BENTON – Former U.S. district judge Patrick Murphy and the
Armbruster Dripps firm misstated facts and slung mud in a brief opposing the
firm’s disqualification from an injury trial, according to defendant SCF Lewis
Attorney Giles Howard of St. Louis challenged the brief on
behalf of the former Lewis and Clark on June 22, nine days after Murphy and Roy
Dripps filed it.
Howard rejected their claim that Courtney Stirrat of
Armbruster Dripps gained no confidential information while previously representing
Lewis and Clark Marine.
He wrote that Stirrat’s affidavit swearing she didn’t learn
anything about internal operations strained credulity, as she had represented
Lewis and Clark Marine in multiple seaman suits for more than three years.
An affidavit of SCF Lewis and Clark executive Paul
Wellhausen was attached to the filing.
“I never would have approved involvement by Courtney Stirrat
as part of our legal defense team in the past had I thought she could change
sides and represent our adversary in a seaman’s injury case after we had
confided in her as we did regarding strategy for the defense of these cases and
about various details concerning the inner workings of our business that we do
not disseminate publicly, let alone discuss with people who oppose us in court,”
Stirrat no longer represents barge worker Anthony Miskel,
but her withdrawal from the action did not satisfy SCF Lewis and Clark.
It claims her conflict extends to Armbruster Dripps.
U.S. District Judge Staci Yandle, who has set bench trial to
start on Aug. 1, had not reached a decision on disqualification as of June 24.
Dripps filed suit in 2014, seeking damages from Beelman
River Terminals as the site of Miskel’s injury and SCF Lewis and Clark as his
He alleged that a cable struck Miskel in the face.
The defendants filed cross claims against each other.
Stirrat entered an appearance last December but withdrew in
January, a day after SCF Lewis and Clark filed a motion under seal.
Miskel agreed in February to settle his claim against
Beelman for $35,000, and to defend and indemnify Beelman against SCF Lewis and
Clark’s cross claim.
Murphy, who retired from the federal bench and returned to
private practice in 2013, entered an appearance on May 2.
He and Dripps opposed disqualification of Armbruster Dripps
on June 13.
They wrote that Stirrat didn’t gain any information that
wasn’t disclosed in discovery or made public; that she had no confidential
information relative to Miskel; that there is no overlap of witnesses in the
prior cases and this one; and that local district court rules or Illinois rules
of conduct determine the appropriate standard for disqualification in the
The attorneys further wrote that the defense failed to cite
controlling authority and that it wasn’t the first time their firm, Goldstein
and Price, failed to do that.
They cited opinions and exhibits from a case in the Southern
District and the Seventh Circuit in 2002 and 2003.
The failure to cite the appropriate local rule or Illinois
rules “is one more conscious failure,” they wrote.
Howard replied that, “Plaintiff’s mention, at the end of his
brief, of an old and unrelated case substitutes mud slinging for a reasoned
analysis of the issue before this court and does not deserve further comment.”
He challenged the assertion of a local standard.
“They offered no citation for this misstatement of the law,
and there is none,” he wrote.
Howard denied that there is no overlap of witnesses, writing
that SCF Lewis and Clark disclosed executive Tom Wayne as a potential witness.
“The sanctity of the attorney client relationship and the
need to maintain public confidence in that relationship do not permit an
attorney to switch sides in order to gain such an advantage for an adversary of
her former client,” he wrote.
He wrote that he couldn’t address all the misstatements in
the brief in five pages.