Attorney Disqualified for Obtaining, Using Opposing Counsel's Notes

In a sports utility vehicle rollover case with serious injuries and death, counsel for plaintiffs obtained a document that provided a summary, in dialogue form, of a defense conference between attorneys and defense experts in which the participants discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the defendants� technical evidence. Despite the fact that the notes were clearly the confidential work product of defense counsel, plaintiffs� counsel made no effort to notify defense counsel of his possession of the document and instead examined, disseminated, and used the notes to impeach the testimony of defense experts during their deposition, all in contravention of the legal and ethical standards established in State Comp. Ins. Fund v. WPS, Inc. [70 Cal.App.4th 644 (1999)].

Although the document did not implicate the attorney-client privilege, we uphold the court�s finding that defense counsel�s notes did constitute attorney work product. We also uphold the court�s disqualification order because substantial evidence supported the court�s finding that the dissemination and use of the document placed defendants at a significant disadvantage that could not have been removed by lesser sanctions. We affirm the court�s order.

Bad lawyer! Bad! Today's opinion from California's Fourth Appellate District in Rico v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp. is here (PDF). (Plaintiffs' attorney was one Raymond Paul Johnson.)

UPDATE (2/26): The Recorder has now published an extensive article about the opinion which you can read here.