The Washington Court of Appeals recently disqualified a lawyer, sua sponte, because the lawyer had argued on appeal that the trial court’s Rule 11 sanctions against both him and his client should be solely the client’s responsibility. The appellate court began its opinion with a high view of the legal profession and a dim view of conflicts of interest:
As the noblest calling, the legal profession demands the highest ethical behavior of its members. A supreme commandment of attorney ethics is undivided loyalty to a client and the shunning of any self-interest that would conflict with the interests of the client. Because appellant’s counsel violates this commandment, we take the unusual step of disqualifying him, on our own initiative, from representing appellant.
Moving to its analysis and citing Rule 1.7, the appellate court flagged the conflict of interest between the lawyer and client: “If attorney and client disagree about who is at fault and point their fingers at each other in response to a request for sanctions, the interests of the two are clearly adverse, . . . [and the client] will need new counsel to represent him against his former counsel in the proceedings to determine fault.” Click here for the court’s full opinion disqualifying the lawyer. Although the court categorized this case as a concurrent client conflict of interest (by claiming that the lawyer represented both himself and his client with conflicting interests), this type of disqualification problem is more commonly categorized as a personal interest conflict (i.e., the lawyer’s personal interest in avoiding sanctions was conflicting with the client’s interests).