A federal judge has rejected Apple's motion to disqualify opposing counsel in a Northern District of California patent case, resolving a messy conflict fight that centered on a former partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
Now, Apple's defense team is bulking up for the brawl ahead.
Ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick III concluded that although now-former Morgan Lewis partner John McAleese III crossed ethical lines, the transgression didn't taint Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, outside litigation counsel to plaintiff FlatWorld Interactives Inc.
On the heels of Orrick's decision, Apple filed a flurry of notices, supplementing its defense ranks with a team from Morrison & Foerster. One of the MoFo lawyers, Rachel Krevans, has already been a reliable player for Apple: in 2012, she helped score a victory over rival Samsung Electronics Co. in that closely-watched infringement case.
By now, the facts behind Apple's aggressive push to disqualify Seattle-based Hagens Berman have been well hashed out.
Orrick's 17-page order reinforced comments the judge made last week before taking the motion under submission: McAleese, whose wife is FlatWorld co-owner and CEO Jennifer McAleese, acted contrary to the interest of Apple, a Morgan Lewis client, when he consulted on the case. FlatWorld's contention that McAleese had no relationship with the company except by marriage was "tepid" at best, Orrick wrote.
But the DQ motion fell short because Apple failed to meet the threshold showing that the former Morgan Lewis environmental lawyer had obtained — and shared — confidential information about the company.
Moreover, disqualifying FlatWorld's counsel would bring substantial hardship, Orrick stated.
"This case is on the eve of a Markman hearing, and Apple's argument that FlatWorld has not 'paid a single cent' to bring this litigation holds no water in light of the work invested thus far by Hagens Berman," he wrote. "Apple ignores the realities of finding sophisticated plaintiff's counsel who can spend the significant time and money it takes to bring patent litigation."
Orrick also declined to refer the issue to a special master.
It remains unclear who will be taking the lead on the upcoming Markman hearing, currently set for Oct. 28, or whether all of the attorneys Apple has engaged over the course of the 15-month spat will remain involved. Robert Krupka of Los Angeles' Krupka Law Group, who argued for Apple at last week's hearing on the disqualification motion, declined to comment and referred all queries to Apple's public relations team, which did not respond to a request for comment.
Krevans, who chairs MoFo's IP litigation practice, did not respond to a request for comment. She is joined by partner Wesley Overson Jr., who heads the San Francisco litigation department, as well as associates Diana Kruze and John Blake Jr.