Although this disqualification occurred over two years ago, it still makes for interesting and unbelievable reading. While conflicts of interest remain the most common grounds for disqualification motions, a host of other misconduct may lead to disqualification, including (and perhaps especially) what follows. As the ABA Journal noted, Florida attorney Richard Celler was disqualified for remarkably unprofessional behavior during depositions:
Drawing pictures supposedly of opposing counsel’s genitalia;
Playing the game “Angry Birds” and bragging about winning; and
Scheduling depositions at Dunkin’ Donuts.
Outside of depositions, furthermore, Celler engaged in ex parte communication with the opposing party’s officer, stating “you are a big firm and you can afford better representation than [opposing counsel] and that [I] could never settle with [opposing counsel].” Celler also engaged in ex parte communication with one of the opposing party’s former employees, whose acts or omissions could be imputed to the company for purposes of liability. (Cf., e.g., Model Rule 4.2 cmt. 7.) Interestingly, only this last ex parte communication actually occurred in the case before the district court; all of the other misconduct occurred in other courts and arbitration proceedings against the same opposing party. Nevertheless, Celler’s misconduct “so affected the administration of the current action that a remedy is warranted.” The court was particularly upset because Celler’s disparagement of the opposing party’s counsel had strained the attorney-client relationship. Indeed, the court was so upset that it also disqualified Celler’s entire firm. It did so because (1) Celler and his co-counsel (who sat idly by during much of Celler’s misbehavior) “have hardly demonstrated the scrupulousness that would be required to enforce a Chinese wall,” (2) “in the words of the Papanicolaou [v. Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., 720 F. Supp. 1080, 1087 (S.D.N.Y. 1989)] court, the ‘Court doubts whether any Chinese walls, which are meant to be preemptive, can ever function effectively when erected in response to a motion, and not prior to the arising of the conflict,'” and (3) Celler’s firm was relatively small, and Celler was the managing partner of the practice group. The court’s decision is available here: Bedoya v. Aventura Limousine & Trans. Serv., Inc. (S.D. Fla. 2012).
The rest of the story: the Florida Supreme Court later publicly reprimanded Mr. Celler for the misconduct recounted above.
[Editor’s Note: If you happen to know of any similarly strange disqualification cases, please share them here. Thank you.]