Wednesday, May 2, 2012

GPC responds to lawsuit: In a court filing, company claims plaintiffs' lawyers are violating ethics codes and exploiting emotions


Lawyers representing Grain Processing Corp. fired back Tuesday at the lawyers gathering plaintiffs to join a lawsuit against the company for its emissions.

In a nutshell, the company says opposing counsel isn't playing fair.

According to a court filing by attorneys Mark McCormick of Belin McCormick P.C. of Des Moines and Steven J. Havercamp of Stanley, Lande and Hunter of Davenport, the plaintiffs' attorneys, including Tony Buzbee of Houston, should not be granted permission to appear on behalf of their clients.

The reason, according to the filing? "Because Plaintiffs' counsel already has committed multiple, serious ethical violations that prejudice the administration of justice in our state and demonstrate Plaintiffs' counsel's unwillingness to adhere to our state's ethical standards."

Though Buzbee, along with Claire M. Diallo and Sean O'Rourke, were given "pro hac vice" status from the court to work on behalf of the plaintiffs, GPC's lawyer are asking that that status be revoked.

Pro hac vice is Latin for "for this occasion" or "for this event."

So far more than 100 plaintiffs have joined the case.

According to Tuesday's filing from GPC's attorneys, plaintiffs' attorneys have "engaged in a very serious pattern of ethical violations," including "improper attempts to litigate the case in the press, prejudicial direct mail solicitations of clients, and, apparently, even door-to-door solicitations."

The filing cites a quote Buzbee gave to The Associated Press on April 23, the day the suit was filed, which "appeared in local newspapers as well as in national news." Buzbee told an AP reporter that "there is real, verified damage being done to people's real and personal property."

The brief also describes a postcard-type mailer sent to some Muscatine residents designed, according to the filing, "not only to create an emotional appeal but to tout Plaintiffs' counsels' purported skills."

The direct mailing also violates the state's Rules of Professional Conduct, according to the filing, because the mailing relies on an emotional appeal and makes claims relating to the quality of Buzbee's firm's legal services, "precisely what our ethics rules forbid."

One side of the card shows a playground in the front and GPC smokestacks in the back.

The flipside touts Buzbee's law firm by saying "winning is the only option."

The filing also quotes Jill Schnell, a GPC employee, who reported that a man knocked on her door and told her that he represented the attorney's office filing the class action lawsuit.

When she told him she worked for GPC and had nothing further to say, "he politely stated that he would move on," she said in a declaration included in the filing. "He gave me the distinct impression that he was trying to sign me up for the lawsuit," she said.

According to the filing, the plaintiffs' attorneys' "barrage of improper solicitations and media offensives plainly violate Iowa's ethical standards and are prejudicial to the administration of justice."

In the filing, GPC attorneys claim lawyers on the other side "intentionally violated Iowa's Rules of Professional Conduct" by making statements to the media that could prejudice how the lawsuit is decided. For example, the filing alleges, Buzbee's statement to the AP about "real, verifiable damage" could "taint the jury pool and damage GPC's right to a fair trial."

"Myriad competent counsel who will abide by Iowa's ethical rules are available to represent Plaintiffs," the filing concludes. "The damage already done by Plaintiffs' counsel's conduct likely cannot be undone. The Court, however, can prevent further damage."

By Mike Ferguson

Source: The Muscatine Journal

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