The Client vs. The Court: Balancing Your Obligations

Rico v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

Case: Rico v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp.
Ready, Aim, Fire


Plaintiff's counsel obtained a copy of notes prepared by defendant's counsel. The notes discussed strategies and vulnerabilities of the defense case and detailed a meeting between defense counsel and his experts.  After obtaining a copy of the notes, plaintiff's counsel proceeded to both distribute the notes and use them in depositions.  No forthright explanation as to how plaintiff obtained the notes was ever offered.  The result: both plaintiff's counsel and their experts were disqualified for looking at the opposition's privileged document and attempting to use it to their advantage.

BuLITS Points

  • If you think you're not entitled to see information, stop looking.
  • Be careful not to review documents any more closely than is required for you to determine that the document is privileged.
  • If you realize a document you're reading contains privileged information, STOP READING. Check your local jurisdiction's ethical rules before proceeding.
  • Continuing to examine and use a document you should not have could cause "irreversible damage" in the eyes of the Court, leading to the disqualification of you and the people to whom you've shown the document.
  • Ethical obligations to the Court and to respect the legitimate interests of your fellow bar members (including opposing counsel) should dictate your actions. Being disqualified from a case is not in your client's best interests or yours.

And Remember

Corporations need attorneys that live up to their ethical obligations.  Lawyers who play fast and loose with the rules risk turning the litigation into collateral damage whilst shooting themselves in the foot. 

See Rico v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp., et al., 171 P.3d 1092 (Cal. 2007).

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