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Law firm promises to appeal decision

Judge disqualifies Covington in 3M lawsuit

A Hennepin County judge disqualified the Covington & Burling law firm from representing the state of Minnesota because the firm once worked for the company the state is suing.

For more than two decades the Covington firm represented Maplewood-based 3M on a variety of legal matters.

In 2010, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office filed a lawsuit against 3M that alleges the company polluted lakes and groundwater beginning in the 1950s by disposing of environmental waste tied to perfluorochemicals that led to adverse health effects. The Attorney General hired the Covington firm for help on the case a few months after Covington had done legal work for 3M on an employment matter.

3M’s lawyers sued to have Covington removed as counsel arguing that Covington took decades of confidential client information to the state attorney general’s office that would be used against 3M in the lawsuit. Covington argued it advised 3M on unrelated matters before the FDA and that it properly ended its relationship with 3M before agreeing to represent the state.

Yesterday Hennepin County Judge Robert Blaeser said the Covington firm’s prior representation of 3M was “substantially related” to the current lawsuit. He said the firm showed disregard for its duties of “confidentiality, candor, full disclosure, and loyalty” to 3M when it agreed to work for the state.

“Covington has ‘switched sides’ by representing a client who is now suing its former client,” Blaeser wrote. “By representing (Minnesota), Covington will benefit by contradicting the very positions it had long advocated on 3M’s behalf.”

Covington said it disagreed with the decision. Timothy Hester, chair of Covington’s management committee stated:

 “The State of Minnesota has been a client of this firm on environmental matters since 1995.We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling. We believe 3M failed to identify an actual conflict of interest and its attempt to disqualify the firm should in any event be barred because it came 15 months after the case was filed. 3M is a former firm client and the State of Minnesota’s current environmental case against 3M is not substantially related to a food packaging matter that we handled for 3M many years ago. Our client, the State of Minnesota, will be weighing its options, including an immediate appeal.”

 

2 comments

  1. This seems like a fair decision to me. 3M is such a huge company, it seems like the prior relationship could indeed be a conflict of interest. I wonder why the law firm didn’t see this one coming?

  2. It does seem strange to take a position suing a client your firm has represented for two decades. It will be interesting to see where this ends up.

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