Yandle must decide move to disqualify plaintiff’s firm on eve of injured seaman’s bench trial

By Record News | Jun 28, 2016

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 and Clark. 

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,” Wellhausen swore. 

Stirrat no longer represents barge worker Anthony Miskel, but her withdrawal from the action did not satisfy SCF Lewis and Clark.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 employer. 

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 Seventh Circuit. 

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.

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