California Landmark Cases on Motion to Disqualify a Lawyer

"A trial court's authority to disqualify an attorney derives from the power inherent in every court 'to control in furtherance of justice, the conduct of its ministerial officers, and of all other persons in any manner connected with a judicial proceeding before it, in every matter pertaining thereto.' " (People ex rel. Dept. of Corporations v. SpeeDee Oil Change Systems, Inc. (1999) 20 Cal.4th 1135, 1145 (SpeeDee Oil).) "A motion to disqualify a party's counsel may implicate several important interests. Consequently, judges must examine these motions carefully to ensure that literalism does not deny the parties substantial justice. Depending on the circumstances, a disqualification motion may involve such considerations as a client's right to chosen counsel, an attorney's interest in representing a client, the financial burden on a client to replace disqualified counsel, and the possibility that tactical abuse underlies the disqualification motion." (Id. at pp. 1144-1145.) Disqualification motions involve "a conflict between the clients' right to counsel of their choice and the need to maintain ethical standards of professional responsibility. The paramount concern must be to preserve public trust in the scrupulous administration of justice and the integrity of the bar. The important right to counsel of one's choice must yield to ethical considerations that affect the fundamental principles of our judicial process." (Id. at p. 1145.) "Generally, a trial court's decision on a disqualification motion is reviewed for abuse of discretion. If the trial court resolved disputed factual issues, the reviewing court should not substitute its judgment for the trial court's express or implied findings supported by substantial evidence. When substantial evidence supports the trial court's factual findings, the appellate court reviews the conclusions based on those findings for abuse of discretion. However, the trial court's discretion is limited by the applicable legal principles. Thus, where there are no material disputed factual issues, the appellate court reviews the trial court's determination as a question of law. In any event, a disqualification motion involves concerns that justify careful review of the trial court's exercise of discretion." (SpeeDee Oil, supra, 20 Cal.4th at pp. 1143-1144.)