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Legal Memorandum: Disqualification of an Attorney in VI

Issue: Under the laws of the U.S. Virgin Islands, what rules determine when an attorney should be disqualified from continuing representation following the discovery of a potential conflict of interest?

Area of Law: Ethics & Professional Responsibility
Keywords: Disqualification of an attorney; Conflict of interest; Continuing representation
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 175 Cal. Rptr. 575; 121 Cal. App. 3d 893
Cited Statutes: Rule 1.9(a) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct;
Date: 11/01/2007

The Rules of Professional Conduct adopted by the Supreme Court and High Court are designed to maintain the integrity of the profession by preventing attorneys from making use of the confidential information obtained from one client in a simultaneous or subsequent matter to harm the initial client.  The rule here provides that

“[a] lawyer who has formerly represented a client in a matter shall not thereafter represent another person in the same or a substantially related matter in which that person’s interests are materially adverse to the interests of the former client unless the former client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.”

Rule 1.9(a) of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct (emphasis added).  The rule as written, however, does not prohibit representation in all subsequent and unrelated matters.

In City of Santa Barbara v. Superior Court, 122 Cal. App. 4th 17, 18 Cal. Rptr. 3d 403 (2004), the court was asked to disqualify an attorney and his firm after he switched representation during the progress of a claim against the City of Santa Barbara for damage to homes due to flooding with water and sewage.  While across-the-board disqualification would seem to be the remedy for a seemingly clear-cut violation of the rule, it was not.  The court did not see fit to disqualify the attorney’s new firm (although the individual attorney was prohibited from continuing his representation), and the court wrote a lengthy opinion explaining its position.  As part of its review, […]

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