about that filing.  Nor, did Law Firm withdraw from the joint representation.  In dealing with equitable estoppel, in this opinion the court held that Law Firm's actions did not support that defense.  First, the court held that under Illinois (the state where Law Firm's conflict occurred) Rule 1.6 Law Firm had a duty to Vanguard not to disclose the filing to MTI.  The court noted that Law Firm should have withdrawn when it became aware of the conflict, but its failure to do so should not prejudice its client, Vanguard, as to the equitable estoppel defense.  [Note: this is an extensive discussion of the confidentiality duties of a lawyer with multiple clients.]

       Badly-Handled Corporate Investigation.  United States v. Nicholas, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29810 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2009).  This is a criminal case arising out of alleged options back-dating at Broadcom.  One of the defendants is the former CFO of Broadcom, William Ruehle.  This opinion dealt with the admissibility of certain statements Ruehle had made to lawyers from Irell & Manella during an internal investigation of the back-dating issue.  Irell had earlier represented Broadcom and Ruehle in other securities matters.  When back-dating became an issue Irell, representing Broadcom, conducted an investigation and interviewed Ruehle.  According to the opinion Irell did not warn Ruehle that it did not represent him in the matter.  Irell reported the interview to Broadcom, and Broadcom instructed Irell to report it to the SEC and DOJ, which it did.  Because of Irell's conduct, the court ruled that the interview was not admissible in this criminal case.  The court also ordered the clerk of the court to report the matter to the California Bar disciplinary authorities.  [Note: the court was obviously miffed at Irell, and may have unintentionally "spun" the facts somewhat in the opinion.  However, the opinion is a wonderful teaching tool on how not to conduct an internal investigation.]

        In re Est. of Gory, 570 So. 2d 1381 (Fla. App. 1990).  In denying a motion to disqualify, the court held that while the lawyer for the estate has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, she does not have a lawyer-client relationship with them.

        In re Botimer, 214 P.3d 133 (Wash. 2009).  Lawyer was suspended in part because he had represented various family members in their dealings with one another without obtaining a conflict waiver.

        King v. Martin, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148995 (W.D. La. Oct. 16, 2012).  Owners of real estate sold two tracts to Purchasers.  Owners then turned around and entered into an agreement to sell the same property to Second Purchaser for much more money.  This litigation resulted.  Owners and Second Purchaser are seeking to defeat Purchasers' claims to the property.  Second Purchaser and owners are represented by Law Firm, and Second Purchaser is paying Law Firm's fees.  Second Purchaser also had a veto power over any settlement.  Purchaser moved to disqualify Law Firm, and in this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion.  The court found that there was a conflict but that Owners had effectively waived it orally.  The court did order Owners to file a written waiver after the hearing on the motion.

        Fiduciary Trust Int’l of Cal. v. Super. Ct., 160 Cal. Rptr. 3d 216 (Cal. App. 2013). Law Firm represented H and W in estate planning. After they both passed away, a dispute arose over which trust of several trusts had to pay how much estate and inheritance tax. Law Firm took a position, which was adverse to W’s personal representative. W’s personal representative moved to disqualify Law Firm. The trial court denied the motion. In this opinion the appellate court reversed (granted mandamus). The court said that the fact that Law Firm had represented both H and W did not affect a straightforward substantial relationship test analysis.

        In re Szymkowicz, No. 14-BG-0844 (D.C. App. Sept. 17, 2015). This is an appeal from a bar disciplinary proceeding. Features: (1)Elderly estate planning client, with diminishing capacity (“Mother”); (2)Feuding son and daughter; (3)Powers of Attorney obtained from Mother under questionable circumstances; (4) Several different court proceedings; (5) Lawyers representing more than one family member. (What could go wrong?) We will not take you through the facts, which are tedious. We will merely point out that the opinion is a sensitive discussion of the various things lawyers need to consider when undertaking a multiple representation where there is family discord and a failing testator. The rules involved were 1.5, 1.7, & 8.4(c) & (d). Good research tool.

        In re Peppard, 291 Neb. 948 (Neb. Oct. 2, 2015). Disciplinary proceeding resulting in a public reprimand. Testator began showing signs of dementia in 2009. Lawyer represented Testator in guardianship proceedings in 2010. Lawyer drafted a will for Testator in 2011, in which Testator left her entire estate to Heir. A state agency was investigating whether Heir was taking advantage of Testator. Lawyer represented Heir in that matter. Disciplinary counsel charged Lawyer with violating Nebraska’s version of MR 1.7. Lawyer admitted the violation. In this opinion the court reprimanded Lawyer.

        N.Y.S.B. Op. 1224 (6/4/2021). Where a lawyer is representing jointly two clients who want to purchase property, the lawyer cannot proceed for either if the clients disagree on whether to proceed with the purchase. This is so even if one of the clients has diminished capacity. N.Y. Rules 1.7 and 1.14.

        Soiseth v. Hill, 2021 SKQB 109 (CanLII) (Q.B. Sask. April 9, 2021). W seeks a divorce, spousal support, and division of family property. One of the issues arises from the fact that, at one point, Lawyer represented both W and H in the preparation of a draft separation agreement. The opinion is highly fact specific and involves interpretation of applicable Saskatchewan statutes. At bottom, the court found that the joint representation did not prevent enforcement of the separation agreement. The opinion contains a helpful discussion of the propriety of joint representation of H and W in drafting and enforcement of marital agreements.

        Barrowfen Props. Ltd. v. Patel, [2021] EWHC 2055 (Ch) (High Ct. Eng. & Wales July 21, 2021). Law firm liable where one joint client harms another. Judgment more than £1 million.
        Treatise.  Hazard, Hodes, & Jarvis §§ 11.11, 11.14 & 11.15.

        Law Reviews. Joan C. Rogers, Corporate Counsel Multiple Representation, 30 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 303 (May 7, 2014). John R. Prince, In Honor of Professor John Gaubatz: The Fundamentals of Ethically Representing Multiple Clients in Estate Planning, 62 U. Miami L. Rev. 735 (2008).

        Thomas E. Spahn, Keeping Secrets or Telling Tales in Joint Representations: Part I, May 12, 2011 Current Report of the ABA/BNA Lawyers' Manual on Professional Conduct.  This is a terrific article on what to do when you learn something confidential from one joint client that you believe the other needs to know.  It explains the varied positions of the Model Rules, the Restatement, the ACTEC Commentaries, cases, and ethics opinions.

        In re Dhillon, 2011 Bankr. LEXIS 3166 (S.D. Ill. Aug. 18, 2011).  Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding.  In this opinion the court disqualified the lawyer ("Lawyer") for certain creditors ("Creditors"), both in this proceeding and in an adversary proceeding.  Lawyer had earlier introduced the debtors and Creditors and assisted them in preparing a restaurant lease.  The court held that whether Lawyer was a "neutral" under Illinois Rule 2.4 or whether they were all clients (thus having rights under Illinois Rule 1.9), the current representation of Creditors by Lawyer was not permissible.

      B.  Non-Litigation Matters – "Unintentional" Joint/Multiple Representation

        This has become a very dangerous conflict-of-interest phenomenon confronting law firms. A perfect example is the Sverdlin case out of Texas. Before summarizing that case, it should be emphasized that law firms and their malpractice carriers are paying millions of dollars in settlements in situations just like that in Sverdlin. In all those cases, the law firm thought it was representing one or more finite clients, only to learn that others at the scene claimed that the law firm was also representing them.

        Automated Marine Propulsion Systems, Inc. v. Sverdlin, No. 97-02103, Harris County, Texas. The following description is taken from two articles in the Texas Lawyer, dated November 1, 1998, and January 31, 1999, respectively. Anatoly Sverdlin owned a marine repair and manufacturing company. He needed money to expand and brought in venture capitalists ("VCs"). The company hired a law firm to represent it in dealing with the VCs. The law firm wrote a letter to Sverdlin saying that it was representing the company. As a result of the restructuring and disputes among the parties, the VCs wound up in control of the company. Sverdlin sued everyone, including the law firm. He claimed the law firm represented him and caused him to lose his company. The law firm responded with the above letter. He denied seeing it. In October 1998, the jury returned a verdict against all defendants totalling in excess of $1 billion. The amount assessed against the law firm was approximately $50 million. That might have included significant overlapping amounts and duplication, but the law firm, according to the press, promptly settled its part of the case for $20 million.

        Restatement on "Client's" Expectation.  See the Reporter's Note to § 14 of the Restatement.  Cmt. b to § 14 provides in part:

A lawyer may be held to responsibility of representation when the client reasonably relies on the existence of the relationship . . .

See also cmt. f:

[A] lawyer's failure to clarify whom the lawyer represents in circumstances calling for such a result might lead a lawyer to have entered into client-lawyer representations not intended by the lawyer.

        Court Said Law Firm Should Have Said in Writing Who Was and Who Was not Client.  Artificial Nail Technologies, Inc. v. Flowering Scents, LLC, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54735 (D. Utah Aug. 4, 2006).  In Speeney v. Rutgers, The State University, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82101 (D.N.J. Nov. 6, 2006), the court found no lawyer-client relationship, but only after lengthy hearing.  A letter would have helped.

       Lawyer Avoided Liability Because She Gave "Non-Client" a Document that Said "Non-Client" Was not a Client.  Riftin v. Stark, 808 N.Y.S.2d 920 (N.Y. Misc. 2005).

        Repeatedly Reminding Party that He Is not a Client Helps.  State of West Virginia ex rel. Blackhawk Enterprises, Inc. v. Bloom, 633 S.E.2d 278 (W. Va. 2006).

      In Montgomery Academy v. Kohn, 50 F. Supp. 2d 344 (D.N.J. 1999), the lawyer for a private school led the director of the school into thinking he was representing her.  When the director and the school became adversaries, the lawyer attempted to represent the school but was disqualified.

        The law firm fared better in Strasbourger Person Tulcin Wolff Inc. v. Wiz Tech., Inc., 82 Cal. Rptr. 2d 326 (Cal. App. 1999).  The law firm in question represented the underwriter in a securities offering.  The offering materials said that the law firm represented the underwriter.  The materials also stated that another law firm represented the issuer.  The underwriting agreement provided that the issuer would pay the underwriter's attorneys fees.  The law firm in question later attempted to represent the underwriter in a matter against the issuer.  The trial judge disqualified the law firm.  In reviewing all the facts and procedures usually followed in offerings, the appellate court reversed, saying the law firm's status as counsel for the underwriter and not for the issuer was clear.  In Milner v. Anders, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6227 (D. Del. 2001), the court ruled that the defendant lawyers had not represented the plaintiff noting that all the other participants testified that the lawyers orally told everyone in very clear terms who the lawyers did, and did not, represent.

         Seeley v. CCG Medical Management Group, 2002 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 11397 (Cal. App. December 10, 2002).  A lawyer was representing one party to a negotiation.  He met both parties in a restaurant.  The other party did not bring a lawyer.  At one point, when the client was in the men's room, the lawyer had a one-on-one conversation with the other party.  When the client rejoined the session, the conversation was repeated.  The court held that was not enough to create a lawyer-client relationship with other party.

        ATT Systems Co. v. Tylman, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17628 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 1, 2004).  A not-very-helpful opinion in which the court refused to disqualify the defendants' lawyer even though before the litigation the lawyer had attended a meeting with both defendants and plaintiffs and had allegedly given legal advice.

               Other cases.

        Blickenstaff v. Clegg, 97 P.3d 439 (Ida. 2004).  This is, in part, a suit against a lawyer who had handled a series of related transactions involving a number of parties.  The plaintiff is one of those parties.  The lawyer claimed he did not represent the plaintiff, and the trial court granted summary judgment to the lawyer.  The Idaho Supreme Court reversed, holding that there was a question of fact whether plaintiff’s belief that the lawyer represented him was reasonable.  Among other things, the plaintiff had asked the lawyer to prepare several of the deal documents, and the lawyer did not clearly document who was, and who was not, a client.

        MacFarlane v. Nelson, 2005 Tex. App. LEXIS 7681 (Tex. App. Sept. 15, 2005).  A plaintiff in this malpractice action claimed that a defendant lawyer represented the plaintiff in a business transaction and that the defendant had a conflict of interest.  The defendant claimed that he never represented the plaintiff.  The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendant lawyer.  In this opinion the appellate court affirmed, citing much evidence that the plaintiff could not reasonably have believed that the defendant had represented him in the transaction.  The court relied heavily upon Section 14 of the Restatement.

       Burnap v. Linnartz, 38 S.W.3d 612 (Tex. App. 2000).  The case involved a number of business partners, relatives, and related business entities, all represented by the same law firm.  One of the individuals wound up guaranteeing an obligation that he claims he did not fully understand or know about.  The law firm claims he was not a client.  There was no letter clarifying who was and who was not a client, or explaining potential conflicts of interest.  The appellate court reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment for the lawyers, on all but one count.

        Nosnik v. Ginsburg and Brusilow, P.C., 2000 Tex. App. LEXIS 3730 (Tex. App., 5th Dist., June 7, 2000). Malpractice action against law firm that represented company and shareholders in transaction. The law firm had sent a letter to all clients at the beginning of the transaction pointing out the potential for a conflict. Later, when one of the clients sued the law firm for having a conflict, the law firm raised the Statute of Limitations. The client claimed the Statute was tolled by fraudulent concealment. The court held that the letter negated fraudulent concealment and upheld application of the Statute. Comment: This is a perfect illustration of the value of such letters.

       Premarital Agreements.  Bonds v. Bonds, 5 P.3d 815 (Cal. 2000). The California Supreme Court held that a party to a premarital agreement need not have independent counsel for the agreement to be enforceable.  The opinion collects cases from all over the country and also analyzes the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which was largely adopted by the California legislature.

        Marital Separation Agreements and Post-Nuptial Agreements.  In In re Egedi, 105 Cal. Rptr. 2d 518 (Cal. App. 2001), the court held that a marital support agreement drafted by one lawyer for both parties was enforceable.  The lawyer had obtained a written conflicts waiver and agreed to act only as a scrivener.  To a very similar effect involving a post-nuptial agreement, see Friedman v. Friedman, 122 Cal. Rptr. 2d 412 (Cal. App. July 15, 2002).

        Will Not Invalidated.  In re Estate of Maddox, 60 S.W.3d 84 (Tenn. App. 2001).  Court held that the fact that a lawyer preparing a will also represents one of the beneficiaries on other matters does not, standing alone, invalidate the will.

        Lawyer for Estate May Be Deemed Lawyer for Beneficiary.  Gagliardo v. Caffrey, 800 N.E.2d 489 (Ill. App. 2003).  The lawyer previously had represented a decedent's estate.  The sole beneficiary sued the executor.  When the same lawyer tried to represent the defendant/executor, the court ruled he should be disqualified.  The court held that in the "narrow circumstance" where the sole beneficiary, whose complaint was with the executor, not the estate, the lawyer would be treated as if he had represented the estate.

        Lawyer for Estate Deemed Lawyer for Executor Personally Because of Ambiguous Engagement Letter.  Est. of Albanese v. Lolio, 923 A.2d 325 (N.J. Super. 2007) .  Decedent left her estate to Sisters 1, 2, and 3, and named Sister 1 Executor.  Sister 1 hired Lawyer to help her with the estate.  Lawyer’s engagement letter was signed by Sister 1 as “[Sister 1] Individually and as Executrix of the Estate of [Decedent]."  While Lawyer had considerable contact with Sister1, he had no contact with Sisters 2 and 3.  Lawyer arguably made some tax planning mistakes that cost all three sisters considerable damage.  All three sued Lawyer.  The trial court granted Lawyer summary judgment, reasoning that Lawyer’s only duty was to the estate.  The appellate court, in this opinion, affirmed as to Sisters 2 and 3, but reversed as to Sister 1.  The court, in citing the above language and other language, in the engagement letter held that the ambiguity of the letter could enable Sister 1 to claim that she reasonably believed that Lawyer was also looking out for her personal interests.

        In re Est. of Gory, 570 So. 2d 1381 (Fla. App. 1990).  In denying a motion to disqualify, the court held that while the lawyer for the estate has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, she does not have a lawyer-client relationship with them.   

       Bond Counsel.  The Bank of New York v. Sheff, CAL 02-21119 (Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, Maryland, Sept. 10, 2003).  Someone failed to file a UCC-1 in D.C. in connection with a conduit borrowing, in which the issuer was Prince George’s County, Maryland.  The investors sued the law firm that rendered the bond opinion.  In granting summary judgment for the law firm, the court first found that the law firm did not represent the investors.  It relied, in part, on the official statement, which said that the law firm “is bond counsel to Prince George’s County,” meaning, to the court evidently, that the county was the law firm’s client.  The court also relied, in substantial part, on documents that said the conduit borrower (as opposed to the county) was responsible for filing UCC-1s.  This opinion will not be published.  We have a summary of it in pdf format.  Anyone wishing a copy should write as follows:   [Author’s note: we do not like the phrase “bond counsel to the issuer.”  That phrase does not appear outside the tax-exempt tax area.  The law firm here was lucky that the court bought it.  A less ambiguous statement would be:

XYZ law firm will provide the opinion on the legality of the bonds and on their tax-exempt status.  XYZ’s client will be the issuer and no other party to this transaction.

       Patent Prosecution.  A lawyer representing an employer in prosecuting a patent must be conscious of her relationship with the employee/inventor.  An excellent discussion of this relationship – or lack thereof – is at David Hricik, Trouble Waiting to Happen: Malpractice and Ethical Issues in Patent Prosecution, 31 AIPLA Q. J. 385, 407-410 (Fall 2003).  He cites several cases dealing with patent prosecution and this issue.  In addition, he counsels patent prosecution lawyers of the wisdom of documenting up front who is, and who is not, a client.  Cases holding that the lawyer for the employer is not necessarily the lawyer for the employee/inventor: Univ. of W. Va. v. Vanvoorhies, 278 F.3d 1288, 1304 (Fed. Cir. 2002); Sun Studs, Inc. v. Applied Theory Assocs., Inc., 772 F.2d 1557, 1568 (Fed. Cir. 1985); and Emory Univ. v. Nova Biogenetics, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67305 (N.D. Ga. Sept. 20, 2006).

      C.  Litigation - Joint/Multiple Representation

        In most respects the considerations in representing multiple parties in litigation are similar to those above. In litigation, the lawyer asked to represent more than one party must do an analysis to ensure that the joint parties’ interests are not adverse. That involves the usual analysis of the relevant state’s version of Model Rule 1.7 or Model Code DR 5-105. That should also include a written agreement or engagement letter stating what the lawyer’s obligations and rights are if a conflict arises midstream.

       In re Rite Aid Corp. Securities Litigation v. Grass, 139 F. Supp. 2d 649 (E.D. Pa. April 17, 2001).  This is a securities class action against Rite Aid and several of its executives.  Early in the case the General Counsel of Rite Aid retained Ballard Spahr to represent Rite Aid and one of the executives, Alex Grass.  Ballard Spahr sent Grass an engagement letter saying that if a conflict developed between the Rite Aid and Grass, Ballard Spahr would withdraw from representing Grass and would continue on behalf of Rite Aid.  A conflict did develop, Ballard Spahr dropped Grass, and it continued on behalf of Rite Aid.  Grass moved to disqualify Ballard Spahr, and the court, relying in part upon the engagement letter, denied the motion.

        Another case that shows the value of such an agreement is Zador Corp. v. Kwan, 37 Cal. Rptr. 2d 754 (Cal. App. 1995). There the law firm obtained from both parties an agreement that if a conflict developed, the law firm could continue on behalf of Zador Corp. A conflict did develop and the court held that the agreement was effective in allowing the law firm to continue on behalf of Zador Corp. The court cites, seemingly with approval, Cal. Op. 1989-115, which says that a law firm can enforce such an agreement even if it means using confidences from the former client against the former client.  Watch out, though.  ABA Informal Opinion 1441 (1979) rejected that approach in a similar situation.  In Rymal v. Baergen, 686 N.W.2d 241 (Mich. App. 2004), co-defendants signed an agreement similar to that in Zador.  The court allowed the law firm to drop one client and continue on behalf of the other.  However, the court noted that the law firm had not obtained confidences from the dropped client, implying that if it had, the court might have disqualified the firm. Following Zador down the line is GEM Holdco, LLC v. Changing World Technologies, L.P., 2015 WL 120843 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Jan. 9, 2015). 

        While obtaining such an agreement may not be unethical, the court may not enforce it. The court may find that a non-waivable conflict had existed at the outset, or that one or more parties lacked the sophistication to understand the consequences of the agreement.

        ABCNY Op. 2004-02 (June 2004), mentions Rite Aid and Zador in its discussion of multiple representations in government investigations, counseling lawyers on dealing with waivers, confidences, and preserving the right to withdraw from one client and stay on behalf of another.

        Culpepper v. Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C., No E2019-01932-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. App. Oct. 16, 2020). Plaintiff is suing Law Firm for malpractice, arising out of Law Firm's representing Plaintiff and Plaintiff's former employer in an SEC investigation. The trial court granted Law Firm a judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff claimed Law Firm had a conflict of interest. The trial court ruled that Plaintiff had waived any conflict by signing Law Firm's "engagement, waiver and consent letter." In this opinion the appellate court reversed and remanded the case to the trial court. [Our note: Law Firm's waiver letter was carefully drafted for a joint representation of an employer and employee. It covers the usual subjects of sharing confidences (or not), withdrawal from one client and continuing with the other, and so forth. The issue, as we see it, is whether, given the facts of this case (including Law Firm's conduct) the letter could have adequately protected the employee. Too early to tell.]

        N.Y. Op. 1070 (Oct. 2015). The opinion holds that there is a “presumption” in a joint representation that all information will be shared. There are exceptions, which are discussed in the opinion.

        N.Y.C. Bar Op. 2016-2 (July 22, 2016). “Representing a Non-Party Witness at a Deposition in a Proceeding Where the Attorney Also Represents a Named Party.” The classic case is when a lawyer represents an employer and is asked to represent an otherwise un-represented employee at a deposition. The opinion discusses when such a representation may be a “limited scope representation” under New York’s version of Model Rule 1.2(c). The opinion discusses when such a representation might violate solicitation rules (usually not). The opinion also discusses when the representation might be a conflict of interest and whether, and how, the conflict might be waived. For the poster child on how not to do this, see Yanez v. Plummer, 221 Cal. App. 4th (2013).

       Other State and Local Ethics Opinions.  L.A. Co. Op. 471 (1992); and Tex. Op. 487 (1992).

        Restatement. § 128, "Representing Parties With Conflicting Interests in Civil Litigation," provides as follows:

Unless all affected clients consent to the representation under the limitations and conditions provided in § 122, a lawyer in civil litigation may not:

(1) represent two or more clients in a matter if there is substantial risk that the lawyer's representation of one of the clients would be materially and adversely affected by the lawyer's duties to another client in the matter; or

(2) represent one client in asserting or defending a claim against another client currently represented by the lawyer, even if the matters are not related.?

        Model Rules.  Cmt. [23] to Model 1.7 specifically recognizes the acceptability of representing more than one party in civil litigation, if the appropriate conflicts analysis is done at the outset.
       Treatise.  Hazard, Hodes, & Jarvis § 11.12.

       Multiple Defendants with Conflicting Settlement IssuesSee Hayes v. Eagle-Pitcher Industries, 513 F.2d 892 (10th Cir. 1975); Scognamillo v. Olsen, 795 P.2d 1357 (Colo. App. 1990); In re Lauderdale, 549 P.2d 42 (Wash. App. 1976; and Quintero v. Jim Walter Homes, Inc., 709 S.W.2d 225 (Tex. App. 1985).

        Article.  William E. Wright, Jr., Ethical Considerations in Representing Multiple Parties in Litigation, 79 Tulane L. Rev. 1523 (2005) .

        Insurance Defense.  (click here)

        Other Cases.

        Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Baldwin, 2020 WL 808757 (Pa. Feb. 19, 2020). [FLASH!: Do not ever again represent, or allow a colleague to represent, an employee of a client in a deposition, or before a tribunal, without reading this opinion and without reading Yanez v. Plummer, 221 Cal. App. 4th 180 (2013)]. In Baldwin the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld a determination by disciplinary authorities that Cynthia Baldwin, a former member of that court(!), be publicly reprimanded. The court found that Baldwin, while GC of Penn State, ineptly attempted to represent several former officials of the university in the Gerald Sandusky matter. Those officials subsequently faced very serious criminal charges. The court found violations of Rule 1.1 (she didn't know what she was doing), Rule 1.7 (conflicts among the officials, and with Penn State), and Rule 1.6 (spilling her guts to a grand jury about conversations with her clients). Similarly, in Yanez, the employer's in-house lawyer decided to represent an employee in a deposition. As a result, the employer fired the employee for dishonesty. The cited opinion said the employee's malpractice case against the lawyer could proceed. The California State Bar disciplined the lawyer.

        "Potential Conflicts in California."  Glahn & Hirschfield v. Taylor, 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3249 (Cal. App. April 7, 2004).  Suit to collect legal fees.  The former clients defended the case by alleging the law firm had a conflict of interest in the underlying matter and should forfeit its fees.  In the underlying matter the firm defended two individuals and their partnership in a foreclosure action.  The defendants alleged in this case that that representation was a “potential conflict” under California Rule 3-310, California’s unique version of Model Rule 1.7.  In the case of a “potential conflict” the lawyer must obtain informed written consent to proceed.  That did not happen here.  In this opinion the appellate court said that a “potential conflict,” would exist only if there was a “reasonable likelihood” that an “actual conflict” would arise.  The court went on to say that representing multiple defendants does not alone create a reasonable likelihood of an actual conflict and is, thus, not a “potential conflict.”  The court also noted that in the underlying foreclosure all three defendants had the same interest in slowing it down, something they hired the law firm to do.

        Law Firm Cannot Represent all Five Defendants in Medical Malpractice Case.  Reitzel v. Hale, 820 N.Y.S.2d 845 (N.Y. Misc. 2006).

       Flaherty v. Filardi, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12300 (S.D.N.Y. July 1, 2004).  Marie Flaherty and Jason Filardi are playwrights.  Flaherty has sued Filardi and Walt Disney Company for copyright infringement.  Filardi and Disney have the same law firm.  Flaherty moved to disqualify their law firm claiming it had a conflict.  The court denied the motion, holding that as long as the defendants agree on strategy and theory, a united front was proper.  The court did not mention standing.  For similar holdings, also not mentioning standing, see Hollenbeck v. Boivert, 330 F. Supp. 2d 324 (S.D.N.Y. 2004); Bell v. Rochester Gas & Electric Corp., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14343 (W.D.N.Y. July 21, 2004), and Jackson v. Adcock, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14222 (E.D. La. July 21, 2004).

        City of Dallas v. Redbird Development Corp., 143 S.W.3d 375 (Tex. App. 2004).  Lawyer represented defendants A and B in a suit.  With the agreement of B, Lawyer withdrew from representing B and continued representing A.  B was then severed from the case.  The plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer.  The trial court denied the motion, and the appellate court affirmed, noting B’s waiver and noting that because B was no longer in the case, there was no conflict between A and B.  The court did not mention standing.

       Lawyer May Represent Trustee and Beneficiaries.  In re Allen, 2003 Tex. App. LEXIS 4830 (Tex. App. June 5, 2003).  One of the beneficiaries of a trust brought an action against the trustee for an accounting and an order removing the trustee.  The trustee and two other beneficiaries of the trust hired the same lawyer to oppose the suit.  The plaintiff moved to disqualify the defendants’ lawyer claiming it was a conflict for the lawyer to represent the trustee and beneficiaries.  The trial court granted the motion.  On mandamus, the appellate court reversed, saying it was not per se a conflict.  The onus was on the plaintiff to demonstrate that there was a conflict, and plaintiff had not done so.

        Law Firm May Represent Conservator and Grandchildren of Incompetent in Dispute with Daughter of Incompetent.  In re Anderson, 2006 Neb. App. LEXIS 20 (Neb. App. Feb. 14, 2006).

        In re Est. of Gory, 570 So. 2d 1381 (Fla. App. 1990).  In denying a motion to disqualify, the court held that while the lawyer for the estate has a fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries, she does not have a lawyer-client relationship with them.

        Drag Racing Technologies, Inc. v. Universal City Studios, Inc., 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6861 (S.D.N.Y. April 24, 2003).  Plaintiff moved to disqualify the law firm for defendants because the law firm was representing multiple defendants.  The court denied the motion noting that the defendants had consented to the representation, had agreed upon a “narrow” defense, and that the conflict was only “potential.”  The court rejected the defendants’ claim that the plaintiff did not have standing to bring the motion.  Another case where the court permitted a lawyer to represent both a corporate defendant and several of the corporations officer is Moses v. Sterling Commerce (America), Inc., 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 19 (6th Cir. Jan. 3, 2005).

        Third-Party Action.  Bulkmatic Transportation Co. v. Pappas, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6066 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).  Bulkmatic sued defendants for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and RICO violations.  The defendants filed a third-party action against certain Bulkmatic managers claiming they induced the complained-of conduct.  A law firm represented both the plaintiff and the managers.  The defendants moved to disqualify the law firm.  The law firm represented to the court that it conducted an investigation, found no conflict, and obtained a waiver from the managers.  The law firm also offered the managers an opportunity to hire their own lawyers, which they declined.  The court denied the motion.

        Third-Party Action.  Georgius v. Village of Morrisville, 2011 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 2696 (N.Y. App. Div. April 7, 2011).  In a two-page opinion granting a motion to disqualify, the court held, in effect, that the same lawyer could not represent both the plaintiff and third-party defendant a case.  The court in Kids In Sports, LLC v. Definitive Inc., 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1210 (N.Y. App. Div. March 20, 2012), said that representing both is not per se impermissible.  Simms v. Deggeller Attractions, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 448 (W.D. Va. Jan. 2, 2013).  The three plaintiffs were passengers on a roller coaster.  Their car stopped suddenly and was rear-ended by a following car.  Claiming injuries, they sued the operator.  The operator filed a third-party claim against one of the plaintiffs, claiming his hat, which he was told not to wear, came off and lodged in the car's breaking mechanism.  All the passengers have sworn that the hat had nothing to do with the accident.  The operator moved to disqualify the lawyer who is representing all three plaintiffs, claiming that the third-party claim creates a conflict.  In this opinion the court denied the motion.  The three plaintiffs signed conflict waivers.  Given the fact that they are taking identical positions regarding the hat, and that any recovery by the operator against the hat-wielding plaintiff was not "likely," the court found no conflict.

        As in Third-Party Actions.  Big Brown LLC v. Devitt, 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3979 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 12, 2011).  This is a suit by eight plaintiffs against Defendants for breach of contract and other remedies arising out of the failed development of a "beauty bar" (combination beauty parlor and bar).  Defendants filed a counterclaim against two plaintiffs for contribution arising out of those plaintiffs' alleged complicity in Defendants' alleged misconduct.  Lawyer attempted to represent all the plaintiffs.  Defendants moved to disqualify Lawyer from representing the two plaintiffs subject to the counterclaim.  In this opinion the court not only granted the motion but ordered Lawyer out of the case completely.

        Third-Party Action. McDaniel v. Man Wai Lee, 2011N.J. Super. LEXIS 75 (N.J. App. Div. April 27, 2011).  The plaintiff in this injury case, while working, stopped his vehicle at an intersection.  A fellow employee pulled up behind the plaintiff in another vehicle.  The fellow employee was rear-ended by a third vehicle, driven by the defendant in this case.  The defendant filed a third-party action against the fellow employee.  In this opinion the court held that New Jersey's fellow-servant rule prevented the third-party action.  The court also held that because the third-party action was precluded, the plaintiff's and his fellow employee's interests were aligned, and the same lawyer could represent both.

        Third-Party Action. LaSalle Elec. Contractors Inc. v. 2590687 Ont. Inc., 2021 ONSC 6547 (CanLII) (Super. Ct. Ont. Oct. 4, 2021). Hotel construction project. LaSalle, an electrical contractor, is suing the owner of the project, 259. 259 has filed a third-party action against the project construction manager, JBL. Law Firm has appeared representing both LaSalle and JBL. 259 moved to disqualify Law Firm, claiming, in part, that Law Firm's representation of both LaSalle and JBL would enable Law Firm to use confidential information from one to benefit the other -- all to the unfair disadvantage of 259. In this opinion the court granted the motion to disqualify Law Firm from representing LaSalle. Recognizing the reality of many third-party actions, the court found the joint representation to be "untenable." "Put bluntly, it is not wholly in JBL's interests for LaSalle's claim against 259 to succeed."

        Third-Party Action. Canada. Hazelwood v. Schlotter, 2022 ABKB 739 (CanLII) (Ct. K.B. Alberta Nov. 7, 2022). Client initially, represented by Lawyer A, sued Employer for wrongful dismissal (not this case). That was filed in June 2015. In March 2016 Client changed lawyers, dismissing Lawyer A and retaining Lawyer B. Amidst all this, Employer became insolvent, probably making Client's wrongful-dismissal claim worthless. In October 2016 Client, represented by Lawyer B, sued Lawyer A for malpractice (this case). Lawyer A then filed a third-party action in this case against Lawyer B for contribution and indemnity. Lawyer B then referred the third-party claim "as a candidate Apparent Vexatious Application or Proceeding." At this preliminary stage of this case the court expressed concern that Lawyer B may have a conflict of interest requiring his disqualification. After consideration of the parties' submissions, the court determined that removal of Lawyer B would be "premature." Among other factors, the claim against Lawyer A pertains to the period April 23, 2015 and March 2, 2016, while the third-party claim against Lawyer B pertains to the period March 3, 2016 and April 27, 2016. The only overlap between the two claims is failure to obtain a settlement from Employer while it was still solvent, but "from different points in time." The court noted that the conflict could ripen down the road, requiring removal of Lawyer B. One such event would be the need for Lawyer B to testify. Stay tuned.

        Breezevale Ltd. v. Dickinson, 759 A.2d 627 (D.C. App. 2000).  Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher ("GDC") represented Breezevale, a tire distributor, in a $20 million suit against Firestone.  The day before her deposition, a Breezevale employee disclosed to GDC that she forged some of the documents that GDC produced to Firestone.  The deposition proceeded, the alleged forgeries were disclosed, Firestone took a $3.5 million offer off the table, and the case settled with Firestone paying $100,000 to Breezevale.  Breezevale then sued GDC for malpractice and recovered a jury verdict of $3.4 million.  During the malpractice trial the plaintiff's expert witness testified that GDC had a conflict of interest in two respects.  First, when the employee disclosed the forgeries, that created a conflict between her and Breezevale.  GDC should not, then, have represented both in connection with the deposition.  Second, GDC had a conflict with Breezevale created by GDC's concern that it had produced forged documents during discovery, causing GDC to recommend the $100,000 settlement.  The trial judge granted GDC a judgment N.O.V.  The Court of Appeals said the judgment N.O.V. was not appropriate and sent the case back for the trial judge to rule on a motion for new trial.

        Lawyers Representing Selves and Clients in Same Litigation.  H&H Acquisition Corp. v. Financial Intranet Holdings, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5463 (S.D.N.Y., April 27, 2000). A law firm and a partner in the law firm were sued along with a client in a securities fraud case. The law firm represented all defendants, including itself. The plaintiff moved to disqualify the law firm alleging the law firm had a conflict of interest. The court denied the motion. The court was influenced by the fact that the non-lawyer defendant had obtained the advice of separate counsel before specifically waiving the conflict. The court did not see a problem in that no real conflict had yet surfaced. As to the possibility that the law firm might be tempted to use its client’s confidences, the court noted that the law firm was going to be in the case as a defendant anyway, and would be watched very closely in this respect, in any event.  Similar result in Cooke v. AT&T Corp., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32489 (S.D. Ohio May 23, 2006).  A husband and wife sued the telephone company for improper billing.  The husband was a lawyer and represented himself and his wife.  The telephone company, claiming the husband had a conflict, moved to disqualify him.  The court brushed aside all the telephone company’s arguments and denied the motion.  A similar result in Gabayzadeh v. Taylor, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 66944 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2009);  J.R.S. Holdings, L.L.C. v. JES Properties, L.L.C., 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2012 (N.J. App. Div. Aug. 17, 2010); Perez v. JP Morgan Chase Bank N.A., 2023 WL 3119950 (D.N.J. Unpub. April 27, 2023) (citing JES); and Walton v. Diamond, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 177805 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 14, 2012).  However, in Jamieson v. Slater, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 86712 (D. Ariz. Nov. 27, 2006), the court felt the conflicts were just too great; essentially the same in ABN Corp. v. Groupe Pelm Int’l Corp., 2024 WL 818343 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2024).  In Hillis v. Heineman, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29914 (D. Ariz. Mr. 25, 2009), the court only discussed whether the lawyer would be a witness and did not discuss the propriety of the lawyer representing himself and others.

        McPhearson v. Michaels Co., 117 Cal. Rptr. 2d 489 (Cal. App. 2002).  Riestenberg represented Harris in a labor-related claim against Michaels Co., Harris’ employer.  Shortly before settling Harris’ claim, Riestenberg began representing McPhearson in a different labor-related claim against Michaels Co., also McPhearson’s employer.  Riestenberg then settled Harris’ claim.  Part of the settlement was Riestenberg’s agreement to keep the Harris settlement confidential.  Harris would be a witness in McPhearson’s case.  Michaels Co. moved to disqualify Riestenberg in the McPhearson case.  The trial court granted the motion, relying upon Gilbert v. National Corp. for Housing Partnerships, 71 Cal. App. 4th 1240 (1999), a similar case involving successive lawsuits on behalf of different employees against the same employer.  The Appellate Court in this case reversed the trial judge.  The court first said it felt the Gilbert court “exaggerated” the conflict.  The court then noted that both Harris and McPhearson filed declarations waiving any conflict, and that the Harris settlement would not be admissible in the McPhearson case, in any event.  Lastly, the court seemed to rely in part upon the fact that it was Michaels Co. that was making the motion, suggesting that Michaels Co. lacked standing.

        Yost v. V.K. Truck Lines, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3286 (D. Kan. Jan. 27, 2006).  Personal injury action.  A semi-trailer truck rear-ended a pickup truck.  The driver of the pickup sued the owner of the semi and its driver.  The same lawyer appeared for both defendants.  The magistrate judge raised the possible conflict sua sponte.  First, the court noted that the defendants’ lawyer had made inconsistent statements as to whether the semi driver was an employee of the owner or an independent contractor.  The court also noted the disparate ways the plaintiff’s prayer for punitive damages might impact the defendants.  The court, applying Kansas Rule 1.7(b) (Model Rule 1.7(a)(2)), ruled that the defendants’ lawyer would have to drop one of the defendants, and warned the lawyer of Rule 1.9’s former-client requirements in continuing to represent the other defendant.

        Bi-State Dev. Agency v. Watson, 40 S.W.3d 403 (Mo. App. 2001).  A bus collided with an automobile.  The bus owner and the bus driver sued the driver of the automobile.  The bus owner's lawyer also represented the bus driver.  The bus driver had previously collected workmen's compensation from the bus owner.  When the bus owner attempted to realize on its workmen's compensation subrogation rights  from the bus driver, the trial judge denied it, saying the bus owner had forfeited it subrogation rights because of the conflict of interest of the bus owner's lawyer.  The appellate court reversed, saying the employer's subrogation rights were not abrogated by the conflict of interest.

        Robertson v. Wittenmyer, 736 N.E.2d 804 (Ind. App. 2000) Wittenmyer was driving, and Robertson was a passenger.  They rear-ended a truck, and a station wagon rear-ended them.  McGlone represented Wittenmyer and Robertson against the station wagon.  They settled.  Robertson's share was less than his medical bills.  McGlone then sued Wittenmyer on behalf of Robertson.  During all this time McGlone was representing Wittenmyer in a workmen's compensation matter.  The court held that McGlone should be disqualified and that the conflict was non-waivable.

        Boyd v. Trent, 731 N.Y.S.2d 209 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2001).  The father of infants owned an automobile in which they were injured.  New York law makes the owner of a vehicle vicariously liable in some situations.  The father filed suit against certain defendants in his individual capacity and in his capacity as guardian of the infants.  The court held he had a conflict and removed him as guardian.  The court also affirmed disqualification of the law firm that attempted to represent him in both capacities.  The court held the law firm could continue to represent the father in his individual capacity.

        Alcantara v. Mendez, 756 N.Y.S.2d 90 (N.Y. App. Div. 2003).  Automobile accident.  A lawyer attempted to represent the driver and minor passengers of one of the cars in a suit against the driver of the other car.  The driver of the other car counterclaimed against the plaintiff/driver.  The court held that the lawyer should be disqualified because the interest of the plaintiff/driver differed from that of the passengers.

       Shaikh v. Waiters, 710 N.Y.S.2d 873 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2000).  Automobile collision case.  A lawyer attempted to represent two plaintiffs, a driver of one of the cars and her infant daughter, who was a passenger.  The defendants, who were associated with the other car, moved to disqualify plaintiffs' counsel.  The judge granted the motion, citing DR 5-105 and EC 5-17 of the New York Code of Professional Responsibility and three cases with similar fact patterns, Pessoni v. Rabkin, 220 A.D.2d 732 (N.Y. App. Div. 1995); Sidor v. Zuhoski, 261 A.D.2d 529 (N.Y. App. Div. 1999); and Fugnitto v. Fugnitto, 113 Misc. 2d 666 (N.Y. App. Div. 1982).  The judge ruled that the conflict was not consentable and that the disqualified lawyer had to withdraw from representing both plaintiffs for confidentiality reasons.  In In re Bruno, 327 B.R. 104 (E.D.N.Y. 2005), the court cited Shaikh and held that a lawyer who attempted to represent a driver and passengers had a conflict and should be denied fees.  Other cases disqualifying a lawyer for representing both the driver and a passenger, and citing Shaikh are Key v. Arrow Limo Inc., 2014 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 3187 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. July 15, 2014); Christie v. Kramer, 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5310 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Nov. 21, 2012) (involving possible violation of left-turn statute; court raised sua sponte); Dorsainvil v. Parker, 829 N.Y.S.2d 851 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2006) ; Ferrara v. Jordache Enterprises Inc., 819 N.Y.S.2d 421 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2006); Taverez v. Hill, 2009 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 7 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Jan. 5, 2009) (court raised issue sua sponte).  Here is a case that distinguished Shaikh, Delorenz v. Moss, 2009 N.Y. LEXIS 1821 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. July 15, 2009).
        Driver and Passenger; Discipline. In In the Matter of Thornton, 421 A.2d 1 (D.C. App 1980), a lawyer was suspended for one year for representing the driver and passengers in a case against another driver.  In LaRusso v. Katz, 818 N.Y.S.2d 17 (N.Y. App. 2006), the lawyer representing both the driver and passenger was sued for malpractice. In re Plaisance, No. 2023-B-01460 (La. Feb. 6, 2024) (one-year suspension).

        Driver and Passenger; Discipline. Cleveland Metro. Bar Ass’n v. Leiken, 2014 WL 6780629 (Ohio December 2, 2014). Lawyer undertook to represent both the driver and passenger in an auto accident case. Apparently, after the driver was found to be comparatively negligent, Lawyer withdrew from representing the driver and filed suit for the passenger against the driver. In this opinion the court adopted the parties’ “consent-to-discipline” agreement and issued a public reprimand. The court noted that Lawyer had, before disciplinary proceedings began, withdrawn from representing the passenger, disgorged all fees, and apologized to both parties.

        Driver and Passenger; Fee Forfeiture. Shelby v. Blakes, 2015 WL 3604439 (N.Y. App. Div. June 10, 2015). Auto accident. Car No. 1 stopped to make a left turn. Car No. 2 hit No. 1 from the rear. Law Firm A appeared for two plaintiffs, the driver and passenger in Car No. 1. The driver of Car No. 2 counterclaimed against the driver of Car No. 1. After the case settled, Law Firm B objected to Law Firm A’s receiving fees. The trial court overruled that objection. In this opinion the appellate court reversed. The court said normally it is a conflict for a law firm to represent both the driver and passenger of a car in an accident case. The court agreed that the same lawyer may represent both where their car was stopped and rear-ended. However, because the driver of Car No. 2 had counterclaimed against the driver of Car No. 1, the pecuniary interests of the driver of Car No. 1 conflicted with those of the passenger. Thus, Law Firm A should be denied fees. In Zhang v. Hicham, No. 505583/2015 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Sept. 4, 2020), the court held that a lawyer who tried to represent the driver and passengers could not receive a share of successor counsel's fee.

        Driver and Passenger. L.A. County Op. 533 (Sept. 23, 2020). The opinion discusses two scenarios. In the first Lawyer represents Passenger and Driver in a claim against Other Driver. It is clear that the accident was solely due to the negligence of Other Driver. The committee opines that with a clear, informed waiver Lawyer may proceed, including prosecuting Driver's claim against Driver's uninsured motorist policy. In the second scenario Driver was arguably guilty of contributory negligence. The committee opined that Lawyer cannot proceed for both, because Passenger may have a claim against Driver.

        Representing Driver and Owner of Vehicle.  Graca v. Krasnik, 2008 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 4535 (N.Y. Misc. July 28, 2008).  An automobile struck a pedestrian.  The pedestrian sued the driver and the owner of the automobile.  Lawyer appeared for both defendants.  Lawyer moved for an order dismissing the owner because the owner was a leasing company, and leasing companies are not, by statute, vicariously liable.  In this opinion the court denied the motion.  More importantly, the court, sua sponte, disqualified Lawyer from representing both defendants.  The court held that Lawyer had a non-waivable conflict because dismissal of the owner would leave the driver potentially liable for the entire liability, rather than sharing liability with the owner.

        Fitts v. Richards-Smith, 2016 WL 626220 (Tex. App. Feb. 17, 2016). This opinion in a legal malpractice case opens with a warning to lawyers regarding the joint representation of the driver and passengers in an auto accident case. Ironically, the opinion ends affirming the grant of summary judgment by the trial court to the lawyers. Very complex opinion involving things other than conflicts of interest. 

        Fasanella v. Boysen, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85225 (D.N.J. Aug. 2, 2011).  Automobile collision case.  Husband was driving one car.  Wife was a passenger.  The other driver appeared to be at fault.  In this action Lawyer A is representing Husband and Wife.  Another lawyer ("Lawyer B") was representing Husband as counter-defendant on behalf of Husband's insurance carrier.  Lawyer B moved to disqualify Lawyer A, arguing that Husband and Wife had differing interests.  In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion, noting that Husband and Wife had waived any conflicts and had expressed no intention to make claims against each other.

        Cohen v. Strouch, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30778 (S.D.N.Y. March 24, 2011).  Automobile accident case.  Car 1 collided with Car 2.  In this case, the driver of Car 1 sued the driver of Car 2.  A passenger in Car 1 ("Passenger") filed a separate action, in state court, against the driver of Car 1 and the driver of Car 2.  The problem was that the lawyer for Passenger in the state court action is of counsel to the firm representing the plaintiff (driver of Car 1) in this case.  As a result, the defendant in this case moved to disqualify the firm representing the driver of Car 1.  In this opinion the court granted the motion.  First, the court rejected a standing argument because of its "inherent power to preserve the integrity of the adversary process."  Second, the court held the conflict was non-waivable.

         Central Community Church of God v. Ent & Imler CPA Group, PC, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24339 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 24, 2004).  This is a securities fraud case against an accounting firm, arising out of the sale of notes by the financial arm of a religious organization.  The court held that the same law firm could represent the receiver of the issuer as well as the note holders, both as plaintiffs.  The court noted that the law firm had a “hypothetical potential” for having a conflict of interest, but that, without more, would not disqualify the law firm.

        In Smith v. The City of New York, 611 F. Supp. 1080 (S.D.N.Y. 1985), an individual got into a scuffle with several police officers.  He sued them, and they counterclaimed.  The court said that a city attorney could represent all the officers in both the claim and the counterclaim.

        Coggins v. County of Nassau, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1726 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 5, 2009).  The plaintiff sued the county and two police officers for civil rights violations in connection with his arrest and (evidently unsuccessful) prosecution.  The County Attorney attempted to represent all three defendants.  One of the police officers moved to disqualify the County Attorney (that's right, his own lawyer).  One of the grounds was that the County Attorney would have a conflict of interest.  The court, in this opinion, denied the motion holding that under the facts of this case the County Attorney could represent all three defendants.

        Straubinger v. Schmitt, 792 A.2d 481 (N.J. App. 2002).  A lawyer represented both the driver and passenger of an automobile, who were injured in a collision with a drunk driver.  The drunk driver had a single limit liability policy of $300,000.  At a hearing on fees the court held that conflict between the driver and passenger was “inconsequential,” because everyone agreed that the drunk driver was 100% responsible for the accident.  However, because of the single limit policy, the court held the lawyer should have disclosed the conflict and gotten the clients’ knowing consent.  He had not done so, and the court reduced his fees accordingly.

        Ethics opinion on representing multiple occupants of automobile.  Fla. Op. 02-3 (2002); and N.Y. Op 778 (2004).

        In Abbott v. Kidder, Peabody & Co., Inc., 42 F. Supp. 2d 1046 (D. Colo. 1999), a lawyer attempted to represent more than 200 plaintiffs in a securities fraud case. Settlement would be controlled by a minority of the plaintiffs.  Everyone signed a representation agreement.  Nevertheless, the court disqualified the lawyer.

        Sears, Roebuck  & Co. v. Emerson Elec. Co., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15737 (N.D. Ill. 2001).  Strict liability action arising out of an accident with a radial saw manufactured by Emerson and sold by Sears.  In 1968 Emerson had agreed in writing to defend (but not necessarily indemnify) Sears in such actions.  In this instance, Emerson provided the defense for itself and Sears at trial, and the jury found against both, awarding compensatory and punitive damages.  Sears then demanded that Emerson indemnify Sears.  Emerson refused.  Sears then hired separate counsel for an appeal of the verdict.  In this case Sears seeks to recover from Emerson the cost of hiring separate counsel for the appeal.  Sears takes the position that it had to hire separate counsel because Emerson’s counsel would have a conflict on appeal.  The district judge disagreed, holding the Emerson’s counsel would have no incentive to take positions on appeal that would be beneficial to Emerson but harmful to Sears.

       Representing Brokerage House and Broker/Employee.  Nassau County (N.Y.) Op. 01-5 (undated).  The issue was whether, in a securities arbitration proceeding, a lawyer could represent both the brokerage company and the individual broker/employee.  The company would agree to pay the lawyer's fees, and the broker/employee would agree to pay any settlement or award.  The opinion said that the lawyer could represent both after adequate disclosure of any potential conflicts.  The opinion noted that the lawyer could find himself in the situation where the employer would want an early settlement to reduce fees, whereas the employee might want to fight (and win) in order to avoid paying the settlement.  The opinion also said that the lawyer must withdraw from representing both if a conflict arises.

        Brewer v. Swan Magnetics, Incconsulting., 2004 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 3179 (Cal. App. April 8, 2004).  Brewer sued Swan and Swan’s CEO for consulting fees.  Wilson Sonsini appeared for both defendants.  Brewer moved to disqualify Wilson Sonsini because the CEO had defrauded Swan, and they had a conflict of interest.  The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion.  The court held that while the CEO and Swan may have a conflict at some point, their interests in this case were the same in seeking to deny Brewer his consulting fees.  Wilson Sonsini was not representing the defendants in any matters relating to the potential conflict.  Moreover, Wilson Sonsini, as soon as it learned that Brewer was objecting to their joint representation, obtained written consents from both defendants.

         Cassidy v. Lourim, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5634 (D. Md. March 19, 2004).  A lawyer represented Plaintiffs A, B, and C.  During settlement discussions A and B wanted one result, and C wanted another.  The lawyer dropped A and B and continued to represent C.  A and B moved to disqualify the lawyer, and the court, using a classic Rule 1.9/former client analysis, granted the motion.  This case was almost too routine to post, but it involved the heirs (A and B) of singer Eva Cassidy, who died in her thirties.  Posthumously, they were able to market several albums of her music, one of them selling more than a million copies.

        Patent Prosecution: Representing Competing Applicants.  Sentinel Products Corp. v. Platt, 64 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1536, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13217 (D. Mass. July 22, 2002).  The court held that even though the same law firm was representing competing applicants, to sustain a cause of action the losing applicant must show the result would have been different if one of the applicants had a different law firm.

        Patent Infringement Case; Conflict Does not Trigger Equitable Estoppel Defense.  Vanguard Products Group v. Telefonix, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7306 (D. Ore. Jan. 16, 2009).  To read more about the case, go to Part A of this page, above.

        Li v. Prediwave Corp., 2005 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 8664 (Cal. App. Sept. 23, 2005).  Plaintiff (“Li”), director of Companies A and B, brought this action to examine corporate records of A and B.  Company C is a minority shareholder and customer of A and B and is a co-plaintiff with Li.  They share the same law firm (“Law Firm”) in this action.  C is suing A and B in other actions.  A and B moved to disqualify Law Firm in this action claiming that representing Li and C is a conflict of interest.  The trial court denied the motion, and on appeal, this court affirmed.  The appellate court held that representing Li and C was not a conflict.

         Plaintiff's Lawyer Representing In-house Lawyer for Defendant in Deposition.  Perin v. Spurney, 2005 Ohio App. LEXIS 6112 (Ohio App. Dec. 22, 2005).  Lawyers Dawson and Kelm represented Brooke Perin in this unlawful termination case against Honda and a number of its employees.  Perin had complained to higher-ups that Honda was illegally shipping hazardous materials.  Shortly thereafter she was fired.  Brooke’s husband, Doug Perin, was, at all times relevant to this case, in-house counsel at Honda.  He was also on the ethics committee at Honda, which had under consideration the hazardous materials issue.  Honda subpoenaed Doug for a deposition in this case.  At the deposition Brooke’s lawyer Kelm announced that he was representing Doug for purposes of the deposition, primarily to protect the spousal privilege.  Doug acknowledged that Kelm was representing him.  Subsequently, the defendants moved to disqualify Dawson and Kelm.  The trial court granted the motion, and the appellate court, in this opinion, affirmed.  The court relied primarily on the appearance of impropriety doctrine, although there was no showing that Doug Perin actually gave Honda confidences to Dawson or Kelm.  As to Honda’s standing to make the motion, the court said that the protection of Honda’s confidences under these unique circumstances gave Honda sufficient standing.

        Lawyers Attempting to Represent Four Applicants for the Same Position in Civil Rights Case Disqualified.  Murray v. Village of Hazel Crest, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89388 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 7, 2006).

        Court Allowed Lawyer to Represent City and City Officials in Unlawful Termination Case.   Almonte v. City of Long Beach, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21782 (E.D.N.Y. March 27, 2007).

        Cargill, Inc. v. Budine, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 48405 (E.D. Cal. June 22, 2007).   In this case Cargill is suing several former employees for stealing trade secrets and related remedies.  Cargill is a defendant in a class action in Louisiana.  Many of the facts relevant to the class action are arguably relevant to this case.  Three lawyers representing the plaintiffs in the class action are representing several defendants in this case.  Cargill moved to disqualify those lawyers in this case.  In this opinion the court granted the motion.  The court described these relationships as “unwieldy.”  A principal reason for the disqualification was that one of the former employees, while still with Cargill, was privy to confidential and privileged information gained during preparation of the defense of the Louisiana class action.  The court did not explain how that would not be a problem for any lawyer hired by that employee.  The court also commented on the fact that the disqualified lawyers had been privy to Cargill confidences in the Louisiana class action and were subject to confidentiality orders.

        M&T Mortgage Corp. v. White, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71589 (E.D.N.Y. Sept. 26, 2007).  White, a defendant, filed a third-party action against A and B.  B was a former employee of A in connection with the claim against White.  A and B had the same lawyer (“Lawyer”) in this case.  White moved to disqualify Lawyer, claiming that representing both A and B was a conflict.  In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion.  The court held a hearing at which time A and B testified that they understood the conflict argument but stated they wished to have the same lawyer.  The court acknowledged that under some circumstances a former employee might want to assert a cross-claim against his former employer, and vice versa.  But, the court said that they were entitled to the same lawyer so long as they were unified in arguing that White’s claim completely lacked merit.

        Representing Employer and Pension Plan.  Edgin v. Cobb, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55879 (E.D. Mich. July 23, 2008).  ERISA.  This is a suit by prisoners against their former employer (GM) and GM’s pension plan.  The defendants caused the prisoners’ pension checks to be sent to the prison, which resulted in the state’s confiscating 90% of each payment.  The plaintiffs moved to disqualify the law firm that was representing GM and the pension plan.  In this opinion the court denied the motion, holding that the law firm did not have a conflict of interest.

        Ariz. Op. 07-04 (Nov. 2007) states requirements for joint representation in litigation.

        Williams v. City of Rome, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58667 (N.D.N.Y. July 22, 2008).  This is the second time in a month that the same magistrate judge has sua sponte addressed the issue of a lawyer representing a governmental body and individual defendants.  The earlier case is Gabriel v. County of Herkimer, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51567 (N.D.N.Y. July 2, 2008).  The order entered and attachment appear to be nearly identical.

        Willis v. Carroll Twp., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59457 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 5, 2008).  The court held that a lawyer could not represent a borough in one case, and in another case, represent a party adverse to a borough council member, citing Municipal Revenue Services, Inc. v. Xspand, Inc., 537 F. Supp. 2d 740 (M.D. Pa. 2008).  Both cases turned upon the unique nature of local governmental units in Pennsylvania.

        Berliner Corcoran & Rowe LLP v. Orian, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50509 (D.D.C. July 2, 2008).  This is, in part, a suit for lawyers’ fees.  One of the former client’s defenses was that the law firm had a conflict of interest in representing an entity and its president.  The court, in this opinion, brushed that argument aside noting that D.C.’s version of Model Rule 1.13 specifically recognized such representations.

        Jackson v. Rohm & Haas Co., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65632 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 26, 2008).  The plaintiff moved to disqualify Law Firm, which was representing a number of defendants, because various defendants had differing interests.  The magistrate judge did a factual analysis and, in this opinion, denied the motion.  The defendants had waived any conflicts.  The one interesting issue dealt with the authenticity of the interview notes of one of the defendants.  One group of defendants admitted the notes were authentic, while another group claimed not to know.  The court said the matter would have been different had the latter group denied that the notes were authentic.

        Green v. Affinity Financial Group Inc., 2008 CanLII 51936 (Ont. Sup. Ct. Sept. 25, 2008).  This is a suit for investment losses against several defendants.  One of the defendants is not represented.  The lawyer for one of the other defendants ("Lawyer") sought to assist the unrepresented defendant in complying with discovery.  The plaintiffs objected, claiming this would be a conflict of interest.  In this opinion the master ordered that Lawyer not assist the unrepresented defendant, because to do so would be a conflict.  The master also said that because the matter involves the "proper administration of justice," the plaintiffs had standing to make the objection.

        In re CellCyte Genetic Corp. Sec. Lit., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94761 (W.D. Wash. Nov. 20, 2008).  In this securities fraud case one defendant moved to disqualify the law firm ("Law Firm") for another defendant.  The grounds were that Law Firm represented other parties related to this case.  In this opinion the court granted the motion.  As to standing the court found that it could rule on the merits of the motion to "protect the integrity of the process."  The court based disqualification in part upon the probability that Law Firm would have to cross examine its own clients.  The court rejected as impractical the suggestion that Law Firm could bring in special counsel to do the cross-examining.  The court also noted the strong possibility that Law Firm's strategies might be impacted by the possible differing interests of Law Firm's various clients.

        Lawyer Cannot Represent Both the Defendant and Worker’s Compensation Intervenor.  Hughes v. Pogo Producing Co., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59454 (W.D. La. July 6, 2009).

        Nordwind v. Rowland, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 23544 (2d Cir. Oct. 16, 2009).  Lawyer represented multiple family members in seeking restitution from a German fund created to compensate German Jews who had their money and/or property confiscated by the Nazi government.  In this case several family members sued Lawyer because he had a conflict of interest.  In this opinion the court affirmed the district court, which found Lawyer free from liability.  At bottom were both courts' findings that the plaintiffs would have recovered the same amount from the fund regardless of Lawyer's conflict.  The court also noted New York law, which provided that claims from legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty are almost always duplicative.

        Sanford v. Commonwealth of Va., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 113279 (E.D. Va. Dec. 2, 2009).  This is essentially a wrongful death action arising out of the restraint of a mentally troubled surgery patient while in the hospital.  The patient died while being restrained.  The defendants included various security officers, doctors, and nurses.  One lawyer represented all the security officers, and another lawyer represented all the doctors and nurses.  The plaintiff moved to disqualify the defendants' lawyers.  In this opinion the court granted the motion.  The court noted that in discovery the various defendants were contradicting each other in significant ways.  The court felt it was appropriate for the plaintiff to make the motion because of the case's complexity and the plaintiff's desire to have a good record if the plaintiff wins the case at trial.  The court rejected the defendants' claims that they had validly waived the conflicts.   The court found that the defendants' lawyers could not reasonably believe that they could represent the various defendants competently.  However, in a subsequent ruling the court held that the disqualified lawyers were not subject to sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 or the court’s inherent power, Sanford v. Commonwealth of Va., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15708 (E.D. Va. Feb. 23, 2010).

        Lieberman v. City of Rochester, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 9581 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 2010).  In this civil rights case several individuals sued City and several police officers ("Officers") arising out of an alleged "gay-bashing" incident.  The City Corporation Counsel is representing City and Officers.  Officers moved to disqualify the Corporation Counsel as their lawyer.  By law City has a duty to defend Officers at City expense and to indemnify Officers for any damage award, including punitive damages.  Two other proceedings arose from the incident: (1) disciplinary proceedings by City against Officers; and (2) a civil rights suit by Officers against City.  In (1) and (2) City is being represented by outside counsel, not Corporation Counsel.  In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion to disqualify.  Officers were unable to show that in this case Corporation Counsel was defending in a way to create a conflict between City and Officers.  However, realizing that this could change, the denial was without prejudice.

        Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Zur Foerderung Der Wissenschaften E.V. v. Wolf Greenfield & Sacks, PC, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95676 (D. Mass. Sept. 14, 2010).  The plaintiff in this legal malpractice case was a co-assignee ("Owner A") of several patent applications.  The defendant law firm ("Law Firm") had been specifically retained by another co-assignee ("Owner B") to prosecute the patents.  (Under an agreement among the co-assignees Owner B was responsible for the prosecution.)  That included obtaining a power of attorney from Owner A and responding to Owner A's requests for information about the claims.  A major issue in this case was whether Law Firm "represented" Owner A, in addition to Owner B, and thus whether the Owner A had standing to sue Law Firm.  After a fact-intensive analysis of the Law Firm's conduct and its communications with Owner A, and construing Massachusetts conflicts law, the court concluded that Law Firm had represented Owner A.

        In re Packaged Ice Antitrust Lit., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131423 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 13, 2010).  As a result of a Justice Department investigation, several individuals pled guilty to antitrust crimes.  Those individuals, along with a corporation, are defendants in these consolidated antitrust civil actions, allegedly arising out of the criminal conduct.  Two law firms represent the individuals and the corporation in these actions.  The plaintiffs' law firm wrote letters to the defendants' law firms saying that the plaintiffs were going to offer the individual defendants "immunity" from liability in exchange for their cooperation and testimony, and that, as a result, the law firms would have a conflict in representing them as well as the corporation.  In this opinion the magistrate judge denied a motion to disqualify the defendants' law firms.  The judge said that the plaintiffs could always compel the individuals' testimony and that these civil cases were different from criminal cases in which the government would offer immunity in exchange for the defendants' waiver of the Fifth Amendment right not to testify.  Because there is no Fifth Amendment right in these civil cases, the plaintiffs' offer of immunity does not create a conflict where the defendants' interests are otherwise aligned.

        Latham v. Matthews, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1434 (D.S.C. Jan. 6, 2011).  This is a securities class action against Signalife, Inc. and a number of individuals associated with it.  Law Firm undertook to represent Signalife and the individual defendants.  At some point Signalife discharged Law Firm.  When Law Firm continued to represent some of the individual defendants, Signalife moved to disqualify Law Firm.  In this opinion the court denied the motion.  The court seemed to rely primarily on the initial engagement letter, which provided, in effect, that Law Firm would be sharing all the information in the case with all its clients.  Thus, disqualification could not be premised upon confidentiality notions.

        In re World Trade Center Disaster Site Lit., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 30109 (S.D.N.Y. March 11, 2011).  The case consolidates claims by 10,500 rescue and clean-up workers arising out the the destruction of the World Trade Center.  Law Firm represents those plaintiffs.  Law Firm also represents 59 plaintiffs who had earlier received payments and signed releases pursuant to the Victims Compensation Fund, which was established pursuant to special federal legislation.  They now claim that their injuries are more serious than they had realized.  The district judge appointed a special counsel to advise these 59 plaintiffs.  Law Firm moved to vacate that order.  In this opinion the district judge denied that motion, citing Rule 1.7(a) and holding that the 59 plaintiffs had legal positions different from the other plaintiffs and needed separate advice.

        Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. LaSalle Bank N.A., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35343 (W.D. Okla. April 1, 2011).  In this suit Defendant solicited its employees to be represented by Defendant's counsel, which occurred.  In this opinion the court held that the solicitation and representation could be used by Plaintiff's counsel to impeach Defendant's employees who were to testify for Defendant.

        Hawley Ave. Assocs., LLC v. Russo, 2011 Conn. App. LEXIS 443 (Conn. App. Aug. 23 [official release], 2011).  Lessor sued Lessee for rent.  Lessee defended on the ground that there was no meeting of the minds as to important provisions in the lease.  The trial court found for Lessee.  In this opinion the appellate court affirmed.  One of Lessor's arguments was that because Lessor and Lessee had the same lawyer on the lease transaction, there had to be a meeting of the minds.  The appellate court noted that Lessor had no authority for that proposition.

        Granberry v. Byrne, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118293 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 13, 2011).  In this unlawful arrest case one lawyer ("Lawyer") is representing both the city and the officer in question.  The officer signed a conflicts waiver.  Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer.  In this opinion the court denied the motion, holding that representing both a municipality and an employee is not, without more, a disqualifying conflict.

        Gaspar v. Hicks, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136562 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 29, 2011).  In this civil rights case against City and Policeman, Plaintiff moved to disqualify City's law department from representing both City and Policeman.   In this opinion the court denied the motion.  The court held that the fact that Policeman might be found to have qualified immunity in this matter, or the fact that punitive damages could be awarded against Policeman, did not create a conflict between City and Policemen.

         SEC v. Tang, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136188 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 28, 2011).  This is a civil enforcement action brought by the SEC arising out of alleged insider trading.  Law Firm #1 started out representing defendants, Yu and Siu, pursuant to lengthy and thoughtful conflict and confidentiality waivers.  When criminal proceedings, arising out of the same conduct, erupted, Law Firm #1 withdrew from representing Yu in this case.  The SEC then moved to disqualify Law Firm #1 from representing Siu.  In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion on three independent grounds.  First, the court held that the SEC did not have standing, nor had the SEC shown the special circumstances cited by some courts that have allowed non-clients to make such a motion.  Second, the court held that the SEC waited too long to bring the motion (length of time not clear but appears to be the better part of a year).  Last, the court held that the written waivers were adequate.  The court put much weight on Zador v. Kwan, 37 Cal. Rptr. 2d 754 (Cal. App. 1985).

       ERISA.  Cornelius v. Dykema Gossett PLLC Retirement Plan, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1571 (E.D. Mich. Jan. 6, 2012).  In this opinion the court held that the same law firm could represent both the employer and the administrator of an ERISA retirement plan in a dispute with a retiree.

        Northern Va. Real Est., Inc. v. Martins, 2012 Va. LEXIS 11 (Va. Jan. 13, 2012).  This food fight arose out of a dispute involving a real estate listing.  In this opinion the court upheld sanctions jointly against both a party and the party's lawyer.  The court, in passing, cited cases holding that in such a situation the client and the lawyer should be separately represented.

        Dayton Bar Ass'n v. Parisi, 2012 Ohio LEXIS 658 (Ohio March 8, 2012).  In this opinion the court upheld discipline against Lawyer in part because Lawyer had represented both an elderly woman with dementia and the woman's niece who was petitioning for guardianship of the elderly woman.

        Deboles v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 79102 (D. Nev. June 7, 2012).  Injury case.  An Amtrak passenger train occupying BNSF track hit the plaintiff.  In this opinion the court held that one law firm representing both Amtrak and the BNSF did not have a conflict of interest.

        Roddy v. Nederlander Producing Co. of Am., Inc., 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 4608 (N.Y. App. Div. June 12, 2012).  Plaintiff sued three defendants, A, B, and C.  A and B were insured by InsCo.  C had contracted to indemnify A.  InsCo hired its captive law firm ("Law Firm") to represent both A and B.  C moved to disqualify Law Firm.  The trial court denied the motion because a disqualification would delay the case.  In this opinion the Appellate Division held that Law Firm should be disqualified from representing A but could remain in the case for B.  As to A the court felt that Law Firm "could seek to improperly funnel liability" from B to A, thereby harming C.  As to B, the court noted there was no showing that Law Firm learned anything from A that could be used for B and to A's disadvantage.

        Dissolution ActionFerolito v. Vultaggio, 2012 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 5629 (N.Y. App. Div. July 24, 2012).  Corp. had equal owners, A and B.  B ran the day-to-day operations of Corp.  A brought this action for dissolution of Corp., among other things.  Corp. and owner B signed a "Joint Defense and Prosecution Agreement," which provided that Law Firm would represent both, and which waived any conflicts.  A moved to disqualify Law Firm, which the trial court denied.  In this opinion the appellate court affirmed, holding that Law Firm complied with the waiver requirements of New York Rule 1.7(b).

        Handy v. Cummings, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 168068 (D. Col. Nov. 27, 2012).  Plaintiff, pro se, sued a number of municipal officials.  Plaintiff moved to disqualify the lawyer who has appeared for all defendants, both in their individual capacities and their official capacities, claiming this is a conflict.  In this opinion the court denied the motion, finding that the conflict was only potential, not actual.

        Williams-Ilunga v. Gonzalez, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19519 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 13, 2013).  Wife sought child support from Husband's pension plan.  In this action Wife sued the plan and Husband's union.  Law Firm appeared for the union and the plan.  Wife moved to disqualify Law Firm.  In this opinion the court denied the motion, holding that the joint representation was not a conflict.

        Leal v. Paramount Rests. Grp., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68902 (N.D. Tex. May 15, 2013).  Lawyers represent ESOP trustees and non-trustee members of the plan against Defendants, who allegedly took money from the plan unlawfully.  Arguing Lawyers had a conflict, Defendants moved to disqualify Lawyers.  In this opinion the court found no conflict and denied the motion.

        Hughes v. Bank of Am. Corp., 2013 U.S. Dist. 98380 (D. Nev. July 9, 2013).  Plaintiff sued Defendants A and B.  Law Firm appeared for both A and B.  Plaintiff moved to disqualify Law Firm from representing A because A was suing B in an unrelated case in New York.  Because Law Firm had nothing to do with the New York case, the court denied the motion.

        Pergament v. Ladak, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102824 (E.D.N.Y. July 23, 2013).  Owner owned Co.  Co. sued two former employees for misappropriating Co.'s funds.  The former employees counterclaimed against Co. and against Owner, alleging that Owner had misappropriated Co.'s funds.  Co. became a Chapter 7 debtor.  Law Firm started out representing both Co. and Owner.  The former employees moved to disqualify Law Firm, and the Chapter 7 trustee agreed with the motion.  In this opinion the magistrate judge ordered that Law Firm cease representing Owner.  The court noted that while no one had yet proved that Owner was guilty of anything, Law Firm's "undivided loyalty" to the debtor would be in doubt unless Law Firm stopped representing Owner.

        Averhart v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117698 (D.N.J. Aug. 20, 2013).  Plaintiff, a union member, brought this action against the union and its officers.  Law Firm appeared for those defendants.  Plaintiff moved to disqualify Law Firm.  In this opinion the court denied the motion.  The court said as long as Plaintiff is alleging mere mismanagement as opposed to "self-dealing, stealing, and fraud," the union and its officers do not have a conflict.  The court also ruled that the union did not have an ultra vires defense.  Thus, no conflict.

        Fogel 152-158 Realty, LLC v. Sport-A-Rama, Corp., 2013 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2255 (N.J. Super. Ct. Sept. 12, 2013).  Eviction action.  The main issue in this opinion was whether a motion to transfer should have been granted.  A side issue was whether Lawyer, who represented both defendants, the primary tenant and sub-tenant, had a conflict of interest.  The defendants, according to the court, shared a "common principal."  Because the landlord had not consented to the sub-lease, the court noted that the sub-tenant had no greater rights than the primary tenant.  Thus, the court said, Lawyer did not have a conflict.

        In re Gunn, 2013 Tex. App. LEXIS 12727 (Tex. App. Oct. 15, 2013).  Medical malpractice case.  Lawyer represented the defendant doctor and the doctor's employer.  Just before trial, Lawyer withdrew from representing the employer.  After a $10 million verdict, the employer asserted an indemnity claim against the doctor.  The employer also moved to disqualify Lawyer.  The trial court granted the motion.  In this opinion the appellate court reversed (granted mandamus).  First, the court held that the employer's failure to produce sworn evidence that Lawyer had obtained relevant confidences from the employer was grounds alone for denying the disqualification.  Second, the court held that waiting fifteen months to make the motion was also grounds alone for denying the motion.

        Bernstein v. Vill. of Piermont, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151004 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2013).  Plaintiff, a fireman, was the victim of a hazing incident at work.  He sued the village and three individual employees.  The employees were involved in different ways in terms of what they did, what they saw, and so forth.  Because of a village code provision, the village agreed to provide one law firm to represent all three individuals.  In this opinion, because a “potential” conflict among the individuals was “sufficiently serious,” the court ordered the Village to provide each individual his own lawyer.

        Yanez v. Plummer, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 891 (Cal. App. Nov. 5, 2013).  Yanez was a Railroad employee.  He was present in a locomotive repair shop when a fellow employee, Garcia, slipped, fell, and injured himself.  Yanez gave investigators several statements, at least one of which said he saw Garcia fall.  When Yanez’ deposition was taken in Garcia’s FELA case, both Yanez and Railroad were represented by Plummer, an in-house lawyer.  During the deposition Yanez testified that, while he was nearby, he did not see Garcia fall.  Plummer confronted Yanez in the deposition with the fact that the earlier statement was inconsistent with his deposition testimony.  Based upon this discrepancy, Yanez was fired.  Yanez brought this case against Plummer for malpractice and related causes of action.  The trial court granted Plummer a summary judgment.  In this opinion the appellate court reversed.  [Our observation: representing both an employer and employee in a tort case can be just fine.  However, this is a case study on when and how not to do it.  Any lawyer, who represents employers and employees from time-to-time, should read the opinion.]

        Siddhar v. Sivanesan, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173414 (S.D. Ohio Dec. 11, 2013).  Plaintiff sued 27 defendants for defamation-related torts.  One defendant is Lawyer.  Lawyer is representing himself and a number of other defendants.  Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer.  In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion.  The court said Plaintiff needed to establish a conflict, but had not done so.

        In re Berry, 2014 Okla. LEXIS 83 (Okla. June 24, 2014). This is a battle among various family factions over the guardianship of an elderly couple (“H&W”). One of the issues was whether two lawyers (“Lawyers”) could continue as counsel for H&W. In this opinion the court affirmed the trial court’s holding that Lawyers could not continue. Among the factors causing the ruling were the following: (1) Lawyers accepted a retainer from one of the opposing factions (“Faction A”); (2) Lawyers caused H&W funds to be paid to Lawyers, through Faction A, without court approval; (3) Lawyers represented Faction A in seeking guardianship three weeks after agreeing to represent H&W; (4) Lawyers communicated with H&W through Faction A; and (5) Lawyers represented a family member in challenging H&W’s trusts while representing H&W.

        U.S. Legal Support, Inc. v. Hofioni, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101959 (E.D. Cal. July 25, 2014). Defendant, Hofioni, worked for Plaintiff, then went to work for the other Defendants. This suit is for misappropriation of trade secrets and related remedies. Law Firm initially appeared for all Defendants. Five months into the case Law Firm moved to withdraw from representing Hofioni. In response  Hofioni argued that Law Firm must be disqualified from representing the other Defendants. In this opinion the court ordered Law Firm disqualified from the case. First, the court held that Law Firm violated California Rule 3-310(C)(1) (relating to potential conflicts) by waiting five months before requesting that Hofioni consent to the joint representation. Second, when Law Firm discovered that it had an actual conflict, it waited “eight to seventeen days” to request a consent to an actual conflict, in violation of California Rule 3-310(C)(2). Last, the court held that the disclosures Law firm did make to Hofioni were not adequate.

        Magnuson v. Newman, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105688 (S.D.N.Y. July 31, 2014). This FLSA case settled. This opinion deals with the award of attorney’s fees. The defendants argued that Plaintiffs’ counsels’ fees should be reduced because they had a conflict in representing all the Plaintiffs. More specifically, the conflict arose from Plaintiffs’ counsels’ insisting that the settlement include all Plaintiffs. The court rejected that argument, noting, among other things, that Defendants’ settlement offers had been conveyed to, and rejected by, each Plaintiff.

        Purdum v. Wolfe, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109643 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 6, 2014). This is a suit over the operation and control of Company. Law Firm represents Defendants. Eight months into the litigation Plaintiffs moved to amend their complaint, in part by adding Law Firm as a defendant. In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion because it would create a conflict of interest between Law Firm and its clients. The court said that, while motions to amend are normally granted, to allow the amendment “at this point in the litigation” would unnecessarily prejudice Defendants.

        Curle v. Gustafson, 2014 ONSC 5865 (CanLII) (Ont. Super. Ct. Oct. 7, 2014). This case is a struggle by feuding shareholders for control of two closely-held corporations. Lawyer filed this action on behalf of one group of individuals and the corporations. Defendants moved to disqualify Lawyer. Lawyer agreed to withdraw from representing the corporations but sought to stay on behalf of the individuals. In this opinion the court agreed that Lawyer should not represent the corporations but also held that Lawyer may stay on behalf of the individuals. Key to the court’s ruling was that Lawyer had not been privy to the corporations’ confidences.

        Friends of N. Spokane Co. Parks v. Spokane Co., 2014 Wash. App. LEXIS 2563 (Wash. App. Oct. 21, 2014). Store Co. gave land to a county parks agency for a park. Later the agency amended the plan to allow a road for an adjacent housing development. A citizens group filed this case against the county and Store Co. to prevent construction of the road. The county prosecutor appeared for both the county and Store Co. The citizens group moved to disqualify the prosecutor, in part because the citizens group and the county were in conflict. The trial judge denied the motion. In this opinion the appellate court affirmed, holding that the Store Co.’s and county’s interests were aligned by virtue of the position taken by the county board.

        Privilege and Co-Client Rule. Anten v. Super. Ct., No. B258437 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Jan. 30, 2015). We are going to streamline the facts for the sake of brevity. Clients A and B hired Lawyer to work on the same tax matter. B became unhappy with Lawyer and sued Lawyer for malpractice in the tax matter (this case). B sought discovery of Lawyer’s communications with A. Lawyer and A objected, claiming attorney-client privilege. The trial court upheld the objection. In this opinion the appellate court, relying upon Section 958 of the California Evidence Code and “fundamental fairness,” reversed (granted mandamus). [We learned of the case at]

        Governmental Investigations. In re Ellis, 2015 WL 728163 (Ore. Feb. 20, 2015). Lawyers A and B represented a public company as well as several constituents in DOJ and SEC investigations. Disciplinary proceedings were brought before the Oregon Bar. A trial panel found several conflict-of-interest violations. In this opinion the court dismissed all complaints. The analysis was done under Oregon’s  former Code of Professional Responsibility. As to conflicts, the new Oregon Rules, which are patterned on the ABA Rules, are somewhat different. Further, the analysis was very fact-intensive. Thus, we have chosen to keep this discussion short. The opinion does illustrate how representing multiple parties in governmental investigations can be hazardous.

        Fowler v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, 2015 WL 3407608 (E.D. Mo. May 26, 2015). This is a class action by home-owners against lenders to recover fees paid in connection with avoiding foreclosure and reinstating mortgages. The suit is also against Law Firm, which represented lenders, because Law Firm had an undisclosed conflict of interest. The alleged conflict was representing lenders at the same time as acting as successor trustees under the deeds of trust. In this opinion the court ruled that that dual role was not a conflict of interest.

        In re James I., 2015 WL 2457988 (N.Y. App. Div. May 28, 2015). In this opinion the appellate court reversed the trial court’s custody order because the same lawyer represented two of the children. The children had different ideas about who should have custody.

        In re Strasser, 2015 WL 3551567 (N.Y. App. Div. June 9, 2015). The trial court had held that Lawyer could not represent both co-guardians of the incapacitated person (“IP”). In this opinion the appellate court affirmed. The court said the conflict arose from the fact that both guardians were financially dependent on the IP and stood to benefit from the IP’s will and trust in different and competing ways.

        Malibu Media, LLC v. Tashiro, 2015 WL 4203328 (S.D. Ind. July 10, 2015). Plaintiff sued two defendants for copyright infringement. Lawyer appeared for both defendants. The issue in this opinion is whether Lawyer should be sanctioned because he had a conflict of interest, thus causing delay and expenses for Plaintiff. The court held that, although it was possible that the defendants could have blamed one another for the infringement, there was no conflict here because the defendants took the consistent position that there was no infringement.

        Denero v. Palm Horizons Mgmt., Inc., 2015 WL 1004672 (D.V.I. Aug. 21, 2015). Plaintiff fell and was injured in a vacation rental home, owned by Owner. It was managed by Manager. Plaintiff sued Owner and Manager for negligence. Law Firm appeared for both Owner and Manager. This apparent conflict was raised by the court in the first instance. After a series of filings and a hearing the court held that Law Firm had an unwaivable conflict and must be disqualified. [Note: For a much more detailed (and delightful) description of this decision, go to the August 24, 2015 online edition of DQed.)

        Schnider v. Providence Health & Servs., 2016 WL 158494 (D. Alaska Jan. 12, 2016). While the H & W were receiving marriage counseling from Providence, H began a sexual relationship with one of Providence’s professionals. On a trip with H, the professional committed suicide. In this case H & W, sharing Lawyer, jointly sued Providence, essentially for counseling malpractice. Providence moved to disqualify Lawyer. In this opinion the court denied the motion. First, the court held that Providence lacked standing. Moving to the merits, the court held that H & W’s interests were aligned in this case. Then the court addressed a statutory cap that could create a Rule 1.8(g) aggregate settlement situation. The court described ways in which that conflict could be handled if it arose.

        Vanorden v. Bannock County, 2016 WL 3566197 (D. Idaho June 27, 2016). Plaintiff was arrested by City police. He was then turned over to the County jail. Two weeks later he was found dead in his cell. Plaintiff sued various County and City employees. Lawyer appeared for all defendants. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer. In this opinion the court denied the motion, finding that, given the separate roles of the City policemen and the County jail deputies, there was no conflict.

        United States v. Emigration Improvement Dist., 2016 WL 4148251 (D. Utah Aug. 4, 2016). Law Firm for Plaintiff filed a lis pendens notice against Defendant. The notice was declared wrongful, and Defendant sought damages from the court against Plaintiff and Law Firm jointly. Law Firm filed a response for both claiming that liability, if any, should be that of Plaintiff and not Law Firm. In this opinion the court found that Law Firm had an unwaivable conflict and disqualified Law Firm. Among other things, the court noted that it was possible that Plaintiff could avoid liability and Law Firm could not.

        Malibu Media, LLC v. Doe, 2016 WL 6216142 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 25, 2016). Copyright infringement case. Lawyer represents Plaintiff. Defendant filed a counterclaim and third-party action against Lawyer and several of Lawyer’s clients. Lawyer appeared for all the parties. Defendant moved to disqualify Lawyer. In this opinion the court granted the motion. The court noted the differing theories that might be brought to bear involving Lawyer and Lawyer’s other clients. The other parties had signed a waiver of “any and all conflicts.” First, the court doubted whether Lawyer could comply with the reasonable-belief clause of Rule 1.7(b). Second, the court characterized the waiver as not “informed.”

        Johnson v. Clark Gin Serv., Inc., 2016 WL 7017267 (E.D. La. Dec. 1, 2016). An Amtrak train hit a truck. There were a number of lawsuits, with some consolidated. Law Firm brought suits for eight plaintiffs against Amtrak, the trucking company, the truck driver, the Illinois Central, and State Farm. Law Firm’s clients included the engineer, six other train crew members, and one passenger. The engineer was the only one of the eight who saw the truck prior to the crash and the only one in a position to warn everybody else. Amtrak moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the court granted the motion as to all eight plaintiffs. We will not attempt to parse the application of tort law, comparative negligence, etc. The court singled out the engineer and said that Law Firm had a Rule 1.7(a)(2) “material limitation” problem as to him - whether to blame him, and so forth.

        Prado v. Mazeika, 2016 WL 6947943 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 28, 2016). Plaintiff was employed by County. Claiming racial discrimination, Plaintiff sued County and a number of County officials in their “official capacity,” not in their “individual capacity.” Law Firm appeared for all defendants. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the court denied the motion. The court said “official capacity” vs. “individual capacity” made all the difference.

        Shapiro v. Rynek, 2017 WL 121617 (D. Col. Jan. 11, 2017). Prisoner sued two officers for conducting a wrongful strip search “in front of other inmates.” The parties agree that only one officer performed the search. The court was concerned that having the AG’s office defend both would be an impermissible conflict of interest. The defendants were able to show the court that given the issues and defense strategies (too complicated for this space), the joint defense did not look like a conflict. The court also held that Prisoner did not have standing to move to disqualify the AG’s office because he was unable to show an issue “that clearly calls into question the fair and efficient administration of justice.”

        Lectric Ltd., Inc. v. DGW, Inc., 2017 WL 1149335 (N.D. Ill. March 28, 2017). Plaintiff is claiming that Defendants 1, 2, and 3 are breaching its common law trademark for “T-3” headlamps for classic cars. Lawyer initially represented all three defendants. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer because of possible conflicts among the three defendants. After receiving the motion Lawyer withdrew from representing Defendant No. 1. Defendant No. 1 never responded to Plaintiff’s motion. Defendants 2 and 3 are owned by one individual (“Owner”). In this opinion the court found violations of Rule 1.7 but ruled Lawyer could continue for 2 and 3 if Lawyer would obtain consents from all three defendants. The court also struck the pleadings Lawyer filed during the conflict and said they could be refiled after the requisite consents were produced. Among other findings, the court found that Lawyer’s dropping Defendant No. 1 violated the “hot potato” rule, thus making this a current client/Rule 1.7 situation. The court also found that Lawyer could have a conflict as to Defendants 2 and 3 even though they were owned by the same individual. Neither the court nor the parties appear to have raised, or addressed, the standing issue. [Our note: If our description does not hold together very well, it may be because the court’s opinion does not hold together very well.]

        Carrero v. Farrelly, 2017 WL 5970717 (D. Md. Dec. 1, 2017). Plaintiff sued a county police officer and the county for unlawful arrest. A county lawyer ("Lawyer") attempted to represent both defendants. In this opinion the court denied the defendants' motion to allow that joint representation. The court noted that each defendant had different defenses and that the possibility that Lawyer may be forced into taking inconsistent positions was almost inevitable. The case was complicated by the fact that the officer was, in part, detaining Plaintiff for ICE because of Plaintiff's federal immigration status.

        Sabean v. Aikman, 2017 ONSC 7278 (CanLII) (Super. Ct. Ont. Dec. 5, 2017). Auto accident case. Father was driving his car, and Daughter was a passenger. They were rear-ended by Defendant, driving Employer's car. Father and Daughter hired Lawyer 1 to sue Defendants, which he did. Defendants turned the claim over to InsCo A. InsCo A hired Lawyer 2 to defend. Defendants filed an answer denying liability and counterclaiming against Father, claiming Father was wholly or partially responsible for the accident. Father turned the counterclaim over to InsCo B for a defense. InsCo B hired Lawyer 3 to defend the counterclaim. Father, as defendant to the counterclaim, moved to disqualify Lawyer 1 as lawyer for Daughter. The master denied the motion. In this opinion the judge affirmed. There were three issues in the appeal: (1) Did Lawyer 1 have a conflict representing both plaintiffs; (2) Did Father and Daughter effectively waive any conflict; and (3) could Father pass on information to Lawyer 1 about Daughter that would help Daughter in her case that would harm Father in the counterclaim. Both tribunals held that the potential for a conflict was remote, that the waivers of the potential conflict were effective, and there was no showing that the information contemplated in Issue 3 was actually transmitted. [Our comment: The reasoning of the tribunals was extensive, but given the odd juxtaposition of the parties, it is probably not of interest to the vast majority of this audience. If you wish to know more, read the opinion.]

        Burton v. Cleveland Heights Bd. of Educ., 2017 WL 6028211 (N.D. Ohio Dec. 4, 2017). Mother, on behalf of her disabled child, represented by Law Firm, sued School Board under federal IDEA. In a separate case, School Board sued Law Firm for misconduct in the prior administrative proceedings in Mother’s IDEA case. The court raised the possibility that Law Firm had a conflict of interest. In this opinion the court ruled it was not necessary to disqualify Law Firm “at this time” because the fee proceeding brought by School Board had been stayed, and because final rulings regarding discovery had not yet occurred.

        Carrero v. Farrelly, 2018 WL 1900136 (D. Md. April 19, 2018). Suit against Officer and County for unlawful arrest. A County in-house lawyer ("Lawyer") attempted to represent both County and Officer. The procedural status of the case is messy, so we will skip that. The court had raised, sua sponte, whether Lawyer would have a conflict, which is the main issue in this opinion. The court held that Lawyer had a conflict and directed the defendants "to rectify this conflict forthwith." The court focused on a training issue. If Lawyer were to argue that County trained Officer well, that is a problem for Officer. If Lawyer were to defend the Officer by claiming his training was inadequate, that is a problem for County.

        Frey v. City of Hoboken, 2018 WL 3468165 (N.J. App. Div. July 19, 2018). Plaintiffs brought this employment-related suit against City, Union, and Union President. Law Firm represents both Union and President. Plaintiffs moved to disqualify Law Firm. The trial court denied the motion. In this opinion the appellate court affirmed. The court found that plaintiffs failed to show the Union and President were adverse. Plaintiffs also failed to show that, although they were Union members, Law Firm ever represented them personally. The opinion contains a classic analysis of Rules 1.7, 1.9, and 1.13.

        O'Hanlon v. AccessU2 Mobile Solutions, LLC, 2018 WL 3586395 (D. Col. July 26, 2018). Plaintiff is suing AccessU2, several LLCs, and several individuals, for what appears to be wrongful termination from AccessU2. Lawyer represents all defendants. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer because of this multiple representation. Plaintiff is not a former client of Lawyer. In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion. First the court found that Plaintiff lacked standing to make the motion. Notwithstanding lack of standing, the court looked at the merits and found (somewhat summarily) that Plaintiff could show neither direct adversity nor material limitation.

        Platinum Props. Investor Network, Inc. v. Sells, 2019 WL 1670893 (S.D. Fla. April 17, 2019). Trademark infringement case with related state claims. Two law firms appeared jointly for the four named defendants. Plaintiffs moved to disqualify both law firms. In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion. The court found that the defendants' positions were "closely aligned" and that there was no conflict in representing all of them. Moreover, the defendants consented to the joint representation and were given an opportunity to consult with independent counsel.

        Maiden Lane Hosp. Grp. LLC, v. Beck, 2019 WL 2417253 (S.D.N.Y. June 10, 2019). Beck worked for Maiden Lane. He induced another plaintiff, Potentis, to invest in Maiden Lane. In this suit, brought by Maiden Lane and Potentis, Maiden Lane claims Beck misused Maiden Lane funds, thus breaching his fiduciary duty to Maiden Lane. Potentis claims that Beck misrepresented the investment in Maiden Lane, thus committing fraud. Law Firm represents both Maiden Lane and Potentis. Beck moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the court denied the motion. Space does not justify detailing the court's reasoning. The court simply did not see how Maiden Lane's interests conflict with Potentis' interests given the nature of the parties' various relationships.

        Plouffe v, Cevallos, 2019 WL 2451063 (3d Cir. June 12, 2019). Employment related case by former assistant professor against a state university and related persons and entities. The case was resolved below against Plaintiff. Plaintiff claimed that the law firm representing jointly the university and the  individual plaintiffs should have been disqualified. In this opinion affirming the rulings below, the court summarily dismissed that objection saying, "it is a regular practice for an Attorney General's office to represent state agencies and state employees concurrently in civil litigation."

        Anzora v. Lezama, 2019 WL 3334685 (D. Col. July 24, 2019). Two trucks collided. Plaintiff was driving one of them. Evidently, the other truck crossed the center line. Its mirror penetrated Plaintiff's side of the cab, injuring her. IMS, a finance company, funded Plaintiff's surgery to the tune of some $75,000. Law Firm represents both Plaintiff and IMS. Defendants moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the court denied the motion. The court said the interests of Plaintiff and IMS were "aligned." The only way a conflict could arise is if Plaintiff loses this case or Plaintiff fails to reimburse IMS. Moreover, because Plaintiff in contractual bound to pay IMS - win or lose - IMS right to recovery is not "contingent." So IMS personnel may testify as an expert on Plaintiff's behalf.

        Hernandez v. Helm, 2019 WL 5922233 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 12, 2019).  Two city workers sued City and two City managers in this whistle-blower matter. The plaintiffs moved to disqualify City's lawyer. The plaintiffs claimed that City's lawyer has a conflict in representing City along with the two individual defendants. The court noted Seventh Circuit authority holding that, without more, that is not a conflict. The plaintiffs were unable to specify how the defendants' interests diverged. Thus, no conflict of interest under Model Rule 1.7. The court did not address standing.

        Gooden v. Batz, No. 3:18-cv-302 (S.D. Ohio April 6, 2020). Terrell Gooden suffered severe and permanent brain damage in an auto accident. Rescue teams from the City of Vandalia and Butler Township responded to the accident. Gooden's guardian, and other family members, brought this injury case against responding personnel, and governmental officials, from both municipalities. The claims include negligence by responding personnel, and failure to train and supervise against the officials. Law Firm appeared for all the defendants. The plaintiffs moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the court denied the motion. No discovery had been conducted, so the court concluded that the plaintiffs' claims of conflict were based upon "speculation."

        Infosphere Consulting, Inc. v. Habibi Life, LLC, No. 19-cv-15577-MCA-ESK (D.N.J. Aug. 7, 2020). Infosphere, which does business as "Habibi," has sued Habibi Life for trademark infringement and related causes of action. Law Firm, which represents Habibi Life, filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Shahada Karim. Infosphere, claiming it would be a conflict, under N.J. Rule 1.7, for Law Firm to represent both Habibi Life and Karim, moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion. Habibi Life and Karim had entered into a series of agreements that defined their relationship and concurrence as to the future use of the name Habibi. For that reason the court found that their interests were aligned. Moreover, the agreements addressed Law Firm's joint representation -- amounting to consent under N.J. Rule 1.7(b).

        Johnson v. The Kroger Co., No. 2:18-cv-1240 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 3, 2020). Michael Simmons worked at Kroger and was in charge of preventing shoplifting. Simmons caused the arrest of Plaintiff, a Kroger customer, for shoplifting "several DVDs." The police dropped the charge. Plaintiff sued Kroger and Simmons. Law Firm appeared for both defendants. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Law Firm because Kroger may contend that Simmons' conduct was not in the scope of his employment. In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion to disqualify. Kroger had admitted Simmons had acted within the scope of his employment in its answer to the complaint. Kroger also made the same admission in its response to a request to admit. The court found that, under the circumstances, Kroger was stuck with its admissions and, thus, there was no conflict.

        Fly R+F Consulting Ltd. v. 1824455 Alberta Ltd., 2020 ABCA 204 (Ct. App. Alb. May 14, 2020). Company has four shareholders. A dispute arose among them. Minority Shareholder ("MS") filed this action against Company and the three other shareholders for "breach of fiduciary duty and shareholder oppression." MS claimed that the three defendant shareholders used Company's assets for "personal gain" and formed a new company to use information belonging to Company. Law Firm appeared for all four defendants.  MS moved to have Law Firm removed from the case.  The chambers judge ordered that Law Firm could not represent Company. The defendants appealed that order. MS cross appealed, claiming that Law Firm should be removed from representing the three defendant shareholders, as well. In this opinion the appellate court ruled that Law Firm should be removed from representing any defendant, "given the potential for conflict among the directors and shareholders of [Company] and [Company] itself."

        Cortez v. LandCare USA, LLC, No B298044 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Unpub. Dec. 10, 2020). This is a class action against LandCare by employees for under-compensation. The case contains two separate conflict issues unrelated to the class nature of case. In the first, a lawyer from Law Firm 1 representing the LandCare claimed Law Firm 1 represented five other employees. She later corrected that, saying only that she would arrange to produce them for depositions. The trial court disqualified Law Firm 1. In this unpublished opinion the appellate court reversed holding that Law Firm 1 had, in fact, not represented the five employees, notwithstanding the partner's earlier misstatement that it had. The second issue relates to Law Firm 2, which showed up representing two of the aforementioned five employees. Defendant LandCare is paying Law Firm 2's fees. Law Firm 2 had earlier represented LandCare on other matters. Law Firm 2 obtained the two clients' written consent to this arrangement. Nevertheless, the trial court disqualified Law Firm 2. In this opinion, the appellate court reversed. The court said the compensation arrangement and the earlier representation of LandCare were not enough to constitute a disqualifying conflict. The court was particularly moved by the potential harm to the two employees if Law Firm 2 were disqualified.

        Leavitt v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n (D. Mass. July 14, 2021). Plaintiff is suing InsCo and certain members of InsCo's management. Law Firm has appeared for all defendants. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the court denied the motion. Plaintiff claimed that, because InsCo was a "reciprocal inter-insurance exchange," of which Plaintiff was a "subscriber," Law Firm had a conflict representing all defendants. The court said no conflict because he was suing all of them, and their interests were aligned.

        Doe v. Am. Fed'n of Gov't Employees, No. 20-1558 (JDB) (D.D.C. Aug. 11, 2021). Multiple plaintiffs are suing Union and several Union officers arising out of alleged sexual harassment-related conduct of Union's president. The case is at the pleading stage. Law Firm represents individual defendants (not the alleged offender) as well as Union. Among other things, the plaintiffs moved to disqualify Law Firm from representing the individual defendants. In denying that motion the court said the joint representation "has been permissible thus far." The court relied primarily on Yablonski v. United Mine Workers of Am., 448 F.2d 1175 (D.C. Cir. 1971), which held that the same law firm may continue "at the early stages of litigation" until the issues are sorted out.

        Enriquez v. Gemini Motor Transp. LP, 2021 WL 3565731 (D. Ariz. Aug. 12, 2021). Defendant moved to disqualify Plaintiff's lawyer because the lawyer also represented a third-party witness. In this short/cryptic opinion the court denied the motion. The court said while such a relationship could lead to abuse, "there is no categorical restriction" for such a relationship. The opinion does not indicate whether the lawyer represents the witness in this case or in another matter.

        Heagy v. Burlington Stores, Inc., 2021 WL 5399910 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2021). Plaintiff fell down in Defendant's store. She is suing Defendant for negligence and damages. This opinion involves discovery issues. One issue is whether Defendant's lawyers can represent Defendant's former employees at their depositions. The court ruled that they could, provided the lawyers comply with Pennsylvania ethics rules. However, the court said that Plaintiff's lawyers could question the former clients about whether they had given informed consent to the representation.

        Arnold v. Solomon, No. 2053, Sept. Term, 2019 (Md. Spec. App. Unreported Dec. 22, 2021). Lawyer and others were defendants in this legal malpractice suit. In this "unreported" opinion the court, without discussion, ruled that, absent a conflict of interest, Lawyer could represent himself and other defendants. The opinion did not indicate who the "other defendants" were or what they might have done.

        Galloway v. County of Nassau, 2022 WL 681065 (E.D.N.Y. March 7, 2022). In 2009 Josiah Galloway was convicted of shooting a taxi driver and sentenced to 25 years in prison. In 2018, on a tip from a citizen, ADA Sheryl Anania re-opened the case, and in 2019, she had the case against Galloway dismissed. Anania's investigation revealed sloppy and potentially criminal behavior by the arresting officers. In this case Galloway has sued the officers (not Anania). Law Firm represents the officers. Galloway's lawyer deposed Anania, who was being represented by Law Firm. Anania's testimony was not good for the officers. As a result Galloway moved to disqualify Law Firm. The magistrate judge granted the motion, finding the joint representation "presented a risk of significant trial taint." In this opinion the district judge affirmed the magistrate judge

        Simmons v. Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Public Complaints Comm'n, 2022 NLSC 27 (S. Ct. Newf. & Lab. Feb. 24, 2022). This is a long opinion considering a number of issues not related to conflicts. We will discuss the conflict issue only. Two persons filed a complaint with the Commission regarding the conduct of three police officers who had arrested them ("The Incident"). Lawyer A, a member of Firm X, appeared for one of the officers ("Simmons"). The problem was that Lawyer B, also a member of Firm X, was representing a Sergeant Cole, Simmons' supervisor, in other proceedings arising out of The Incident. Cole was not present at The Incident and is not a party in this proceeding. However, during The Incident they consulted by telephone about what Simmons should do. Given this relationship, the adjudicator assigned to hear this case ruled that Lawyer A had a conflict of interest and could not represent Simmons. In this opinion the court reversed the adjudicator. The court discussed the possible ways Cole and Simmons might be adverse, but could not come up with a scenario in which either of them would likely be prejudiced by A's involvement. Moreover, both Cole and Simmons had consented in writing to A's involvement. Given the limitations of this site, our discussion leaves out a lot, even as to the conflicts analysis. Among other things, the court discusses at length the applicability of the Supreme Court's decisions in Neil, MacDonald Estate, McKercher, and Strother.

        Koumantaros v. Hephaistos Devel., LLC, 2022 NY Slip Op 01778 (N.Y. App. Div. 2d Dept. March 16, 2022). Owners A & B owned adjacent, connected row houses. They jointly hired Contractor to add an upper level to both buildings. During construction the roof collapsed. A & B hired Law Firm to sue Contractor. Contractor counterclaimed alleging that A & B contributed to the collapse. Contractor moved to disqualify Law Firm, claiming that A & B had differing interests as to the cause of the collapse. The trial court denied the motion. In this opinion the appellate court affirmed. The court said "at this juncture" Contractor had failed to show A & B had "differing interests."

        Lusk v. Lamin, No. 2:20-cv-6064 (S.D. Ohio March 29, 2022). Plaintiff sued a number of defendants for conspiring to conceal an accident, which led to the death of Plaintiff's mother. Lawyer appeared for two nurse aids who were allegedly present at the accident. Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer, claiming that representing both aids would be a conflict. In this opinion the court noted the standing issue, but went on to rule that the "motion fails because [Plaintiff] merely speculates that a conflict may occur later."

        Gordon v. Phillips, No. 1:21CV29 (M.D.N.C. March 31, 2022). Plaintiffs are suing a number of defendants for selling unregistered securities. Among the defendants are Lawyer and members of Lawyer's family. Lawyer purports to represent all the defendants. Plaintiffs moved to disqualify Lawyer. Defendants did not oppose the motion. In this opinion the court granted the motion, largely because "Plaintiffs allege different theories of liability against different defendants." That Lawyer and members of his family are defendants and that lawyer would be a witness, exacerbate the conflict.

        Greene v. Lane, No. COA21-407 (N.C. App. April 5, 2022). Stephen Greene and Christopher Lane are 50% owners of Alydar Financial. Greene is executor of his father's estate. Greene brought this suit against Lane and Alydar to collect on a note under which Alydar and Lane owe Greene's father. Lane, a lawyer, is representing himself and Alydar. Lane has counterclaimed for compensation owed to Lane by Alydar. Greene moved to disqualify Lane. The trial court granted the motion. In this opinion the appellate court affirmed. The principal basis of the ruling was N.C. Rule 1.7(a)(2) (material limitation of Lane's duties to Alydar). The court's reasoning should be self-evident. The court also found a violation of N.C. Rule 3.7(b).

        In re Flint Water Cases, 2022 WL 1127398 (E.D. Mich. April 15, 2022). The Napoli firm represents thousands of plaintiffs. Mark Cuker represents nearly a thousand other plaintiffs. The court has approved a partial settlement affecting both groups of plaintiffs. The Napoli firm moved to disqualify Cuker because Cuker had, before the settlement was approved, filed objections to the proposed settlement on behalf of twelve of his clients. In this opinion the district judge denied the motion to disqualify. The court found that Coker's conduct "likely violated" ethics rules, but that the conflict was "short-lived and did not ultimately affect" any of Cuker's clients.

        Rivera v. Lettire Constr. Corp., 21-CV-6006 (AJN)(KHP) (S.D.N.Y. June 9, 2022). Injury case. In this opinion the magistrate judge ruled that the defendant's lawyer could represent six non-party witnesses at their depositions. "[T]he Witnesses are not parties to the litigation and have no stake in its outcome." That they may testify adversely to the defendant "is not sufficient to find that a conflict exists."

        In re Matteis, 2022 IL App (1st) 210800-U (Ill. App. July 14, 2022). W passed away leaving a will. H was not a legatee, but was beneficiary of an inter-vivos trust created by W. The trust contained two companies, jointly owned by W and her brother ("Brother"). After W's death, Brother's son, W's nephew ("Nephew"), became manager of the two companies. As beneficiary of the trust, H had certain distribution rights during his lifetime. In this litigation, H on one side, and Brother and Nephew on the other side, are contesting who has rights to what. Law Firm has appeared for Brother, Nephew, and the two companies. H moved to disqualify Law Firm. The trial court held that Law Firm could not represent all four, but could represent the two companies or Brother and Nephew. In this "order" the appellate court affirmed the trial court. The court found that H had standing to move to disqualify Law Firm because of his "potential interest" in the court's resolution of his ownership rights. Second, the court found that, under Rule 1.7(a)(2) (material limitation) Law Firm had a conflict because the interests of Brother and Nephew potentially differ from those of the two companies. Warning: Because this order was deemed non-precedential under Ill. S. Ct. Rule 23(e)(1), we have chosen not to delve into the precise ways the court felt that the interests of Law Firm's clients could conflict. Same, with respect to standing. That discussion was lengthy and referred to numerous cases not dealing with motions to disqualify. Thus, in our view it was of questionable utility to this audience.

        Monden v. Consol. Nuclear Sec. LLC, 2022 WL 16722353 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 4, 2022). Plaintiff sues Defendant, his former employer, as a "whistleblower" under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 and for common law fraud. Defendant moved to disqualify Plaintiff's law firm. In this opinion the court granted the motion. Plaintiff had a supervisory role at Defendant's factory. Plaintiff claims that other employees fraudulently reported time they did not work. Some of these employees claim that Plaintiff encouraged them to falsify their time. Plaintiff's law firm also represents some of these employees. The court found that Plaintiff and the other employees would likely be testifying against each other and that this was a conflict. While Plaintiff had signed a waiver, the other employees hadn't. The opinion contains no mention of Defendant's standing to make the motion to disqualify.

        In re Lithium Ion Batteries Antitrust Litig., 2022 WL 16959377 (9th Cir. Nov. 16, 2022). In this opinion the appellate court affirmed a district court decision approving fees to Class Counsel. A party had objected because the law firm in question was representing plaintiffs from both "Illinois Brick repealer and non-repealer states." (Those terms are explained in Footnote 1 in this opinion.) Both courts ruled that that joint representation was not a conflict of interest and should not affect the fee awarded.

        Putnam v. Kibler, 2022 WL 17074878 (N.Y. App. Div. 4th Dept. Nov. 18, 2022). Snowmobile collision -- a first for this site. A was riding on one; B was driving. They collided with another driven by C. A and B hired Lawyer. Lawyer negotiated a settlement with C's carrier awarding A and B $25,000. A and B signed releases. Nevertheless, A brought this case against B and C. C moved to dismiss because of the release signed by A. A responded that the release should not be enforceable because Lawyer had a conflict of interest; he was representing both the driver and the passenger (A & B). The trial court denied the motion to dismiss without explanation. In this opinion the appellate court reversed, saying that, given the pretty clear evidence that C was completely at fault, it was not unreasonable for Lawyer to conclude that A and B did not have "differing interests."

        Litster Frost, PLLC. ["Law Firm 1"] v. Idaho Injury, PLLC ["Law Firm 2"], 518 P.3d 1 (Idaho 2022). Melissa Gryder was injured in an auto accident. She hired Law Firm 1 to pursue a claim against the other driver. Seth Diviney of Firm 1 did much of the work. Diviney got into a tiff with the "owner" of Firm 1, left Firm 1, formed Firm 2, and took his client, Gryder, with him. Then, Diviney got Gryder's case settled for a total of $120,000. Diviney and Firm 1 got into a food fight over who gets what piece of the settlement, and this case is the result. Firm 1 is suing Firm 2 and poor Melissa Gryder. They are all suing each other. Diviney is representing Gryder and Firm 2. We are going to skim over the substantive issues of who gets what and go to a conflict-of-interest issue. Below, Firm 1 had moved to disqualify Diviney. Diviney convinced the trial judge that Gryder's and Firm 2's interests were aligned. The trial court denied the motion to disqualify. In this long opinion the Supreme Court hashed through the substantive issues and concluded that Diviney had an unconsentable conflict. This is in part due to the court's conclusion that, upon remand, the trial court could find, among other possibilities, that Gryder should get the full $120,000. The court instructed the trial court, upon remand, to come up with an appropriate remedy for Diviney's conflict, including possible disqualification and disgorgement of fees.

        Jason M. Hatfield, P.A. v. Ornelas, 2023 WL 361558 (W.D. Ark. Jan. 23, 2023). The opinion does not say what this case is about. Here is what we know. One of the defendants is a lawyer ("Lawyer"). In addition to representing himself, Lawyer represents a co-defendant ("Client"). Plaintiff moved to disqualify Lawyer from representing Client in this case. In this opinion the court denied the motion "without prejudice." The court considered all the ways this representation could be a problem, but on balance found Lawyer's and Client's interests aligned, at least for now. The court cautioned Lawyer that Lawyer "appears to be on shaky ethical ground" and encouraged Lawyer to seek Client's "informed consent to continued representation as detailed" in Arkansas Rule 1.7(b).

         Veloz v. Jiddou, 2023 NY Slip Op 00292 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st Dept. Jan. 24, 2023). Plaintiff was driving an auto, and her young daughter was a passenger. They were allegedly rear-ended, and both, represented by Lawyer, sued the driver of the other vehicle. The defendant counterclaimed that the accident was the fault of the plaintiff/driver. The trial court disqualified Lawyer from representing both plaintiffs. In this opinion the appellate court noted that the plaintiffs did not appeal the disqualification and said "plaintiffs have been advised to retain new and separate counsel."

        Rubin v. Paul A.R. Stewart Helm Legal Servs., LLC, 2023 WL 2003961 (Pa. App. Unpub. Feb. 15, 2023). In this case Rubin sues Lawyer Stewart and Stewart's client for the tort of wrongful use of civil proceedings. The client and Stewart had earlier filed a case against Rubin, which turned out to be groundless and was dismissed. In this case  Stewart had planned to represent his client and himself. Just before trial the trial judge disqualified Stewart from representing his client in the face of a "clear and palpable conflict of interest," even though the client waived the conflict. The client proceeded to represent herself. The jury found for Rubin, awarding damages against both Stewart and the client exceeding $700,000.This opinion deals with lots of issues on the case's merits. We will deal with the conflicts issue only. The appellate court confirmed the disqualification, including that the conflict was too basic to waive. The court discussed all the difficulties that could arise in the face of the conflict, including which defendant would testify as to what and the ramifications of a potential cross-claim by the client against Stewart.

        Hawk Tech. Sys., LLC v. Castle Retail, LLC, 2023 WL 3312637 (W.D. Tenn. May 8, 2023). Patent infringement case. Law Firm for Plaintiff moved to withdraw after the court dismissed the case and Defendant moved for attorneys fees jointly between Plaintiff and Law Firm. In this opinion the court denied the motion to withdraw "at this juncture." The court noted that Law Firm likely has a conflict, but that, here, the conflict is cured by Plaintiff's retention of alternative counsel. Thus, Plaintiff can "adequately defend it own interest." [Our note: We have no experience in how awards of attorneys fees in patent cases are resolved. It would appear that the court ordered Law Firm to remain in the case to facilitate the possible award of fees against Law Firm.]

        Federal Ins. Co. v. Mintz, 2023 WL 3450502 (2d Cir. May 15, 2023). Federal brought this interpleader action against a number of parties, including PixarbioBio Corp. and several of its law firms. Federal is requesting the court to determine where the proceeds of a Federal's "securities liabilities" policy should be paid. One of the parties was a law firm (The Mintz Fraade Law Firm P.C.). Other parties in the case claimed Mintz Fraade should not receive any of the funds because it had a conflict of interest. This whole set of circumstances began when the SEC commenced an investigation of Pixarbio and several of its principals. The SEC told Mintz Fraade that it, too, was a party of interest in the investigation. Nevertheless, Mintz Fraade represented Pixarbio and two officers in the investigation. The trial court ruled that the conflict was unwaivable and that Mintz Fraade should receive no share of the Federal payment, Federal Ins. Co. v. Pixarbio Corp., 2022 WL 623735 (S.D.N.Y. March 3, 2022). In Federal Ins. Co. v. Pixarbio Corp., 2022 WL 1689636 (S.D.N.Y. May 26, 2022), the court denied Mintz Fraade's motion for reconsideration. In this opinion the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court's decisions.

        Elmore v. Maries County, No. 4:22-CV-00617-JAR (E.D. Mo. July 7, 2023). Plaintiff’s husband died while in County custody. Among other things, Plaintiff claims her husband was beaten by another prisoner. The other prisoner is not a party, but is probably a witness. At one point, Lawyer represented Plaintiff and the other prisoner. In this opinion the court granted Defendant’s motion to disqualify Lawyer.

        Montclair Hosp., LLC v. Glen Ridge Borough, 2023 WL 4783596 (T.C.N.J. July 26, 2023). While the opinion of a single judge of a state tax court is of questionable precedential value, this letter/opinion is quite thoughtful and pulls together New Jersey precedents on conflicts of interest in ways that may be helpful to New Jersey lawyers. These are property tax appeals brought by a hospital company and its landlord. Borough moved to disqualify Law Firm from representing both the hospital company and the landlord. In this letter/opinion the Tax Court judge denied the motion. First of all, both clients were seeking the same thing, a reduction in the tax assessment. Second, there is nothing inherently adverse in representing a tenant and landlord in the same proceeding. Last, although the parties' lease agreement may contain potential room for disagreements on other issues, the potential is not great enough to be disqualifying in this tax case. Particularly interesting to us is the judge's discussion of Baldasarre v. Butler, 132 N.J. 278 (1993). In that case the court held that the same lawyer could never, even with consent, represent the buyer and seller in "a complex real estate transaction." The Tax Court judge emphasized that, here, Law Firm isn't representing both parties in negotiating the lease, but rather seeking the same tax relief for them.

        Cassini v. County of Nassau, No. CV 22-1696 (DG)(AYS) (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 20, 2023). In the early stages of this case the plaintiff moved to disqualify a lawyer for a defendant because the lawyer was also a defendant. In this opinion the magistrate judge denied the motion.  The court said the motion is premature given this stage of the case. The implication is that a lawyer may represent himself as well as another defendant as long as their interests appear to be aligned.

        Price v. Whitten, No. 2:20-cv-01099-DHU-KRS (D.N.M. Dec. 8, 2023). Plaintiff is suing City and City police officers for an unlawful arrest. Lawyer has appeared for City and the officers. The issue was raised whether Lawyer has a conflict. Lawyer has waivers from all concerned. In addition, City has said that it will not contend that the officer in question acted "outside the scope of his duties." In this order the court found that the officer's waiver "is sufficient" for purposes of Dunton v. Suffolk County, 729 F.2d 903 (2d Cir. 1984), a leading case on conflicts between municipalities and their employees.

        Nobrega v. Troy-Bilt, LLC, 2023 WL 8714113 (D.N.J. Dec. 18, 2023). We have occasionally written about cases dealing with possible conflicts where a lawyer attempts to represent both the driver and passenger involved in an auto accident. (Do a word search on this page for "driver" or "passenger.") How about the operator and passenger of a riding lawn mower? This is that case. Dad was driving, and eight-year-old Daughter was riding on Dad's lap. Daughter's foot got caught in the blades and was seriously injured. Mother and Dad sued Manufacturer, on their own behalf and that of Daughter, for making a defective product. Manufacturer counterclaimed against Dad for negligent operation of the mower. Law Firm appeared for Mother, Dad, and Daughter. Manufacturer moved to disqualify Law Firm. In this opinion the magistrate judge granted the motion. The court found that Dad did not have immunity from a claim by Daughter and, thus, Lawyer was disqualified from representing any party in the case.

        SVB Fin. Group v. Fed. Ins. Co., 2024 WL 844840 (E.D.N.C. Feb. 28, 2024). This case involves the arcana of federal banking laws and regulations, about which we know little. Thus, you are getting just the basics. This is a suit by Silicon Valley Bank ("Bank") and its parent company ("Parent") against two private insurance companies for coverage arising from the failure of SVB in 2023. When the suit was filed, Bank and Parent had the same law firm ("Law Firm"). After the filing, FDIC appeared as receiver for Bank, with its own lawyers (not Law Firm). FDIC then moved to disqualify Law Firm from representing Parent. In this opinion the court granted the motion. The analysis was under Rule 1.9 (former client) and a heavy reliance on Worley v. Moore, 370 N.C. 358 (2017). Given our ignorance of banking regulation, we have no idea whether disqualification was appropriate.

        Marchisotto v. Daley, No. 3:22-cv-1276 (D.N.J. March 12, 2024). Very thin plaintiff/pro se case, not worthy of extended discussion. In this opinion denying a motion to disqualify the N.J. Attorney General, the court held that, without more, the Attorney General and his office could represent other state defendants while the Attorney General, himself, was also a defendant.