Standard of Review for Motion to Disqualify Counsel in California
In Clark v. Superior Court (2011) 196 Cal.App.4th 37, the Court described the standard of review that applies to a trial court's decision to grant or deny a motion to disqualify counsel.
"A trial court's ruling on a disqualification motion is reviewed under the deferential abuse of discretion standard. 'In exercising its discretion, the trial court must make a reasoned judgment that complies with applicable legal principles and policies.' 'The order is subject to reversal only when there is no reasonable basis for the trial court's decision.' 'In deciding whether the trial court abused its discretion, "we are . . . bound . . . by the substantial evidence rule."' The trial court's order is '"presumed correct; all intendments and presumptions are indulged to support it; conflicts in the declarations must be resolved in favor of the prevailing party, and the trial court's resolution of any factual disputes arising from the evidence is conclusive."' Hence, we presume the trial court found in the prevailing party's favor on 'all disputed factual issues.' Further, 'where there are no express findings, we must review the trial court's exercise of discretion based on implied findings that are supported by substantial evidence.' 'In viewing the evidence, we look only to the evidence supporting the prevailing party. We discard evidence unfavorable to the prevailing party as not having sufficient verity to be accepted by the trier of fact. Where the trial court has drawn reasonable inferences from the evidence, we have no power to draw different inferences, even though different inferences may also be reasonable.' '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.'" (Id. at pp. 46-47.)
In general, there are two types of situations in which conflicts requiring the disqualification of counsel may arise--concurrent representation and successive representation. (Cal West Nurseries v. Superior Court (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 1170, 1174.)
"Whether or not disqualification is required in successive representation cases depends upon two variables: '(1) the relationship between the legal problem involved in the former representation and the legal problem involved in the current representation, and (2) the relationship between the attorney and the former client with respect to the legal problem involved in the former representation.'" (Santa Teresa Citizen Action Group v. City of San Jose (2003) 114 Cal.App.4th 689, 711.)
"This rule is based upon the potential violation of the lawyer's duty of confidentiality." (Cal West, at p. 1174.) "If a substantial relationship exists, courts will presume that confidences were disclosed during the former representation which may have value in the current relationship. Thus, actual possession of confidential information need not be proven . . . ." (Truck Ins. Exchange v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co. (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1050, 1056.)