King & Spalding faces plaintiffs' grilling over new associate in San Francisco

2 minute read

The company logo of the law firm King & Spalding is seen in their legal offices in Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S., May 5, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

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  • Law firm says it is walling off new associate hire from certain matters
  • Flurry of letters between class attorneys and King & Spalding put dispute into view

(Reuters) - King & Spalding's rehiring this month of an associate in San Francisco has become a flashpoint in a long-running antitrust lawsuit just weeks before the trial is set to begin in California federal court.

The law firm said it is taking steps to wall off the associate, who had served as a law clerk to the judge overseeing the antitrust case against longtime client Sutter Health, the Northern California health system.

The dispute came to light on Wednesday night in a series of emails and letters filed with the court among the firms handling the case. The correspondence indicates concerns plaintiffs' lawyers have about potential conflicts of interest arising from the associate's work for the judge.

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None of the plaintiffs' lawyers has asked the judge, Laurel Beeler, to recuse. Beeler has scheduled the trial to start on Feb. 9. Sutter has denied claims that anticompetitive behavior drove up the cost of healthcare services.

"Counsel has an obligation to get to the bottom of this issue on behalf of the class," Constantine Cannon partner Matthew Cantor said in a letter on Monday to Beeler about questions he posed to King & Spalding.

Cantor declined to comment on Thursday, and King & Spalding's deputy general counsel did not return a message seeking comment.

The dustup began on Jan. 4, when a partner at King & Spalding notified the parties and Beeler that the judge's former clerk, Meghan Strong, was returning to the firm. Strong earlier worked at the firm prior to the start of her clerkship last year.

King & Spalding's Stephen Goff in Sacramento, a lawyer for Sutter, told the court Strong is disqualified from representing parties in matters she worked on as a clerk.

The firm said it has played a limited role in the Sutter case, with Jones Day attorneys serving as lead trial counsel.

King & Spalding also said Goff and Strong work in separate offices. Goff's biography online lists San Francisco and Los Angeles offices only for marketing purposes, the firm said.

The case is Sidibe v. Sutter Health, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 3:12-cv-04854.

For plaintiffs: Matthew Cantor of Constantine Cannon

For defendant: David Kiernan of Jones Day

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