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González-Fonseca, et al v. Figueroa, et al. App. No. 11-2192, Slip Op. at pp. 1-2 (1st Cir. Sept. 14, 2012)

González-Fonseca, et al v. Figueroa, et al. App. No. 11-2192, Slip Op. at pp. 1-2 (1st Cir. Sept. 14, 2012)

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In González-Fonseca, et al v. Figueroa, et al. App. No. 11-2192, Slip Op. at pp. 1-2 (1st Cir. Sept. 14, 2012): the First Circuit said: "[...] The Puerto Rico Department of Justice, counsel for appellees in this matter, has filed a motion in this court to disqualify appellants' counsel, Jose Enrico Valenzuela-Alvarado, on the grounds that he previously represented appellees in this very case as a government attorney and therefore has a conflict of interest in now representing appellants. Appellants have responded both by opposing the motion and moving to strike it. Appellees, in turn, have opposed the motion to strike. In part because the motion to disqualify was founded on an inadequate factual basis, we ordered the parties to submit affidavits concerning the factual predicate for the conflict of interest claim and to provide further briefing on the applicable law. We have now received and considered those supplemental filings. The affidavit filed by PRDOJ does not shed light on the matter. Rather, the affidavit asserts what was already known, that is, a pleading appears on the district court docket containing Valenzuela's electronic signature. The affidavit does not speak to what, if any, additional inquiries PRDOJ made among its current and former employees, or its clients, nor what, if any, files were searched, in an attempt to determine Valenzuela's level of involvement, if any, in the district court litigation. Valenzuela, for his part, asserts in his affidavit that he reviewed his records "that include all the cases in which he was actively engaged as a counsel of record, as a second chair counselor or as a supervisor while working as Director of Legal Affairs, and he never acted on [d]efendants['] behalf in this case." He further states that he has no "notes as a result of any meeting rendered between the appearing and the [d]efendants in their individual capacities." He concludes that he "has never participated in any stage of proceedings regarding this case, and never signed, nor filed, any pleadings in the case at hand at the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico." In the absence of a further round of evidentiary inquiry, we cannot definitively resolve the factual dispute. However, the burden is on appellees to demonstrate that Valenzuela's disqualification is warranted. See Murray v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 173, 178 (2d Cir. 2009), Cole v. Ruidoso Mun. Sch., 43 F.3d 1373, 1384 (10th Cir. 1994). Based on the record with which we have been provided, we do not see that appellees have met that burden. While a variety of rules may be relevant to the determination of whether a conflict of interest exists under these circumstances, see First Circuit Rule IV.B (looking to codes of responsibility where attorney maintains principal office, where attorney acts at time of alleged misconduct, and state in which circuit maintains its clerk's office), where the factual predicate is not established, we do not see that disqualification of Valenzuela is warranted. And, while we regard with the utmost seriousness the potential for a conflict of interest and the possibility of an appearance of impropriety, under these circumstances we do not believe that the interests embodied in the rules have been clearly transgressed. The motion to disqualify is denied, as are the motions to strike, and the motion to file a reply is granted. [...]".
In González-Fonseca, et al v. Figueroa, et al. App. No. 11-2192, Slip Op. at pp. 1-2 (1st Cir. Sept. 14, 2012): the First Circuit said: "[...] The Puerto Rico Department of Justice, counsel for appellees in this matter, has filed a motion in this court to disqualify appellants' counsel, Jose Enrico Valenzuela-Alvarado, on the grounds that he previously represented appellees in this very case as a government attorney and therefore has a conflict of interest in now representing appellants. Appellants have responded both by opposing the motion and moving to strike it. Appellees, in turn, have opposed the motion to strike. In part because the motion to disqualify was founded on an inadequate factual basis, we ordered the parties to submit affidavits concerning the factual predicate for the conflict of interest claim and to provide further briefing on the applicable law. We have now received and considered those supplemental filings. The affidavit filed by PRDOJ does not shed light on the matter. Rather, the affidavit asserts what was already known, that is, a pleading appears on the district court docket containing Valenzuela's electronic signature. The affidavit does not speak to what, if any, additional inquiries PRDOJ made among its current and former employees, or its clients, nor what, if any, files were searched, in an attempt to determine Valenzuela's level of involvement, if any, in the district court litigation. Valenzuela, for his part, asserts in his affidavit that he reviewed his records "that include all the cases in which he was actively engaged as a counsel of record, as a second chair counselor or as a supervisor while working as Director of Legal Affairs, and he never acted on [d]efendants['] behalf in this case." He further states that he has no "notes as a result of any meeting rendered between the appearing and the [d]efendants in their individual capacities." He concludes that he "has never participated in any stage of proceedings regarding this case, and never signed, nor filed, any pleadings in the case at hand at the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico." In the absence of a further round of evidentiary inquiry, we cannot definitively resolve the factual dispute. However, the burden is on appellees to demonstrate that Valenzuela's disqualification is warranted. See Murray v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 583 F.3d 173, 178 (2d Cir. 2009), Cole v. Ruidoso Mun. Sch., 43 F.3d 1373, 1384 (10th Cir. 1994). Based on the record with which we have been provided, we do not see that appellees have met that burden. While a variety of rules may be relevant to the determination of whether a conflict of interest exists under these circumstances, see First Circuit Rule IV.B (looking to codes of responsibility where attorney maintains principal office, where attorney acts at time of alleged misconduct, and state in which circuit maintains its clerk's office), where the factual predicate is not established, we do not see that disqualification of Valenzuela is warranted. And, while we regard with the utmost seriousness the potential for a conflict of interest and the possibility of an appearance of impropriety, under these circumstances we do not believe that the interests embodied in the rules have been clearly transgressed. The motion to disqualify is denied, as are the motions to strike, and the motion to file a reply is granted. [...]".

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Categories:Types, Research, Law
Published by: José-Enrico Valenzuela-Alvarado on Sep 14, 2012
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12/10/2012

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