Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Be Careful about Calling Out Conflicts -- Unwarranted Disqualification Motion Leads to Sanctions

Several stories point out the increasing use of disqualification motions as tactical maneuvers. As illustrated in In Doe v. Fulton-DeKalb Hospital Authority, No. 08-14304, 2010 WL 5392746 (11th Cir. Dec. 30, 2010) [Decision and commentary via Jenner & Block], taking such measures is not without risks.

In this case involving alleged sexual harassment, plaintiff's counsel moved to disqualify counsel representing defendants (a hospital and individual employees), arguing "extraordinary conflict of interest." Defendants replied with a Rule 11 motion and sought sanctions.

Both the trial court and an appeals court rules that the disqualification motion was out of line, and that sanctions, including attorneys fees were warranted:
  • "The court noted that plaintiffs’ counsel had provided no legal authority in support of his motion for disqualification. The court further found that a reasonable and responsible attorney in plaintiffs’ counsel’s position would have known that defendants’ counsel had appropriately advised his clients of potential conflicts and obtained waiver letters.  On these facts, the court concluded that the district court’s ruling was 'unassailable.'"

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