The Supreme Court of New Mexico has ruled that an attorney and his law firm are disqualified from representing a client because of a conflict of interest. In Roy D. Mercer, LLC v. Hon. Matthew G. Reynolds, a landowner hired a law firm to defend it in a case brought by a railroad company seeking to enforce an easement.
The railroad company had hired a contractor to construct a series of berms, dykes and channels to divert water away from the railway and through the landowner’s property. The contractor was also named in the suit and hired a separate law firm to defend the company.
Two years into the lawsuit, the landowner retained another law firm and it’s prior attorney’s firm disbanded. One of the associates from that firm then joined the law firm that represented the contractor. The contractor’s firm immediately sent a letter to the landowner’s firm informing them that the associate would be screened from the case and requested that the landowner sign a waiver of the conflict of interest.
The landowner refused and made a motion seeking to have the entire law firm disqualified. The trial court denied the motion finding that the contractor would be substantially harmed by removing its attorney, given an imminent trial date. The landowner sought a writ from the Supreme Court superintending control over the trial court.
The Supreme Court issued the writ prohibiting the law firm from representing the contractor. The court held that the attorney was so involved in the defense of the landowner that she could not be effectively screened. The court also relied on the fact that the firm knew she had represented the landowner at the time she was hired. Therefore, the conflict of interest was not waivable and the entire firm was disqualified.
Decision: Mercer v. Reynolds