california rules
california rules

Multiple county defendants, one lawyer: Judge previously ruled it’s not OK. So why are they doing it again?

In February 2018, Frankie Greer had a seizure and fell from the top of three jail bunks, suffering a serious brain injury.

A year later, Greer’s family filed a lawsuit against the nurse who had assessed him during the jail’s intake process, the two deputies responsible for assigning him to the top bunk and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, which employs all three.

The County of San Diego outsourced the entire case to one private attorney despite there being multiple defendants with conflicting stories: the nurse says she properly alerted housing deputies that Greer had a seizure disorder and needed a bottom bunk; the housing deputies claim she entered the alert into part of the jail’s information management system that they could not access.

This leaves the attorney hired by the county with an impossible, and potentially unethical, task: defending two parties who blame each other for wrongdoing. Under California rules for practicing law, it’s unethical for one lawyer to represent people whose stories are at odds.

And this is not a new issue for the county. It faced an almost identical scenario in a 2002 lawsuit filed by the family of Marshawn Washington, who suffocated to death after being hog-tied by jail deputies. Judge Larry Burns ruled then that county counsel could not represent both the jail nurse, who had failed to report to deputies that Washington had respiratory problems, and the deputies who had restrained him.

Burns wrote in his ruling that “statements made by the correctional officer and nurse defendants raise a very real prospect that one group of Defendants may attempt to shift the blame to the other, thus rendering it impossible for any attorney to effectively represent both groups in the same proceeding without compromising the rights of either.”

Like in the Washington

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