Judge Marie S. Weiner, San Mateo County Superior Court (Christine Jegan / The Recorder)
REDWOOD CITY — Fighting malpractice and breach-of-duty claims, lawyers for McDermott Will & Emery told a state judge Wednesday the law firm should be permitted to contest a federal judge’s 2012 finding that it improperly represented clients with adverse interests.
San Mateo Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner seemed inclined to agree. That would be a defeat for MotionPoint Corp., a former McDermott client, which is seeking a court order barring McDermott from relitigating issues already decided by the federal court.
Weiner did not rule Wednesday, promising both parties she first would take one last look at the case. However, she peppered MotionPoint’s counsel with questions, voicing concerns about the company’s motion for summary adjudication.
For roughly two years, McDermott represented MotionPoint, a Florida-based web translation firm, in a heated patent dispute with its main rival. In 2012, U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero granted a motion to disqualify the McDermott lawyers. MotionPoint sued the law firm last year, seeking to recover its legal fees, as well as the costs of hiring new lawyers and bringing them up to speed.
MotionPoint’s lawyers told Weiner that McDermott cannot relitigate an issue now that has already been decided by a federal magistrate and upheld by a district judge.
“Each order was 15-20 pages, if not more, of analysis outlining why disqualification was proper,” attorney Mary Pat Statler, an associate with West Virginia’s Bailey & Glasser, said. “There was no tentative nature or tone to any of those orders.”
Statler and Bailey & Glasser partner Ricklin Brown represent MotionPoint alongside Adam Wolf and Tracey Cowan of Wolf Legal in San Francisco.
But Weiner acknowledged that McDermott had been constrained in its challenge to the disqualification order by obligations to its client. McDermott ultimately had to defer to MotionPoint, which withdrew an appeal of the disqualification order.
“They still have a right that they have not yet exercised and cannot exercise,” Weiner said.
Duane Morris partner Allison Lane Cooper, arguing on behalf of McDermott, said that prohibiting the firm from now challenging the order wouldn’t be fair.
“It would be a violation of its due process rights,” Cooper said.
Weiner raised several challenges to Statler’s arguments. By contrast, Cooper breezed through her presentation without a question. The judge opened the hearing with another concern: there are still posttrial motions pending in the original patent case and time hasn’t run out for appeals. That could mean the disqualification order is not final.
Wolf suggested Weiner continue the motion until the first patent case wraps up and the disqualification is indisputably final.
But Cooper wasn’t happy with that suggestion. MotionPoint should have known the pending patent case would be an issue, she said, adding, “They chose to file this now.”
Lawyers for both sides declined comment on Wednesday’s hearing.
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