Judge rejects IID opening brief on Michael Abatti case
Two weeks after the Imperial Irrigation District filed its opening brief in its appeal to overturn an Imperial County Superior Court ruling, the Fourth Appellate District of the State’s Court of appeal rejected the brief filed on Wednesday morning.
The reason behind the decision has to do with the law firm the district hired to prepare the opening brief, Sacramento-based Downey Brand LLP, as the firm and one of its attorneys previously represented close relatives of the plaintiff in the original lawsuit, Michael Abatti. Abatti filed a motion with the appellate to disqualify Downey Brand and attorney David R.E. Aladjem, which the court granted.
“Because of the closeness of the family members’ relationships and business interests and Michael’s involvement as general manager in the family business owned by Ben Abatti ... there is a strong possibility that Downey Brand and Aladjem had access to confidential information about the Abatti’s business that they could use to Michael Abatti’s disadvantage in this appeal,” wrote the court’s presiding judge Judith McConnell in her order.
The order bars IID from continuing to hire any member of the firm as it relates to the current litigation, and since it was Aladjem of this law firm who filed the appeal, the opening brief filed was rejected by the court.
Under the order, the court gives IID 30 days to file a new opening brief.
IID’s Governmental Affairs Officer Antonio Ortega said the matter will be discussed by the IID board during its next board meeting on May 22, and it will make a public statement after the closed session portion of the meeting. The court stated that although it recognized IID’s freedom to hire a counsel of its choice, the fact the firm was engaged only two months ago at the appellate stage was among the factors it took into consideration for its decision.
“The law is clear that an attorney cannot accept employment or otherwise act adversely to a former client in a matter in which that attorney had represented the client,” McConnell wrote. “It is presumed that the tainted attorney’s entire firm is vicariously disqualified from accepting employment for the new client as well.”