legal question (not an advice request!) re: Conflict of Interest

First off as the topic subject says, I’m not looking for any legal advice - all parties and their lawyers have been informed of the scenario outlined below - I’m just personally curious if there is any conflict of interest.

A friend of mine is a defendant in a civil lawsuit to which I am a witness. The suit is supposed to be heard in about 3 weeks. The incident over which the suit is filed occurred about two years ago, but various motions and postponements have pushed the hearing out to this point. Up until about a week ago, all I knew is that my buddy was being sued and that I was one of the main defense witnesses. Last week I had the first meeting with his attorney. During the meeting, the attorney mentioned the firm representing the plaintiff, which was the first time in the last two years that I had heard it.

I have a little side business doing PC troubleshooting/installation/repair for small office/home office/home users. I have a contract with the plaintiff’s firm to work on their systems - they pay me a semi-annual retainer for which I give them blanket support (it’s actually a bad deal for me monetarily, but I did it to get my foot in the door and it has lead to other, more lucrative contracts so I’m happy with the arrangement :slight_smile: ). I informed our attorney and he has informed the plaintiff’s firm. He didn’t come right out and say it, but he didn’t seem to think it was any big deal.

As the old acronym goes, IANAL, but out of curiosity, is there any conflict of interest since I, a witness for the defense, have a contractual agreement with the plaintiff’s law firm? I figure I’ll know for sure in at least three weeks, if not sooner, but I am just curious how situations like these are normally handled.

If it makes any difference, the plaintiff is requesting about $15,000 total in actual and punative damages.

And yes, I understand that any attorney replying to this thread is not my attorney, and I am not his or her client. Nothing mentioned in this thread can be construed as an offer for or acceptance of legal representation, nor any opinion be taken as legal advice.

You have a direct business relationship w/ the plaintiff’s legal counsel. Yes, there is a conflict issue* (at least, where I am there is a conflict issue). I would imagine that the defense counsel is not too concerned because your conflict would sway toward the plaintiff, and you are a witness for the defense.

*You are a witness, not making a decision, so I think the notion of there being a conflict of interest is pretty sketchy to begin with. If you were the judge, or a juror; or if you were a local official hearing an application, then you would have a conflict. But you are a witness in a civil trial. So I doubt “conflict of interest” is really appropriate here.

Forgot to add that I am anticipating that they’ll resolve any possible conflict in the most expeditious manner - by dropping me and finding someone else to work on their systems (at least 'till the case is over) :slight_smile: - my retainer contracts are usually worded such that either the customer or I can cancel the deal at any time for any reason and I’ll give them a pro-rated refund. That being said, I’m still curious as to what would be the general norm (and yes, I realize that there may be differences from state to state) if I had some kind of unbreakable contract with the firm?

I don’t see any conflict that would preclude you from testifying. Your relationship with the Plaintiff’s law firm could theoretically be brought up to impeach your testimony (to show bias), but as it appears that you will be testifying for the defendant, to the detriment of the plaintiff’s interests, I don’t foresee that as likely.

I’m pretty skeptical because you’re not making a decision. Think of it this way: if a good friend comes to me for a township zoning variance, I’ve got a conflict issue because I’m the administrator compiling and presenting evidence to the board of appeals. But if a good friend were being sued, I could be a witness without being in conflict. If you have a conflict, you’d have competing conflicts: your friend vs. your client.

So, based on what little I know, I’m quite doubtful that there is a conflict there.

If both the counsel for the plaintiff and the defense are okay with it, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

Does your buddy know about the business arrangement?

Absolutely - he was in the office with me at the time :slight_smile: It turned into a “this is one of the smallest big towns in the country”-type conversation :slight_smile:

I’m not worried about it all, I was just curious what typical repercussions (if any) might arise, as I don’t really understand Conflict of Interest rules beyond the big obvious types (ie, the plaintiff’s lawyer is doin’ the deed with the judge kinda stuff :slight_smile: )

IMHO, none. Law firms understand that they’ll become involved with lots and lots of people if they’re going to have any success at all. It’s a part of having many clients. You are not doing business with the plaintiff, but his counsel. (I made a mistake on that in my first post.) And, most importantly for you, you were up front w/ your relationship.