Covington falls foul of client conflict duty

By James Barnes

12 October 2012 at 11:56 BST

Washington DC-based law firm Covington & Burling has been disqualified from representing the state of Minnesota in a longstanding environmental dispute against manufacturing company 3M.

Scotched: Confidentiality row over 3M litigation

Hennepin County District Judge Robert Blaeser decided the firm violated state rules of professional conduct after failing fully to disclose potential conflicts to 3M -- a previous client of Covington in an on-going environmental pollution action.
Judge Blaeser said the firm ‘exhibited a conscious disregard for its duties of confidentiality, candour, full disclosure and loyalty to 3M’ for its past representation of the company on ‘issues at the heart of the state's case,’ reports the Minnesota Star Tribune.

Contaminated water

The case involves the state's allegation that 3M - manufacturers of the Post-it note and Scotch Tape - contaminated river and groundwater sources through the release of perfluorochemicals (PFCs).
Dallas-based Bickel & Brewer -- the law firm representing 3M – labelled the judgment ‘a resounding victory’ for the multi-national conglomerate ‘that underscores the importance of the ethical duties that are owed by lawyers to their clients’.


In a statement to The Post, Timothy Hester -- chairman of Covington's management committee -- said: ‘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.’


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