Ethics Questions Abound in a High Profile Legal Malpractice Case Stemming from a Water Bottling Dispute
There was an interesting article today in the Portland Press Herald, article here, following up on the legal malpractice trial I posted about last week stemming out of a settlement gone awry with Poland Spring Water owned by Nestle. According to today's article, the testimony is raising more ethical questions. Testimony from a witness and attorney on Thursday called into question attorney Jan Schlichtmann's (who is not a defendant but was a witness for the plaintiff earlier in the trial and is the attorney John Travolta portrayed in the movie "Class Action") motives during settlement negotiations of the underlying case. Apparently, the ethics of one of the defense experts has also been called into question. The article also gives more insight into the background of the case. Three small water bottlers claim they were on the verge of achieving a $39 million settlement with Nestle (Poland Spring Water) back in 2003, only to have the deal scuttled by members of their own legal team who broke ranks and filed more lucrative class-action cases on behalf of consumers. The bottlers are now suing Thomas Sobol and his law firm, seeking to recoup the money they lost when the deal fell apart. The case-within-the-case was based on a claim that Poland Spring was mislabeling as spring water, since it is pumped from wells and could contain surface water. The three smaller competitors were seeking compensation for business they lost to allegedly mis-labeled water, and the lawyers were seeking refunds and quality protections on behalf of consumers, as well. All the ethical questions that keep arising in the trial seem to highlight the main focus of the case - where do a lawyers' duties lie when he or she represents multiple clients with competing interests?