United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S
MOTION TO DISQUALIFY COUNSEL
GEIGER LEWIS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a defamation case in which Plaintiff alleges third-party
subpoena recipient Jane S. Gari (Gari) posted a story (the
Story) on her website wrongfully accusing Plaintiff of raping
Defendant Jane Doe a/k/a “Susan” (Susan). The
Court has jurisdiction over this matter under 28 U.S.C.
before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify
(Motion to Disqualify) Gari's counsel, Wallace Lightsey
(Lightsey) and the Wyche Law Firm (Wyche). Having carefully
considered the motion, the response, the reply, the record,
and the applicable law, it is the judgment of the Court
Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify will be denied.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case arises out of Gari's posting of the Story on her
website. Plaintiff maintains the accusation he raped Susan is
false. Plaintiff has asserted claims against Susan and John
and Jane Does 2-10 for defamation and false light in
connection with the Story. ECF No. 1.
prior counsel, Marc Randazza, wrote a letter to Gari on or
about February 16, 2016, threatening Plaintiff would file
suit against her if she failed to retract the Story within
seven days. ECF No. 14-1. Gari contacted Lightsey regarding
this matter on June 17, 2016. ECF No. 22 at 3. Lightsey
agreed Wyche would represent Gari in this case on a pro bono
basis. Gari signed and returned a formal engagement letter to
Lightsey on June 27, 2016. Id.
7, 2016, Plaintiff's attorney Jay Wolman (Wolman) called
and left a voicemail for Wyche attorney Tally Parham Casey
(Casey) about a possible engagement in a case. Id.
at 3-4; ECF No. 14 at 3. Wolman and Casey discussed the
possibility of Wyche's serving as local counsel for
Plaintiff in this matter in a telephone conference on July
11, 2016. ECF No. 14 at 3-4; ECF No. 22 at 4. Wolman
subsequently emailed Casey on July 11, 2016, and provided
Plaintiff's and Gari's names “[f]or conflict
purposes” and requested a fee agreement “[i]f
there is no conflict.” ECF No. 14-7. Casey responded on
that same day with applicable hourly rates and stated,
“I hope we get the opportunity to work together.”
Id. On July 12, 2016, however, Casey sent Wolman an
email stating, “I'm afraid we have a conflict and
will not be able to assist you with this matter.” ECF
originally filed this action in South Dakota, but he
voluntarily dismissed it. ECF No. 14-6, ¶ 4; ECF No.
22-4, ¶ 5. Plaintiff filed his Complaint with this Court
on September 13, 2016. ECF No. 1.
September 15, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Ex Parte Motion for
Leave to Take Early Discovery (Ex Parte Motion) in which he
sought permission to serve subpoenas on certain individuals,
including Gari, who Plaintiff believed had information that
would allow him to identify the Doe Defendants. ECF No. 5.
The Court issued an Ex Parte Order granting the Ex Parte
Motion on October 26, 2016. ECF No. 9.
Plaintiff served a subpoena on Gari, Lightsey filed a Motion
to Quash Subpoena, Vacate Ex Parte Order, and Reopen Record
on Plaintiff's Motion for Early Discovery on December 2,
2016. ECF No. 10. Plaintiff filed his Motion to Disqualify on
December 8, 2016. ECF No. 14. On December 14, 2016, Gari
filed a response in opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to
Disqualify, ECF No. 22, and Plaintiff filed a reply on
December 20, 2016, ECF No. 27. The Court, having been fully
briefed on the relevant issues, is now prepared to discuss
the merits of Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
drastic nature of disqualification requires that courts avoid
overly-mechanical adherence to disciplinary canons at the
expense of litigants' rights freely to choose their
counsel; and that they always remain mindful of the opposing
possibility of misuse of disqualification motions for
strategic reasons.” Shaffer v. Farm Fresh,
Inc., 966 F.2d 142, 146 (4th Cir. 1992) (citing
Woods v. Covington Cty. Bank, 537 F.2d 804, 813 (5th
Cir. 1976)). The disqualification of a party's chosen
counsel is a serious matter that should be undertaken only
upon a showing by the moving party that an “actual or
likely” conflict of interest exists, rather than a mere
imagined or improbable conflict. See Richmond Hilton
Assocs. v. City of Richmond, 690 F.2d 1086, 1089 (4th
motion to disqualify counsel is subject to the Court's
supervisory authority to ensure fairness in all judicial
proceedings. Hull v. Celanese Corp., 513 F.2d 568,
571 (2d Cir. 1975). This Court will apply the South Carolina
Rules of Professional Conduct ...