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Stile v. Somerset County

United States District Court, D. Maine

February 1, 2016

JAMES STILE, Plaintiff,
v.
SOMERSET COUNTY, et al., Defendant.

ORDER DENYING APPEAL OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE DECISION

JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

The Court rejects James Stile’s appeal of the Magistrate Judge’s order denying his motion to disqualify defense counsel and his claim that defense counsel tampered with evidence. Regarding disqualification, Mr. Stile claims that because defense counsel gave legal seminars to the Somerset County defendants, the lawyers will be necessary witnesses in his failure-to-train theory of liability against the County defendants. The Court concludes that there are alternative means of presenting evidence of the lawyer seminars without calling the lawyers as witnesses and, in any event, disqualification would not be warranted during the discovery phase of the case. Regarding evidence tampering, though forcefully expressed by Mr. Stile, the Court concludes that there is simply nothing to the claim of evidence tampering.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural Background

On March 9, 2015, James Stile moved for an order removing Peter Marchesi of Wheeler & Arey as defense counsel for the Somerset County Defendants in this case. Mot. for Removal of Defense Counsel Wheeler & Arey P.A. (ECF No. 201). On May 21, 2015, the Magistrate Judge conducted a telephone conference and denied the motion. Report of Tel. Conf. and Order (ECF No. 226). In his report of the telephone conference, the Magistrate Judge explained that he was “not convinced on this record that counsel should be disqualified.” Id. at 3.

On June 29, 2015, Mr. Stile filed what he described as a supplemental motion to compel defense counsel Wheeler & Arey and Peter Marchesi to withdraw as defense counsel. Pl.’s Suppl. Mem. Regarding Pl.[’]s Mot. for Defense Counsel Wheeler & Arey P.A., Peter Marchesi Esq. to Withdraw from Above-Docketed Litigation (ECF No. 234) (Pl.’s Suppl. Mot.). On July 20, 2015, the Defendants represented by Wheeler & Arey objected to the June 29, 2015 motion. Obj. to Pl.’s Second Mot. for Removal of Defense Counsel Wheeler & Arey, P.A. (ECF No. 240) (Defs.’ Obj. I). On October 8, 2015, Mr. Stile replied to the Defendants’ response. Pl.’s Reply to Defs.[’] Resp. to Pl.[’]s Mot. for Defense Counsel Whee[l]er & Arey P[.]A. to Withdraw from Case (ECF No. 265) (Pl.’s Reply I). On October 30, 2015, the Magistrate Judge denied Mr. Stile’s June 29, 2015 motion. Order on Pl.’s Mot. to Disqualify Defense Counsel (ECF No. 234) (ECF No. 268) (Order).

On December 3, 2015, Mr. Stile objected to the Magistrate Judge’s ruling. Pl.’s Obj. to Magistrate’s Ruling Pursuant to Rule 72 of Fed. Civil Procedure Rules (ECF No. 289) (Pl.’s Obj.). On December 4, 2015, Mr. Stile filed a clarification of his objection, inserting corrected ECF numbers. Suppl. to Pl.’s Opp’n Dated Nov. 30, 2015 (ECF No. 290). On December 14, 2015, the Defendants represented by Wheeler & Arey filed an objection to Mr. Stile’s objection to the Magistrate Judge’s Order. Resp. to Pl.’s Obj. to Magistrate’s Ruling on Pl.’s Mot. for Removal of Defense Counsel Wheeler & Arey, P.A. (ECF No. 303) (Defs.’ Obj. II). On January 4, 2016, Mr. Stile replied to the Defendants’ response. Reply to Defs[’] Resp. to Pl.[’]s Objection to Magistrate’s Ruling on Pl.’s Mot. for Removal of Defense Counsel Wheeler & Arey, P.A. (ECF No. 311) (Pl.’s Reply II).

B. James Stile’s Positions

In his lawsuit against Somerset County Defendants, the Court assumes for purposes of this motion that Mr. Stile is claiming he sustained injuries as a result of the use of force at the Somerset County Jail when he was an inmate and that Somerset County is legally liable for those injuries because it failed to adequately train its employees.[1] Mr. Stile says that because members of the Wheeler & Arey law firm participated in training sessions with Somerset County employees, he intends to call them as witnesses at trial. Pl.’s Obj. at 5-10.

Mr. Stile’s second contention is that defense counsel tampered with evidence. Id. at 2-7, 10-16. Initially, Mr. Stile contended that defense counsel turned over four DVDs accidentally evidenced by their lack of Bates stamping, which led him to believe there was a trove of more incriminating DVDs from which these had been mistakenly leaked. Pl.’s Suppl. Mot. at 3-4. Mr. Stile seems to have retreated somewhat from that evidence-tampering theory. Pl.’s Obj. at 4. Now, as the Court understands it, he contends that defense counsel tampered with evidence by strategically revealing the four DVDs in a state case in order to keep them out of this case. See, e.g., id. at 4; Pl.’s Reply I at 3-4; Pl.’s Reply II at 2.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Whether a lawyer should be disqualified from representation of a client or clients is a non-dispositive matter. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), this Court reviews a non-dispositive order of the Magistrate Judge to determine whether it is “clearly erroneous” or “is contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Under this standard, the Court reviews factual findings for clear error, Phinney v. Wentworth Douglas Hosp., 199 F.3d 1, 4 ...


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