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Fiandaca v. Cunningham - 827 F.2d 825 (1st Cir. 1987)

Rule:

A lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation of that client may be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client unless:(1) the lawyer reasonably believes the representation will not be adversely affected; and (2) the client consents after consultation and with knowledge of the consequences. N.H. Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.7(b).

Facts:

Two consolidated appeals related to a class action were brought by 23 female prison inmates sentenced to the custody of the warden of the New Hampshire State Prison. The suit challenged the state of New Hampshire's failure to establish a facility for the incarceration of female inmates with programs and services equivalent to those provided to male inmates at the state prison. After a bench trial on the merits, the district court held that the state had violated the inmates’ right to equal protection of the laws and ordered the construction of a permanent in-state facility for the inmates no later than July 1, 1989. It also required the state to provide a temporary facility for inmates on or before November 1, 1987, but prohibited the state from establishing this facility on the grounds of the Laconia State School and Training Center (Laconia or LSS), New Hampshire's lone institution for the care and treatment of mentally retarded citizens.

One set of appellants consists of Michael Cunningham, warden of the New Hampshire State Prison, and various executive branch officials responsible for the operation of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections (State). They challenged the district court's refusal to disqualify inmates’ class counsel, New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA), due to an unresolvable conflict of interest. They also seek to overturn that portion of the district court's decision barring the establishment of an interim facility for female inmates at LSS, arguing that this prohibition is unsupported either by relevant factual findings, or by evidence contained in the record.

The other group of appellants is comprised of the plaintiffs in a separate class action challenging the conditions and practices at the LSS, including the New Hampshire Association for Retarded Citizens (NHARC) and the mentally retarded citizens who currently reside at LSS (Garrity class). This group sought unsuccessfully to intervene in the relief phase of the instant litigation after the conclusion of the trial, but prior to the issuance of the court's final memorandum order.  On appeal, these prospective intervenors argue that the district court abused its discretion in denying their motion.

Issue:

Did the district court err in refusing to disqualify inmates’ class counsel?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court reversed the denial of defendants' motion to disqualify inmates' counsel as they also represented interests of plaintiff class in an ongoing litigation. The court found the district court abused its discretion, as there was an unresolvable conflict between the interests of two clients, which were directly adverse. The court found there was no true necessity to allow counsel to remain and it was contrary to Code of Professional Responsibility. The court reversed the denial of plaintiff class's motion to intervene under Fed. R. Civ. P. 24 as a right upon timely application as they had an interest related to the subject of proceedings, and the disposition of that action could have impaired or impeded their ability to protect interest.

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