Thomas v. Municipal Court of the Antelope Valley Judicial District of California
878 F.2d 285 (1989)

  • Wanda was married to Popa, she divorced him in order to marry Thomas.
    • In this matter, Wanda was represented by an attorney named Fairfield.
  • A few years later, Thomas and Wanda got a divorce.
    • In this matter, Fairfield represented Thomas.
      • Thomas’ interests were materially adverse from Wanda’s interests.
  • Wanda filed a criminal complaint accusing Thomas of assault.
    • In this matter, Fairfield represented Thomas.
  • During the trial, Fairfield stated that Wanda had fabricated the assault charges in retaliation for Thomas alleging that she was not officially divorced from Popa when she married Thomas and was not entitled to community assets.
    • Fairfield also produced documents proving that Wanda’s marriage had not been dissolved when she married Thomas.
    • He had obtained this information from Wanda when he represented her in the previous matter.
  • The prosecutor moved that Fairfield be disqualified for a conflict of interest.
    • The Trial court agreed that Fairfield should excuse himself.
    • Alternately, Fairfield could have gotten a written waiver from Thomas, but Thomas refused to provide a waiver.
  • The Trial Court, sua sponte declared a mistrial and set a date for a new trial.
    • Sua sponte means that the judge did it himself, there was motion from a party.
  • Thomas, still represented by Fairfield moved for an order on acquittal on the grounds that retrial was barred by double jeopardy. The motion was denied.
  • Thomas sought a writ of prohibition, which was also denied. Thomas appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed the denial of the writ of prohibition.
    • A writ of prohibition is an order from a superior court telling an inferior court to stop whatever it is they are doing because they are exceeding their authority.
  • Thomas went back to the Trial Court and stated that he would sign a waiver.
    • However, the prosecutor felt that Thomas was not making an informed decision because Fairfield did not explain the potential problems.
    • The Trial Court ordered Thomas to confer with another lawyer before signing the waiver.
  • Instead of conferring with another lawyer, Thomas petitioned for a writ of prohibition at the California Supreme Court. They sent the issue down to the Appellate Court which denied the petition.
  • Thomas went to the Federal Trial Court and petitioned for a writ of habeus corpus. It was denied.
    • Thomas argued that the Trial Court had improperly determined that Fairfield had a conflict of interest.
    • Thomas argued that retrial should be barred because the Trial Judge had sua sponte declared a mistrial without manifest necessity.
    • Thomas appealed to the Federal Appellate Court.
  • The Federal Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Federal Appellate Court denied the writ of habeus corpus.
    • The Federal Appellate Court found that the conflict of interest did create a manifest necessity of a mistrial because Thomas did not have effective, conflict-free representation.
      • A conflict of interest exists when an attorney must prepare a case against, cross-examine, or impeach a former client on subject matter so closely connected with that of the earlier representation that confidences might be involved.
        • That’s Rule 1.9
      • In this case, Fairfield, who had confidential knowledge of Wanda’s divorce from Popa, intended to make accusations against Wanda with regard to the divorce from Popa.
      • Fairfield was in an untenable position. He would have to either betray a former client’s confidences, or not represent Thomas to the best of his ability.
  • Even though Fairfield’s first representation was a divorce proceeding and the second was a trial for assault, the two matters were still substantially related, because confidential information from the original representation could be used in the current representation.