United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division
ORDER (1) GRANTING DURIE TANGRI LLP'S MOTION TO
WITHDRAW AS COUNSEL AND (2) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTIO TO
DENY WITHDRAWAL OF COUNSEL RE: ECF NOS. 127, 130
BEELER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
John Douglas Hunter, a prisoner currently incarcerated in San
Quentin State Prison, brings this civil-rights complaint
against defendant Mike Sokoloff, a nurse at the prison,
alleging that Mr. Sokoloff subjected him to excessive
force. Mr. Hunter is currently represented pro
bono by the law firm Durie Tangri LLP.
Tangri now moves to withdraw as Mr. Hunter's counsel due
to a breakdown in the attorney-client
relationship. Mr. Sokoloff does not oppose Durie
Tangri's withdrawal. Mr. Hunter opposes withdrawal and filed
a separate motion asking the court to deny Durie Tangri's
withdrawal unless the court appoints him new pro bono counsel
in Durie Tangri's place.
court held a hearing on October 31, 2019, at which Mr. Hunter
(appearing by telephone), Durie Tangri, and Mr. Sokoloff all
appeared and participated. (The court conducted part of the
hearing under seal solely with Mr. Hunter and Durie Tangri
and part of the hearing with Mr. Sokoloff as well.) The court
grants Durie Tangri's motion to withdraw and denies Mr.
Hunter's motion to deny withdrawal.
court appointed Durie Tangri to represent Mr. Hunter on a pro
bono basis on May 1, 2019. In the course of its representation of
Mr. Hunter, Durie Tangri consulted with Mr. Hunter
extensively and took multiple depositions and retained an
expert at its own expense.
July and September 2019, certain disputes arose between Mr.
Hunter and Durie Tangri. Among other things, ongoing disputes
arose regarding certain motions Mr. Hunter wanted Durie
Tangri to file that Durie Tangri believed were not consistent
with its obligations under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11
and California Rule of Professional Conduct
On September 6, 2019, Durie Tangri sent Mr. Hunter a letter
informing him that - in light of Mr. Hunter's continuing
instructions that Durie Tangri file motions that Durie Tangri
did not believe it could file under the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure and the California Rules of Professional
Conduct and the breakdown in the attorney-client relationship
- Durie Tangri would seek leave to withdraw as his
counsel. Durie Tangri provided Mr. Hunter with all
of the case-related materials he requested.
hearing, the court explained to Mr. Hunter that there are
legal and ethical rules and obligations that attorneys have
to comply with and that, if he is being represented by
counsel, he has to be willing to work with his counsel and
listen to their legal advice. Mr. Hunter acknowledged the
court's explanation and thanked the court for providing
Civil Local Rule 11-5(a), “[c]ounsel may not withdraw
from an action until relieved by order of Court after written
notice has been given reasonably in advance to the client and
to all other parties who have appeared in the case.”
The Local Rules further provide that if the client does not
consent to the withdrawal and no substitution of counsel is
filed, the motion to withdraw will be granted on the
condition that all papers from the court and from the
opposing party will be served on the current (and
withdrawing) counsel to forward to the client until the
client appears through new counsel or pro se (if the client
is not a corporate defendant). N.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 11-5(b).
is governed by the California Rules of Professional Conduct.
See Nehad v. Mukasey, 535 F.3d 962, 970 (9th Cir.
2008) (applying California Rules of Professional Conduct to
attorney withdrawal); j2 Global Commc'ns, Inc. v.
Blue Jay, Inc., No. C 08-4254 PJH, 2009 WL 464768, at *1
(N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2009) (citing Elan Transdermal Ltd.
v. Cygnus Therapeutic Sys., 809 F.Supp. 1383, 1387 (N.D.
Cal. 1992)). California Rule of Professional Conduct 1.16
sets forth several grounds under which an attorney may
request permission to withdraw, including that:
(1) the client insists upon presenting a claim or defense in
litigation, or asserting a position or making a demand in a
non-litigation matter, that is not warranted under existing
law and cannot be supported by good faith argument for an
extension, modification, or reversal of existing law; (2) the
client either seeks to pursue a criminal or fraudulent course
of conduct or has used the lawyer's services to advance a
course of conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes was a
crime or fraud; (3) the client insists that the lawyer pursue
a course of conduct that is criminal or fraudulent; (4) the
client by other conduct renders it unreasonably difficult for
the lawyer to carry out the representation effectively; (5)
the client breaches a material term of an agreement with, or
obligation, to the lawyer relating to the representation, and
the lawyer has given the client a reasonable warning after
the breach that the lawyer will withdraw unless the client
fulfills the agreement or performs the obligation; (6) the
client knowingly and freely assents to termination of the
representation; (7) the inability to work with co-counsel
indicates that the best interests of the client likely will
be served by withdrawal; (8) the lawyer's mental or
physical condition renders it difficult for the lawyer ...