Liapis v. Dist. Ct.

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Justia Opinion Summary

Marie Liapis filed a complaint for divorce against petitioner Theodore Liapis, in which she also sought disposition of the couple's property, permanent spousal support, and her attorney fees and costs. Theodore answered Marie's complaint and later retained Mark Liapis, the couple's son, as his attorney. A settlement conference was scheduled, and each party filed a statement in preparation for that conference. In her statement, Marie objected to Mark's representation of Theodore. Because of the issues raised concerning Mark's representation of Theodore, the district court vacated the scheduled settlement conference and gave Mark time to determine whether he would continue as Theodore's counsel. Mark informed Marie's counsel that he did not intend to withdraw as counsel for Theodore. Marie subsequently filed a motion to disqualify Mark, asserting three bases for his disqualification: (1) Mark's representation of Theodore and his pecuniary interest in their estate created an appearance of impropriety; (2) even though Mark had never represented her, there was an "inherent conflict of interest" because it was unclear "how [Mark] would be able to zealously represent [Theodore]" when he "professe[d] to still love both his parents;" and (3) Mark should be disqualified because he was a potential witness in the case. Because appearance of impropriety is no longer recognized by the American Bar Association, and the Supreme Court has not recognized the appearance of impropriety as a basis for disqualifying counsel except in the limited circumstance of a public lawyer, the Court rejected that conclusion when the alleged impropriety is based solely on a familial relationship with the attorney. The Court also concluded that absent an ethical breach by the attorney that affects the fairness of the entire litigation or a proven confidential relationship between the nonclient parent and the attorney, the nonclient parent lacked standing to seek disqualification under RPC 1.7.