The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODY
There are three issues before this court: (1) whether defense counsel have conflicts of interest which violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct; (2) if so, whether defense counsel may remedy the conflicts by withdrawing from other cases; and (3) whether defense counsel must withdraw from this case. For the reasons explained below, defense counsel have conflicts of interest which violate Rules 1.7 and 1.9 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. Counsel may not withdraw from other cases, and are ordered to withdraw from this case.
On September 25, 1995, the International Longshoremen's Association ("ILA") revoked the charter of its Local 1332. In response, the local and its president Thomas Blackwell filed this suit against the ILA and its officers and moved for a preliminary injunction to compel the reinstatement of Local 1332's charter.
Plaintiffs are represented by Charles Joyce, Esq. of Spear, Wilderman, Borish, Endy, Spear & Runckel. Defendants are represented by New York counsel Ernest Mathews, Esq. and Kevin Marrinan, Esq. of Gleason & Mathews, P.C., who are appearing pro hac vice. In addition, defendants are represented by local counsel Stanley Gruber, Esq. of Freedman & Lorry, P.C.. All counsel appearing before this court must comply with the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, including the provisions prohibiting certain conflicts of interest. See E.D. Pa. Local R. Civ. P. 83.6, Part IV.B (attorneys admitted to practice in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania must follow the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct), Local R. Civ. P. 83.6, Part VIII (counsel admitted to this court pro hac vice are subject to the disciplinary rules of this court).
Early during the hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction, Blackwell mentioned in his testimony that Gruber had once represented Local 1332 in an unrelated matter. The court inquired about a possible conflict of interest, but plaintiffs' counsel responded that for reasons he considered valid he had no objections to Gruber's participation in this lawsuit.
As the proceedings continued, two additional potential conflicts of interest were brought to the court's attention: (1) Blackwell was once represented by Gruber's partner in a matter which is related to the instant case; and (2) Local 1332 is currently represented in another case by Mathews, Marrinan and Gruber.
Over defense counsel's opposition, plaintiffs' counsel objected to the continued participation of Gruber, Mathews and Marrinan as violating the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. The court has the power and the obligation to proscribe violations of the Rules. See In re Corn Derivatives Antitrust Litig., 748 F.2d 157, 160 (3d Cir. 1984) ("One of the inherent powers of any federal court is the . . . discipline of attorneys practicing before it.), cert. denied sub nom. Cochrane & Bresnahan v. Plaintiff Class Representative, 472 U.S. 1008, 105 S. Ct. 2702, 86 L. Ed. 2d 718 (1985). The potential conflicts of interest are the issue currently before the court.
Attorneys appearing before this court must comply with the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct ("RPC"). See E.D. Pa. Local R. Civ. P. 83.6, Part IV.B, VIII. But see Maritrans GP Inc. v. Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, 529 Pa. 241, 602 A.2d 1277 (1992) (holding that the RPC are not a basis for civil liability). Counsel for the defendants have violated the RPC due to their conflicts of interest.
A. The Conflicts of Interest Violate the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct
Defense counsel have conflicts of interest which violate the RPC. The first is Gruber's conflict with his firm's former client Blackwell. The second involves Mathews, Marrinan and Gruber and their ...