The opinion of the court was delivered by: BARTLE
Before the court is the "petition" of the law firm of Christie, Pabarue, Mortensen and Young, a Professional Corporation ("Christie, Pabarue"), for leave to withdraw its appearance as counsel for defendant Allen W. Stewart. Plaintiff opposes the petition.
The Deputy Insurance Commissioner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, William Taylor ("Liquidator"), has brought this action against Stewart and other defendants alleging their involvement in a complex scheme to loot two Pennsylvania insurance companies. Plaintiff seeks millions of dollars in damages. The action was instituted in October, 1996. Christie, Pabarue filed an appearance not only on behalf of Stewart, but also several other defendants involved in this case, on March 27, 1997. Pursuant to the court's Third Scheduling Order, dated March 2, 1998, the general deadline for fact discovery was set at September 30, 1998.1 Expert discovery is to be completed by November 25, 1998.2 The petition at issue was not filed until September 4, 1998, near the end of fact discovery. The Liquidator was the only party to oppose this petition. Stewart himself has not filed a response.
Christie, Pabarue's request to withdraw as counsel for Stewart is based on financial reasons alone. According to Christie, Pabarue, Stewart agreed to pay currently the ordinary and necessary legal fees charged and expenses incurred in connection with this action. As of the date of filing the petition, Stewart owed the firm over $ 100,000 in fees and expenses billed to him. While it states that it has made a number of inquiries of Stewart and has made "other efforts" to collect the monies owed, the bills remain unpaid. There has been no indication that payment will be forthcoming in the future. Christie, Pabarue also relates that it notified Stewart in writing, once in August and once in September, 1998, that it would seek to withdraw as counsel if payment or satisfactory payment arrangements were not made. Should it be required to continue its representation of Stewart in this action, it estimates that it would incur additional fees and expenses of over $ 200,000, for which there is no prospect of payment. Christie, Pabarue seeks to withdraw because its continuing representation of Stewart will result in "an unreasonable financial burden."
The Liquidator opposes the petition. He contends that allowing the withdrawal at this late stage in the litigation would delay the action, cause substantial prejudice to the parties, and impede efficient judicial administration because it would interrupt the lines of communication between the litigants and the court. The Liquidator argues that Stewart has too little time and perhaps too few resources to retain another attorney before trial. Consequently, it is likely that he will be forced to represent himself. In the view of the Liquidator, it would be unworkable to have Stewart proceed pro se because he is presently incarcerated as a result of his conviction in the related criminal action, United States v. Stewart, Crim. No. 96-583 (E.D. Pa.).
Whether to allow Christie, Pabarue to withdraw its appearance lies within this court's discretion. See Local R. Civ. P. 5.1(c). Rule 5.1(c)3 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure provides, "An attorney's appearance may not be withdrawn except by leave of court, unless another attorney of this court shall at the same time enter an appearance for the same party." Id. In its analysis, the court must weigh four factors: (1) the reason for which withdrawal is sought; (2) whether withdrawal will prejudice the parties; (3) whether withdrawal will interfere with the administration of justice; and (4) the degree to which withdrawal will delay the action. See Crestar Mortgage Corp. v. Peoples Mortgage Co., 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17553, No. Civ. A. 91-7990, 1995 WL 695093, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 15, 1995).
The Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct are also relevant to this court's determination.4 See id. ; Wolgin v. Smith, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12437, No. Civ. A. 94-7471, 1996 WL 482943, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 21, 1996). Rule 1.16(b) provides:
[A] lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if withdrawal can be accomplished without material adverse effect on the interests of the client, or if:
(4) the client fails substantially to fulfill an obligation to the lawyer regarding the lawyer's services and has been given reasonable warning that the lawyer will withdraw unless the obligation is fulfilled;
(5) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably ...