Back in late 2004, the now-defunct law firm of Sprenger & Lang found itself disqualified as counsel for a plaintiffs class in a class action against Cargill because a former Cargill executive shared his Cargill-privileged documents with the plaintiffs’ lawyers (related opinion here).
Now, in a class action lawsuit against Target Corp., the Halunen law firm has been disqualified on a very similar basis. Notably, the Halunen firm had sought ethical guidance from the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (to the effect that filing of the lawsuit notwithstanding contact with the former Target executive would violate no ethical rules) but such telephonic advisory opinions are non-binding on the Court, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Montgomery (D. Minn.) noted.
In the instant caste, the circumstances warrant disqualification because conduct has occurred that taints these proceedings and, if left unremedied, potentially undermines public confidence in the legal profession.
On the other hand, Judge Montgomery did not accept Target’s invitation to dismiss the entire lawsuit. In fact, she did not disqualify co-counsel, of the Levin Fishbein firm in Philadelphia. Rather, she order then to file an affidavit within 10 days setting out all of the information they received related to “Jane Doe,” the former Target executive.
Fortunately for the Halunen firm, this lawsuit has only been pending for four or five months. The financial setback of plunging resources into a class action case and then being disqualified (and therefore, being under-compensated if not wholly uncompensated for its work on the case) would presumably be far less than in the Arnold v. Cargill case where there had been nearly three years of litigation before the Sprenger & Lang firm was “bounced” out of the case.