Risk Update

Conflicts News — Court Clerk Conflict Concern Curtailed, Superfund Super (Ethical) Screen (1989 Edition)

Sonos cites ‘vexing’ Google ties but won’t seek new judge in patent fight” —

  • “Sonos Inc will not seek to disqualify San Francisco U.S. District Judge William Alsup or one of his law clerks in its patent dispute with Google LLC, the company said Friday, despite sounding alarms about the clerk’s ties to Google and its law firm.”
  • “Alsup’s disclosure that one of his clerks previously worked for Google and still owns Google stock has created a “vexing situation” for Sonos, the company said in a court filing. It said it also believes the unnamed clerk worked for the law firm that represents Google, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, while the dispute was pending.”
  • “But since the judge has determined the clerk can be impartial, Sonos will not pursue a recusal bid, its lawyers wrote.”
  • “Alsup last week rejected Sonos’ request for more information about the clerk. He also told the parties that the clerk placed his Google stock in a blind trust.”
  • “In the case now before Alsup, Sonos sued Google in 2020, alleging its Chromecast streamers, Home speakers, Pixel phones, and other devices infringe its patents.”
  • [Ed: A few days later, the clerk was removed from the case by the judge.]

Saul Ewing Must Conduct Ethics Screen In Superfund Suit” —

  • “A Pennsylvania federal judge on Tuesday said that because of ‘an appearance of impropriety,’ Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP must conduct an ethics screen in Superfund litigation to ensure that the firm’s work on a similar matter for clients now on the opposite side doesn’t present a conflict.”
  • “U.S. District Judge Gene Pratter said there’s no evidence of inappropriate conduct by Saul Ewing attorneys, but the fact that there is one who worked decades ago on litigation involving some of the same parties and the same site creates a situation that needs a remedy. Saul Ewing is currently representing heating and cooling company Fritch Inc. and industrial manufacturer O.F. Zurn Co., which have been sued by another group of potentially responsible parties — which raised the conflicts issue — over cleanup costs at the Metro Container Superfund cleanup site in Trainer, Pennsylvania.”
  • “‘Here, regardless of whether there is an actual conflict, there is arguably an appearance of impropriety,’ Judge Pratter said in an order. ‘Without a doubt, counsel from Saul Ewing could, and should, have identified and raised this issue preemptively to avoid the appearance of impropriety, or at least, the important sideshow that has ensued.'”
  • “The judge ordered Saul Ewing to implement a ‘comprehensive ethics screen’ of attorneys from the 1989 litigation.”
  • “Metro Container Group said Saul Ewing should be disqualified from representing Fritch and O.F. Zurn because the firm’s representation is adverse to its former clients and will necessitate the disclosure of confidential information from the prior representation.”
  • “Fritch and O.F. Zurn said Saul Ewing’s representation is not a conflict because the group that Saul Ewing represented in the prior action no longer exists, and that Metro Container Group waived its right to raise the issue because it waited years after Saul Ewing joined the present litigation to bring it up.”
  • “‘Even assuming that certain members of the current Metro Container Group are former clients, Metro has not met its burden as the moving party to ‘prove that [its former lawyer] has actually revealed information relating to the representation of’ them,’ the judge said. ‘It is unfair to require Fritch and Zurn to find new counsel four years into this litigation while discovery is underway and most of the parties have settled or requested a settlement conference.'”