Thursday, June 14, 2012

Screen Test In Nevada

The Nevada Supreme Court has remanded a matter for an evidentiary hearing on the sufficiency of screening measures. The disqualified attorney served as a settlement judge in an appeal. A partner of the settlement judge entered an appearance for one of the parties after settlement talks failed. The other party objected.

The court sets forth the facts:

Although the Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) permit the screening of disqualified attorneys to prevent an associated law firm’s imputed disqualification in some cases, RPC 1.10(e); 1.11(b); 1.12(c), we have never considered whether screening is appropriate with regard to a settlement judge acting under this court’s settlement conference program or how to determine the sufficiency of any screening measures utilized.  We take this opportunity to consider the practice of attorney screening to cure imputed disqualification.

The parties agree that supreme court settlement judge Nicholas Frey is disqualified from representing respondent Amador Stage Lines, Inc., in the present matter.  Pursuant to RPC 1.12(c), Frey’s disqualification is imputed to the remaining members of his law firm, Woodburn and Wedge, but the parties disagree on whether screening may be utilized to cure the imputed disqualification.  In order to resolve appellant Ryan’s Express Transportation Services, Inc.’s pending motion to disqualify Woodburn and Wedge from representing Amador in this appeal, we must consider whether screening may be used to cure imputed disqualification in this situation and whether the screening measures taken by Woodburn and Wedge are sufficient.

However, because we conclude that more facts are necessary for us to consider the sufficiency of Woodburn and Wedge’s screening measures, we defer ruling on the motion to disqualify and remand this matter to the district court for the limited purpose of conducting an evidentiary hearing and entering written findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the adequacy of the screening.

The holding:

When presented with a dispute over whether a lawyer has been properly screened, Nevada courts should conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine the adequacy and timeliness of the screening measures on a case-by-case basis.  The burden of proof is upon the party seeking to cure an imputed disqualification with screening to demonstrate that the use of screening is appropriate for the situation and that the disqualified attorney is timely and properly screened.

When considering whether the screening measures implemented are adequate, courts are to be guided by the following nonexhaustive list of factors:

(1) instructions given to ban the exchange of information between the disqualified attorney and other members of the firm;

(2) restricted access to files and other information about the case;

(3) the size of the law firm and its structural divisions;

(4) the likelihood of contact between the quarantined lawyer and other members of the firm; and

(5) the timing of the screening.

            As with motions to disqualify, the consideration of the adequacy of screening is within the sound discretion of the district court, LaSalle, 703 F.2d at 256; however, the district court must justify its determination as to the adequacy of the screening in a written order with specific findings of fact and conclusions of law.

The hearing on remand will address the adequacy of the screening measures. (Mike Frisch)

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