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Kirk v. First American Title Insurance Co.

Second District of the California Court of Appeal
183 Cal.App.4th 776 (2010)


Four class actions were brought against First American Title Insurance Company. The Bernheim Law Firm (plaintiff) and the Kirk Law Firm (plaintiff) represented the plaintiffs. Bryan Cave, LLP represented First American. In 2007, Berheim and Kirk spoke with Gary Cohen, soliciting his consulting services in the lawsuits. During the discussion, Bernheim and Kirk disclosed confidential information regarding the lawsuits to Cohen. Cohen declined the consultant position. In 2008, Cohen joined the law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthel, LLP. Thereafter, Bernheim and Kirk contacted Cohen to again request his consulting services. Cohen turned down the job, stating that he could not assist because Sonnenschein represented First American. The following month, First American replaced Bryan Cave, with Sonnenschein as counsel. Sonnenschein established an ethical screen around Cohen, issuing a firm-wide memorandum prohibiting Cohen from working on the class actions, accessing related documents, and receiving fees from any work related to the actions, and prohibiting other attorneys from discussing the cases with Cohen. Bernheim and Kirk moved to disqualify Sonnenschein. The trial court granted the motion, finding that Bernheim and Kirk disclosed confidential information to Cohen when they solicited his consulting services, and concluding that, because Cohen possessed such disqualifying confidential information, vicarious disqualification of Sonnenschein is automatic, regardless of the ethical screening wall. First American and Sonnenschein appealed.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Croskey, J.)

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