Ethics Corner: Third Circuit Vindicates Plaintiff's Attorney

Click PDF icon to download

The Third Circuit recently overturned a district court order disqualifying a plaintiff’s attorney who had conducted an ex parte interview of the defendant’s administrative assistant. EEOC v. HORA, Inc., No. 05-5393, 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 15705 (3d Cir. June 29, 2007) (unpublished decision). Characterizing the disqualification as “draconian,” the Circuit held that the district court abused its discretion because the lawyer did not violate any ethics rules, and, even if she had, there was no prejudice to the defendant.

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Jana Barnett, represented Manessta Beverly in a sex harassment and retaliation case against a Days Inn franchise and its management company. During discovery, Barnett conducted an ex parte interview of Debbie Richardson, an administrative assistant at the Days Inn. The district court disqualified Barnett for conducting the interview, finding that she violated Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct (“PRPC”) Rules 4.2, 4.4, and 5.7.

The Third Circuit reversed, holding that Barnett did not violate Rule 4.2 because the administrative assistant was not a member of the organization with whom ex parte contact was forbidden.