Risk Update

(DQ Week) Disqualifications, Disputed (Cell Phones, Opioids, and State Senators)

Sunday’s interesting update notwithstanding, we’re running a new risk blog experiment (it’s pretty low risk) — welcome to Theme of Week: Disqualifications. Today’s DQ stories focus on running disputes, and there are several to share.

First up, a fascinating example with no facts to evaluate, making many all the more curious: “Huawei says will fight U.S. prosecutors’ motion to disqualify its lawyer” —

  • “Huawei Technologies said it will ‘vigorously oppose’ a motion filed by U.S. prosecutors on Thursday to disqualify its lead defense lawyer from a case accusing the Chinese company of bank fraud and sanctions violations.”
  • “According to a filing in the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, the U.S. government sought to remove James Cole from the case. Cole was the No.2 official at the Justice Department between 2011 and 2015, a period when the United States was obtaining information on how Huawei might have been doing business in Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions.”
  • “The filing did not make public why it is seeking to remove Cole from the case. In a letter to the court, prosecutors said they had filed a sealed, classified motion to disqualify Cole and expected to file a public version by May 10.”
  • “Cole, the former U.S. deputy attorney general, is now a partner at law firm Sidley Austin in Washington. He declined to comment.”

Next, a disputed duked out: “BakerHostetler Can’t Overturn Opioid MDL Disqualification” —

  • “BakerHostetler will remain disqualified from representing Endo Pharmaceuticals in two bellwether cases in the multidistrict opioid litigation, an Ohio federal judge ruled Monday, saying the drugmaker waited too long to cry foul.”
  • “The ruling from U.S. District Judge Dan Aaron Polster rejected Endo’s newly raised objection to his consultation with the U.S. Department of Justice about confidential information that BakerHostetler partner Carole Rendon viewed while serving on a DOJ task force related to the opioid crisis.”
  • “In addition to criticizing the DOJ consultation, Endo accused Judge Polster of improperly basing BakerHostetler’s disqualification on his own experience as a federal prosecutor. The drugmaker pointed to Judge Polster’s recollection of mistrust decades ago between local and federal law enforcement and his stated concern that Rendon’s side-switching could revive that mistrust.”
  • “But Judge Polster on Monday deemed that faultfinding tardy as well, saying he had “made it clear” at February’s hearing that he would rely on his own experience when deciding whether to boot BakerHostetler.”
  • “‘If Endo had any problem with the court drawing on its own experience, the time to object was at the hearing or, at the latest, immediately thereafter,’ the judge wrote. ‘At no point during the hearing, or at any time in the intervening 41 days between the hearing and the [disqualification], did Endo … object in any way,’ Judge Polster wrote, concluding that ‘Endo has therefore waived any objection it might have had.'”

Finally, a withdrawal before a ruling: “Sen. Steve Santarsiero resigns from law firm after ethics dig” —

  • “[Pennsylvania] State Sen. Steve Santarsiero has resigned as partner with law firm Curtin & Heefner after an attorney representing the Rockhill Quarry accused him of a conflict of interest. Santarsiero says the charge is unfounded and was meant to intimidate him.”
  • “State Sen. Steve Santarsiero resigned as a partner in the law firm of Curtin & Heefner earlier this month, writing in a letter he did so to ‘avoid so much as the appearance’ of a conflict of interest over a dispute regarding the controversial Rockhill Quarry in East Rockhill.”
  • “Santarsiero’s letter was in response to Robert Gundlach Jr., an attorney at Fox Rothschild LLP representing the quarry. Gundlach raised the prospect of a conflict of interest in a pair of his own letters, noting Curtin & Heefner also provides legal representation to area residents opposed to the quarry.”
  • “In his letter, Gundlach charged Santarsiero ‘may have engaged in conduct that constitutes a ‘conflict of interest’’ under the state Ethics Act. He cited a section of the law that says a lawmaker cannot use information gained through the privilege of offices to monetarily benefit himself, a family member, or an associated business.”
  • “In a phone interview, Santarsiero forcefully denied any ethical issue. He said he had not been an equity partner at Curtin & Heefner, and instead was compensated on an hourly basis and for work brought into the firm, none of which he said involved the quarry. Since his senate term officially began last Dec. 1, Santarsiero said, he had had no ‘substantive’ conversations with or provided any information to attorneys at the firm regarding the quarry.”