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Webb v. Town of St. Joseph

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

June 8, 2015

IVAN WEBB,
v.
TOWN OF ST. JOSEPH AND EDWARD BROWN

MEMORANDUM ORDER

KAREN L. HAYES, Magistrate Judge.

Before the undersigned magistrate judge, on reference from the District Court, is a motion to disqualify opposing counsel [doc. # 52] filed by plaintiff Ivan Webb. The motion is opposed. For reasons assigned below, the motion is DENIED.[1]

Background

On October 4, 2012, Ivan Webb filed the instant civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Town of St. Joseph and its mayor, Edward Brown.[2] Webb alleges that defendants violated his due process rights under both the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I § 2 of the Louisiana Constitution, as well as his right to be free of excessive fines under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (insofar as it has been extended to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment), when they seized his property and his salary to satisfy a $58, 200 judgment entered against him for an ongoing violation of a municipal ordinance.[3] Plaintiff seeks resulting economic, compensatory, and punitive damages.

On April 16, 2015, plaintiff filed the instant motion to disqualify opposing counsel Karl Koch from representing defendants at trial in this matter because plaintiff intends to call Mr. Koch as a witness. Defendants filed their opposition to the motion on May 13, 2015 [doc. # 58]; plaintiff filed his reply on May 22 [doc. # 63]. Accordingly, the matter is ripe.

Law

Motions to disqualify are substantive motions; thus, they are decided pursuant to federal law. F.D.I.C. v. U.S. Fire Ins. Co., 50 F.3d 1304, 1311-12 (5th Cir. 1995). Courts must consider disqualification motions in the context of the "ethical rules announced by the national profession in the light of the public interest and the litigant's rights." Id. (citation omitted). In this district, the relevant ethical canons include "(1) the local rules for the Western District of Louisiana; (2) the American Bar Association's ("ABA's") Model Rules of Professional Conduct; (3) the ABA's Model Code of Professional Responsibility; and (4) the state rules of conduct." Horaist v. Doctor's Hosp. of Opelousas, 255 F.3d 261, 266 (5th Cir. 2001).[4] In addition to the ethical precepts adopted by the profession, the court also must weigh the social interests at stake, including, "whether a conflict has (1) the appearance of impropriety in general, or (2) a possibility that a specific impropriety will occur, and (3) the likelihood of public suspicion from the impropriety outweighs any social interests which will be served by the lawyer's continued participation in the case." F.D.I.C., supra (citation omitted).

The ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct provide, in pertinent part, that

(a) A lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness unless:
(1) the testimony relates to an uncontested issue;
(2) the testimony relates to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; or
(3) disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.

ABA MODEL RULES OF PROF'L CONDUCT 3.7(A) (emphasis added).[5] The foregoing rule is not implicated, however, unless the lawyer is "likely to be a necessary witness... [i.e.] one whose testimony is relevant, material, and unobtainable elsewhere." Painter v. Suire, Civ. Action No. 12-0511, 2014 WL 3858510, at *2 (M.D. La. Aug. 5, 2014) (citation omitted). Likewise, if a ...


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