Monday, April 19, 2004

King Kong, Godzilla and Legal Ethics 

The NY Times reported Saturday on the withdrawal of law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges from New York City's lawsuit against the gun industry. The firm has been representing the city in the suit pro bono for the last two years but has now withdrawn, citing "positional conflicts" with a previous client. The issue was brought to the law firm's attention by a client after that client had received a phone call from an attorney who represents Smith & Wesson and also this client. I know - that's not a very graceful sentence, but this isn't a very graceful situation.

There is some debate over whether the firm was ethically obligated to withdraw, especially as the case is getting closer to trial (expected this fall), or whether it was simply yielding to pressure from a valuable client. The city is now relying on its own Law Department and the staff attorneys who had been working with the powerful firm. The Times article has some analysis of the legal ethics question, and how this change affects the city. According to the NY Times, the withdrawal leaves the city at an extreme disadvantage:

"The city has just lost an invaluable resource," said Elisa Barnes, a Manhattan lawyer who has handled other cases against the gun industry. "You've got to get King Kong to fight Godzilla."

You can read the original complaint here, on the website for the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

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Posted by Beth Henderson at 7:31 AM