A motion for disqualification calls for the court to balance competing interests, weighing the need to maintain the highest standards of the profession against a client's right freely to choose counsel.
Plaintiff executrix brought an action against tobacco companies for the death of plaintiff's husband. Defendant tobacco company moved to have one of the firms representing plaintiff disqualified because an attorney in the firm had previously worked for defendant's counsel. After the trial court ordered the firm disqualified, the appellate court remanded for factual findings, but stayed its order remanding the case, after which the court granted defendant's motion for leave to appeal. Following the court's remand for factual determinations, the trial court found a conflict of interest, and the court granted defendant's application to file a brief and participate in oral argument.
Should counsel be personally disqualified?
In reversing the appellate court, the court disqualified the attorney pursuant to N.J. Ct. R., R. Prof. Conduct 1.9 because an ordinary knowledgeable citizen acquainted with the facts would have concluded that the attorney had represented defendant. However, the court did not disqualify the firm following the attorney's personal disqualification. Instead, the court allowed the firm to continue without compensation because the court found the firm's disqualification would have unduly prejudiced plaintiff.