Legal Ethics

Covington Appeals Law Firm's Disqualification in Major Minn. Enviro Case Against Ex-Client 3M

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Covington & Burling has filed an appeal of a Minnesota judge’s determination that the law firm is conflicted out of representing the state against 3M Co. in a major environmental case.

In its Tuesday filing (PDF) in the state court of appeals, the firm adopts an argument made by its co-appellant, the state, and contends that a screen was in place and no confidential information from its earlier representation of 3M Co. was used in its representation of the state in the litigation against Covington’s former client.

At issue in the underlying environmental case in Hennepin County District Court is whether 3M contaminated the water supply by discharging wastewater contaminated with perfluorochemicals. The company says a Food and Drug Administration matter in which 3M formerly was represented by Covington is substantially related to the environmental case and a Hennepin County judge agreed last week, granting 3M’s motion to disqualify Covington from serving as the state’s counsel in the current litigation. The state and the law firm say the FDA matter and the environmental case are not substantially related.

The state also argues that “the effect of the ruling below is to reward 3M for an inexplicable 16-month delay in moving to disqualify at the expense of an innocent party, the state of Minnesota.

“There is no dispute that when Covington made an appearance in this matter in January 2011, one of the most senior lawyers in 3M’s general counsel’s office was aware that Covington had worked on FDA matters for 3M in the 1990s and early 2000s because he was Covington’s point of contact for that historical matter,” the filing by the state continues. “3M raised no objection to Covington’s representation of the state of Minnesota in this action until March 2012, when the parties had already engaged in substantial discovery, which included producing and reviewing approximately six million documents and taking 50 depositions.”

Hat tip: Washington Post.

Earlier coverage: “Minn. Judge Disqualifies Covington from Representing State In Big Enviro Case Against Ex-Client 3M”

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