Appeals court disqualifies BigLaw firm in big enviro case, says it can't simply switch sides
Agreeing with a Minnesota trial judge who found a conflict of interest with a former Covington & Burling client could not be waived, a state appeals court has upheld its disqualification of the law firm from representing the state in a big environmental case against 3M Co.
Although Covington argued, with record support, that 3M had unreasonably delayed in objecting to the law firm’s representation of the state, that still didn’t excuse the law firm from its obligation to notify 3M in advance of the representation and seek a conflict waiver, the Court of Appeals held on Monday. The ruling apparently knocks the state back to square one, after over two years of litigation, reports the Star Tribune.
“3M’s knowledge of the conflict, by itself, is not sufficient to avoid disqualification,” said the appeals court in its written opinion (PDF). “Covington had the duty to avoid conflicts and to obtain the informed consent of its former client, and it failed to obtain this consent.”
The ruling upheld Hennepin County Judge Robert A. Blaeser, who issued a blistering opinion last year against Covington’s representation of the state in the 3M case.
“Covington has exhibited a conscious disregard for its duties of confidentiality, candor, full disclosure, and loyalty to 3M by failing to raise its conflicts arising from the fact that it previously advised and represented 3M on FC [fluorochemical] matters,” Blaeser wrote. “Additionally, Covington is disqualified in order to protect 3M’s confidential information Covington obtained during its representation of 3M, which is relevant to the issues at the heart of the state’s case.”
ABAJournal.com: “Minn. Judge Disqualifies Covington from Representing State In Big Enviro Case Against Ex-Client 3M”
ABAJournal.com: “Booted from big enviro case, Covington blames ex-client for not protesting conflict earlier”
Pioneer Press: “Minnesota vs. 3M: State’s choice of law firm a conflict of interest, court says”