Two potentially interesting and certainly unusual disqualification decisions were issued late last week. The first case involves a lawyer whose firm regularly represents the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which boasts more than twenty locations and 60,000 employees. In defending a medical malpractice suit against UPMC, the lawyer contacted the plaintiff’s treating physician without the plaintiff’s consent. This violated Pennsylvania’s Rules of Civil Procedure, which state in part that “[i]nformation may be obtained from the treating physician of a party only upon written consent of that party or through a method of discovery authorized by this chapter.” (The lawyer argued unsuccessfully that the treating physician was a “purported employee” of UPMC and therefore fell within an exception to the prohibition against ex parte contact with the treating physician.) The lawyer then apparently compounded his error at the treating physician’s deposition by instructing the physician not to answer questions about their previous conversations.
In response, the trial court disqualified the lawyer and his firm, ordered the lawyer to disclose to the plaintiff (and not to UPMC’s successor counsel) any information the lawyer had extracted from the treating physician, and ordered the lawyer to pay the costs of the reconvened deposition. The brief disqualification order is available here: Copney v. Ma, No. GD-12-016410 (Ct. Common Pleas Allegheny Cnty. May 28, 2015). Thanks to reporter Paula Ward at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for sending me the order and for writing this good summary of the case.
The second case comes with apologies for being a complete digression. In reviewing recent disqualification cases, I pulled with interest the following appellate opinion, which came down Friday. In the court’s words, the party “maintains he was deprived of the right to appeal Ethical Lawyer’s disqualification” and “maintains that he has standing to contest and appeal [the resulting] disciplinary action.” The catch is that “Ethical Lawyer” turns out not to be a lawyer; he is instead a horse, of course. In full hypocrisy, Ethical Lawyer was disqualified from a race for cheating. (To be fair, it was the jockey, not Ethical Lawyer, who cheated, but it might beg the silly philosophical question of whether an otherwise good horse may be morally culpable for the actions of his rider.) In the unlikely event that Kentucky’s standards for horse disqualification and jockey discipline are of interest, the opinion of the Kentucky Court of Appeals is available here.