Judge re­jects IID open­ing brief on Michael Abatti case

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY ED­WIN DEL­GADO Staff Writer Staff Writer Ed­win Del­gado can be reached at edel­gado@iv­pres­son­line.com

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.”

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