An Alabama law firm can’t dump its longtime client to represent the opposing party in a patent infringement lawsuit, a federal court ruled Feb. 26.
Bradley Arant Boult Cummings represented Red Diamond Inc. in various matters for nearly a decade, but withdrew from all matters representing Red Diamond a few days after after Southern Visions LLP hired the law firm for its patent suit against Red Diamond.
Southern Visions claims a Red Diamond device for simultaneously brewing and sweetening tea infringes on several Southern Visions patents.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama compared Bradley Arant’s behavior to an episode of The Wonder Years, in which a girl backs out of her agreement to go to a school dance with protagonist Kevin Arnold after a better offer comes along.
Bradley Arant violated an Alabama Rule of Professional Conduct which generally forbids the simultaneous representation of two directly adverse clients, the court said.
“When a potential client asks a lawyer to consider suing one of his law firm’s current clients, the lawyer’s ethical duty” is clear, the court said. The lawyer must either decline the new representation, or withdraw from representing the current client before taking on the new one.
This rule is simple and easy to follow, the court said. “Bradley clearly violated it by deciding to represent Southern Visions against Red Diamond before terminating its attorney-client relationship with Red Diamond.”
The fact that Red Diamond previously signed advance conflict waivers didn’t change this outcome.
The court said it didn’t believe Bradley’s error wasn’t due to “malice or chicanery,” and said it has always known the lawyers in this case “to adhere to the highest ethical standards,” but it disqualified Bradley Arant from representing Southern Visions in its suit against Red Diamond.
The case is Southern Visions, LLP v. Red Diamond, Inc., N.D. Ala., No. 2:18-cv-02039-RDP, 2/26/19.
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