An appellate court quashed the disqualification of Miami’s Ferraro Law Firm from a smoker’s case, reversing a Broward judge who focused on a former firm lawyer who had an alleged conflict.
The Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled in a previous case that the firm should be disqualified because associate Paulo Lima once had access to Philip Morris USA’s confidential information through a previous job. But on Wednesday, the appellate court quashed a second disqualification because Lima had left Ferraro by the time that motion was filed.
The Fourth DCA found Broward Circuit Judge John Murphy applied the wrong rule based on when Lima left the firm.
Philip Morris, a defendant, claimed Lima billed more than 1,500 hours representing the company at Hunton & Williams before he joined the Ferraro firm. That number reportedly included about 375 hours defending cases that spun out of Florida’s Engle tobacco class action, and Philip Morris claimed Lima had access to litigation databases and internal documents.
Lima did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a different case in 2016, the Fourth DCA found the Ferraro firm should be disqualified because Philip Morris showed Lima had actual knowledge of material confidential information.
Murphy found the earlier ruling required him to disqualify the Ferraro firm from representing Engle plaintiff Dolores Balaban. But this time around was different, the appellate court ruled, because Lima has moved on to the Russo Appellate Firm in Miami.
The trial court should have applied a rule pertaining to representing interests adverse to clients of a formerly associated lawyer, not the rule for former clients of a newly associated lawyer, ruled Fourth DCA Judges Dorian Damoorgian, Alan Forst and Mark Klingensmith. The case was sent back to the trial court.
Philip Morris attorney Geoffrey Michael of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer in Washington did not respond to questions about whether the company will continue to pursue disqualification.
The Ferraro Law Firm’s Juan Bauta also did not respond to request for comment.
The law firm, also known for asbestos litigation, has won several results for Engle plaintiffs, including a $6.4 million jury verdict in 2016.