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Evidentiary Hearings in Motions to Disqualify Illinois Attorneys

 

A recent case of ours includes a motion to disqualify attorneys for the defense under Rule 3.7 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. Part (b) of that rule states that a lawyer may not represent a client in a case where he or she may be called as a witness to give testimony prejudicial to the client. We moved for an evidentiary hearing on this subject, because our underlying contentions included the contention that the lawyers for the defense witnessed the intentional torts that underlay the case.

Illinois law takes a motion to disqualify an attorney very seriously. Disqualifying a lawyer is considered drastic under state law, because it touches on basic rights by destroying the client’s relationship with the lawyer of his or her choosing. Schwartz v. Cortelloni, 177 Ill.2d 166 (1997). For that reason, an evidentiary hearing to determine what evidence is relevant and admissible is generally either necessary or wise. City of Kalamazoo v. Michigan Disposal Service, 125 FSupp2d 219 (WD Mich 2000). In fact, some appeals courts have found that a lack of an evidentiary hearing is sufficient to allow them to question a trial court’s decision.

However, Illinois and federal courts have held that an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary when the facts are not disputed, or when investigation is unlikely to provoke an admission that one side has ulterior motives. Robinson v. Boeing Co., 79 F3d 1053 (11th Cir 1996). The Eleventh Circuit’s decision in In Re BellSouth Corp., 334 F3d 941, 962 (11th Cir 2003), supporting Robinson, laid down factors for judges to consider when considering disqualifying an attorney for alleged “judge shopping.” These include “the fundamental right to counsel, the court’s docket, the injury to the plaintiff, the delay in reaching decision, the judicial time invested, the expense to the parties objecting and the potential for manipulation or impropriety.”

The underlying case is related to a shareholder freeze-out lawsuit, in which we represented a 50% shareholder in a closely held corporation.

Our Chicago, Oak Brook and Naperville commercial trial attorneys, DiTommaso Lubin Austermuehle, represent clients in greater Chicago and throughout Illinois involved in commercial disputes. In addition to shareholder freeze-out and squeeze-out litigation, we handle a variety of business, commercial and corporate litigation for both large corporations and closely held companies. If you have a similar dispute and you would like to discuss it with us confidentially, please contact us through our Web site or by phone.