BENTON – U.S. Magistrate Judge Donald Wilkerson denied a motion to disqualify the Armbruster Dripps firm as counsel for barge worker Anthony Miskel at an injury trial against SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting.
SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting moved for disqualification after Courtney Stirrat of Armbruster Dripps entered the case.
Stirrat previously defended Lewis and Clark Marine, predecessor of SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting, in similar cases.
“Ms. Stirrat simply has switched sides,” Wilkerson wrote.
“Such an act should not lead to either her or her new firm’s disqualification in this matter,” he wrote.
Wilkerson called disqualification a drastic measure and added, “Such a measure is not necessary in this matter.”
He quoted a rule that “a lawyer who recurrently handled a type of problem for a former client is not precluded from later representing another client in a factually distinct problem of that type even though the subsequent representation involves a position adverse to their former client.”
“This is the exact situation here,” he wrote.
“Plaintiff is suing SCF pursuant to the Jones Act, a common enough claim, and makes factual claims that are distinct from any matter in which Ms. Stirrat was Lewis and Clark’s attorney.
“While the court is mindful that Ms. Stirrat may be privy to certain general litigation strategies, there is no showing that she was privy to confidential factual information as would normally have been obtained in the prior representation that would materially advance the client’s position in the subsequent matter.”
Roy Dripps of Armbruster Dripps filed the suit in 2014, against SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting and dock owner Beelman River Terminals.
Dripps alleged that a barge moved and a cable struck Miskel in the face.
The defendants filed cross claims against each other.
Stirrat entered an appearance last December but moved to withdraw in January, a day after SCF Lewis and Clark Fleeting moved to disqualify the firm.
Miskel agreed in February to settle his claim against Beelman for $35,000, and to defend and indemnify Beelman at trial.
Patrick Murphy, who retired as U.S. district judge in 2013, entered an appearance for Miskel in May.
District Judge Staci Yandle plans a trial starting Aug. 1.