Conflicts or Tactics?
It's been reported a bajillion times this week that Airbus has sued in D.C. Superior Court (which is analogous to state court) to get several lawyers now working on Boeing matters before the W.T.O. for the Wilmer Hale firm in D.C. off the case, alleging that what they're doing is a clear conflict of interest under D.C. Bar rules. Apparently these people either worked for Airbus in the past, worked for the U.S. Trade Representative in the past, or some combination of the two. Of course, Wilmer Hale isn't having any.
The question that's on the minds of lawyers everywhere who take an interest in such matters is "Where on earth is the jurisdiction? Do D.C. Bar rules for the regulation of lawyers have any application at all in matters before the World Trade Organization?! What's up wit dat?"
The other question one might pose in all this is "Didn't Airbus know about this, say, a couple years ago? What was their legal department doing-drinking coffee and not looking at the names of the lawyers on the correspondence?"
What in heck is the suit really all about? Unfortunately, there's no answer without a copy of the pleadings at hand.
Of course, we in the trade are fond of nitpicking such matters to death, where the effect on the general public is coma inducing. It may be a tempest in a teapot. It could be the real thing. The timing's awfully convenient as the matter is coming to a head in the W.T.O. shortly.
However, until a copy of the petition surfaces, there's really no answer to this conundrum. I'll be watching. Send me one if you have it.
Update 6-11-06: A somewhat more specific account surfaced in Inside U.S. Trade, a subscription service. In that account it was stated that Airbus amended its filing by adding former U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who also works for Wilmer Hale. The petition itself was a request for a temporary injunction. In its request Airbus alleges that Barshefsky is in violating the Rules of Professional Conduct by working on Boeing legal matters related to the WTO case. As it happens, actions before the W.T.O. are prosecuted by the governments in question and not by private parties, and it's common for interested parties to provide assistance to the USTR in cases involving their business.