Risk Update

Risk News — “Client”-driven Conflicts Appeal on Sanctions Matter, Town Solicitor’s Law Firm Colleague Not a Conflict

Columbia Motion Rebuts Quinn Emanuel’s Sanctions Appeal” —

  • “Columbia University is seeking to submit new testimony in an appeal where the university is defending a nearly-$300 million contempt ruling against lawyers at white shoe law firm Quinn Emanuel.”
  • “Quinn represented Gen Digital Inc., formerly NortonLifeLock, in a district court case where it was sued by the Ivy League school in 2013 for infringing its patented computer security technology. A jury in 2022 found that Norton owed Columbia $185 million for its infringement of two university patents.”
  • “A federal district judge in Virginia later enhanced the award by $296 million, after finding Norton’s lawyers had prevented a French computer scientist who once worked at the company, Marc Dacier, from giving ‘what would almost certainly be damaging testimony to Norton” at the trial.'”
  • “Quinn—which has maintained that it couldn’t provide the district court with information it gleaned from Dacier because it also represented him—in early April called the district judge’s sanctions and conflict-of-interest analysis ‘flawed at every turn’ and ‘unaccompanied by even the minimum necessary procedural protections,’ in an opening brief signed by leading appellate litigator Paul Clement.”
  • “Columbia on Tuesday asked the Federal Circuit to supplement the record with a fresh sworn statement Dacier gave to the university after he was made aware of Quinn’s appellate arguments. It said the new information ‘contradicts’ the law firm’s arguments about an attorney-client relationship that it characterized as being ‘central to Quinn’s appeal.'”
  • “‘Dacier states, among other things, that he did not want Quinn’s representation, that he agreed to that representation only when informed that he had no choice, and that he has no recollection of Quinn ever consulting with him’ before asserting the attorney-client privilege, Columbia wrote in a motion seeking to supplement the appellate record.”
  • “Columbia acknowledged in the filing that supplementing an appeal in this way is unusual. But it argued providing the additional information was necessary given the ‘extraordinary circumstances.’ The university said the declaration ‘reveals misconduct in forcing a critical witness into an unwanted attorney-client relationship and then misrepresenting to a court the purported client’s wishes with respect to privilege and other matters.'”
  • “It said it filed the motion only after seeking advice from an ethics lawyer who ‘advised that counsel must bring this issue to the Court’s attention.'”
  • “Quinn responded Wednesday, calling Columbia’s filing ‘wholly improper.’ ‘This motion marks an after-the-fact effort to rewrite the record on appeal before the Federal Circuit, furthering a narrative of this case that is revisionist and false,’ the firm said in a statement.”

Town solicitor’s law firm colleague may represent developer” —

  • “It would not be a violation of the Code of Ethics for a law firm partner of an attorney serving as the Cumberland town solicitor to represent a landowner seeking the town’s approval of a mixed-use development, the Ethics Commission has decided.”
  • “The petitioner, Kelley Morris Salvatore, was appointed solicitor by the town’s mayor, with the Town Council’s approval. In her private capacity, she is a non-equity, contract partner with DarrowEverett in Providence.”
  • “There is currently pending before the Cumberland Planning Board an application for a mill conversion to a mixed-use development. The owner of the property associated with the project has asked one of the petitioner’s colleagues at the law firm to represent him.”
  • “Having stated that she is prepared to recuse from continuing to provide advice and representation to the town on all matters relating to the project if her colleague assumes representation of the property owner, the petitioner sought guidance from the Ethics Commission regarding whether her colleague could represent the owner of the property.”
  • “‘The Ethics Commission acknowledges the Petitioner’s… preparedness to recuse from all matters involving the project if her colleague assumes representation of the owner of the property associated with the project. The Ethics Commission further acknowledges that, because the Petitioner is not an equity partner in the firm and does not share in the firm’s general revenue, she does not stand to be personally financially impacted by her colleague’s representation of the property owner before the planning board, mayor, or town council,’ the commission wrote.”
  • “‘Accordingly, based on the facts as represented, the applicable provisions of the Code of Ethics, and previous advisory opinions issued, it is the opinion of the Ethics Commission that, following the Petitioner’s recusal in her role as solicitor on all matters relating to the project, the Code of Ethics would not prohibit the other attorney from the law firm by which the Petitioner is employed from representing the owner of the subject property relative to the project before the Cumberland planning board, mayor, and town council,’ the commission concluded.”
  • Full text: Rhode Island Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion 2024-16