Risk Update

Conflicts Concerns — ‘Entirely Appropriate’ Conflicts Review, Ex-clerk Conflicts Navigation

King & Spalding faces plaintiffs’ grilling over new associate in San Francisco” —

  • “King & Spalding’s rehiring this month of an associate in San Francisco has become a flashpoint in a long-running antitrust lawsuit just weeks before the trial is set to begin in California federal court.”
  • “The law firm said it is taking steps to wall off the associate, who had served as a law clerk to the judge overseeing the antitrust case against longtime client Sutter Health, the Northern California health system.”
  • “The dispute came to light on Wednesday night in a series of emails and letters filed with the court among the firms handling the case. The correspondence indicates concerns plaintiffs’ lawyers have about potential conflicts of interest arising from the associate’s work for the judge.”
  • “The dustup began on Jan. 4, when a partner at King & Spalding notified the parties and Beeler that the judge’s former clerk, Meghan Strong, was returning to the firm. Strong earlier worked at the firm prior to the start of her clerkship last year.”
  • “‘Counsel has an obligation to get to the bottom of this issue on behalf of the class,’ Constantine Cannon partner Matthew Cantor said in a letter on Monday to Beeler about questions he posed to King & Spalding.”
  • “King & Spalding’s Stephen Goff in Sacramento, a lawyer for Sutter, told the court Strong is disqualified from representing parties in matters she worked on as a clerk. The firm said it has played a limited role in the Sutter case, with Jones Day attorneys serving as lead trial counsel.”

As John Pierce’s Jan. 6 Client List Grows, Conflict of Interest Concerns Follow” —

  • “Right-wing attorney John Pierce’s fiery pro-Trump and anti-establishment persona, and his reputation for backing causes championed by conservatives, has helped him amass nearly two dozen clients charged in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. But as his client list grows, so too are concerns about potential conflicts of interest in his cases.”
  • “Judges in at least two multi-defendant cases have appointed a conflicts counsel in recent weeks to examine whether Pierce’s representation of multiple co-defendants charged together for allegedly breaching the Capitol presents ethical issues that may require Pierce to withdraw. Pierce is representing at least 22 people charged in the Capitol riot, according to a review of court documents, the most of any defense attorney.”
  • “But the sheer number of Pierce clients makes conflict issues more likely, experts said, leaving it to judges and conflicts counsel to sort out potentially thorny issues, such as how to proceed if arguments in one case may undermine potential defenses in other cases involving the same attorney.”
  • “Additionally, given his political posturing, Pierce will need to take care to avoid pushing an ideological agenda over the interests of his clients, ethics experts said.”
  • “Pierce maintains an active Twitter presence where he frequently lambasts the Biden administration, COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and the D.C. establishment. He earned significant attention on the right for his role in defending Kyle Rittenhouse, the Wisconsin teenager who shot and killed two people during a Black Lives Matter protest and was later acquitted after arguing self-defense. Pierce left Rittenhouse’s defense team before trial, reportedly over a bitter financial dispute with Rittenhouse’s family.”
  • “‘I have seen no such conflict to date. The court, which I greatly respect, is simply doing its job under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 44 to ensure the rights of defendants are protected,’ Pierce said. ‘That is entirely appropriate.'”
  • “The final decision will rest with the judge. And while Gillers said experienced trial court judges have likely dealt with similar issues in the past, it can be a difficult decision. If a judge disqualifies an attorney, a defendant can argue on appeal that they were denied counsel of their choosing. If, on the other hand, a judge allows a lawyer with a conflict to remain on the case, a conviction can be overturned due to ineffective assistance of counsel.”