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Missouri's substantial relationship test in conflict of interest cases combines an analysis of both the facts and issues in determining substantial relationship. The Missouri Supreme Court employs a focused approach, where the court examines the relevant facts of the case in order to determine whether the various matters are substantially related. Whether there is a substantial relationship involves a full consideration of the facts and circumstances in each case. The underlying question is whether the lawyer was so involved in the matter that the subsequent representation can be justly regarded as a changing of sides in the matter in question. The key to the analysis is whether there was a central issue common to both representations.
The Chief Disciplinary Counsel (CDC) filed a three-count information against attorneys John J. Carey and Joseph P. Danis based upon their alleged professional misconduct in prosecuting product liability class action suits against a former client, the Chrysler Corporation, and in making misrepresentations in discovery in the subsequent lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty brought by Chrysler against them.
Did the attorneys represent another person in a substantially related matter that was materially adverse to their former client, in violation of Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 4-1.9?
The supreme court found that the attorneys had defendant product liability class action lawsuits on behalf of an automobile manufacturer. The attorneys subsequently represented another client in prosecuting a product liability class action lawsuit against the auto manufacturer. The court held that the attorneys did represent another person in a substantially related matter that was materially adverse to their former client, in violation of Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 4-1.9., and, thus, they engaged in professional misconduct. The court found that the attorneys violated the trust of their former client when they prosecuted a subsequent class action lawsuit that was substantially related to their prior representation. Further, in a suit brought by the former client against the attorneys, the attorneys knowingly and intentionally withheld certain documents and information from discovery, hoping to prevent any possible inference that they were involved in the class action lawsuits. The court found that, while disbarment would ordinarily be expected in a case such as this, the mitigating factors warranted some degree of leniency, and the supreme court indefinitely suspended the attorneys.