Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. Joseph
M. Wosik, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE JOHNSON DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
Theodore J. Bruck, defendant, brings this consolidated interlocutory appeal, seeking reversal of four separate orders of the trial court. The numerous issues which have been raised on appeal may be summarized as follows: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion in disqualifying the firm of Konewko, Drenk and Thompson as attorneys for defendant, and (2) whether Douglas Drenk, defendant's attorney, was properly held to be in contempt of court.
The plaintiffs are Jacob Weglarz, Cynthia Weglarz, I-Del, Inc., and Conteco Company. Defendant Bruck and plaintiff Jacob Weglarz (hereafter Weglarz) are business associates in several enterprises, including the two corporate plaintiffs, I-Del, Inc. and Conteco Company. This matter comes before us on the third interlocutory appeal arising from litigation which dates back to March 19, 1982. Plaintiffs filed a complaint in the chancery division of the circuit court of Cook County seeking specific performance and injunctive and other relief. The complaint listed numerous business entities owned jointly by defendant Bruck and plaintiff Weglarz. It was further alleged that due to a deteriorating relationship between Weglarz and Bruck, the parties had agreed to dissolve their business interests and sever the business relationship. The case has proceeded through the trial court, its progress underscored by numerous motions and two earlier interlocutory appeals (Weglarz v. Bruck (1983), Nos. 82-1362, 83-249, both unpublished).
The facts pertinent to this present appeal may be summarized as follows: In April 1982, plaintiffs moved the court to order the withdrawal of O'Brien, Guerard and Loveless as attorneys for defendant Bruck. At a hearing on the motion, plaintiff Weglarz and attorney O'Brien testified that both plaintiff and defendant had been associated with attorney O'Brien in various business matters for several years beginning in 1969. Weglarz claimed to have divulged confidential information to O'Brien during the period of their association. O'Brien denied receiving any such confidential information from Weglarz. The trial court found that attorney O'Brien's former business association with plaintiff and defendant made him privy to sensitive information about both parties. The court ruled that the firm of O'Brien, Guerard and Loveless was disqualified from participating in any litigation between Weglarz and Bruck. Konewko, Drenk and Thompson replaced O'Brien, Guerard and Loveless as attorneys for defendant Bruck. On May 20, 1983, plaintiffs moved the court to compel withdrawal of defendant Bruck's second group of attorneys because attorney Guerard of the firm which formerly represented defendant was soon to join the firm presently representing defendant.
At a hearing on plaintiffs' motion, defendant Bruck presented evidence in support of his position that attorney Guerard would be isolated from any contact with the pending litigation. Defendant's attorney sought a change of venue, an evidentiary hearing on the issue, and demanded a jury on the question of withdrawal of attorneys. The trial court denied defendant's motions. On May 31, 1983, the trial court entered an order disqualifying attorney Drenk and the law firm of Konewko, Drenk and Thompson from representing defendant Bruck.
Shortly thereafter, defendant Bruck and his attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal of the trial court's order of May 31. On June 9, 1983, attorney Drenk individually appeared at a hearing on behalf of defendant Bruck. Attorney Drenk informed the trial court that there had been no order denying him leave to file another appearance; therefore, he had filed an appearance and intended to represent defendant Bruck. The court found Drenk to be in direct contempt of court and imposed a fine of $500. Defendant Bruck appeals the trial court's order of June 9. That appeal was consolidated with the appeal of the order of May 31, 1983.
Defendant argues at length that the trial court abused its discretion in disqualifying the entire law firm of Konewko, Drenk and Thompson as attorneys for defendant because the court's action was based on the previous order of disqualification of attorney Guerard in 1982, which was itself improper. Defendant points out that the disqualification of attorney Drenk was done without the benefit of an evidentiary hearing. The record was devoid of any factual support for the trial judge's ruling. Plaintiffs failed to show how the prior involvement of attorney O'Brien with Weglarz is relevant to the present litigation, especially in light of plaintiffs' failure to present any evidence to support the court's ruling.
Defendant also argues that plaintiffs were obligated to show that specific confidences were imparted to attorney O'Brien by Weglarz. Since the specific nature of the confidential information and how it would be prejudicial to the plaintiffs was not explained, the trial court erred in disqualifying attorney Guerard in 1982 because of his association with O'Brien and the error has been extended to the disqualification of Drenk.
In his brief and during oral argument, defendant argued that the trend of the courts> has been toward embracing the concept of the "Chinese wall" and away from disqualification of attorneys under facts such as these. Defendant cites Novo Therapeutisk Laboratorium A/S v. Baxter Travenol Laboratories, Inc. (7th Cir. 1979), 607 F.2d 186, in support of his contention that the trial court was required to follow a three-step process in determining the scope of the former legal association between plaintiff and the attorney in question as to whether confidential information was given to the attorney and whether such information is relevant to the matter at hand. Defendant cites numerous cases to underscore his argument that since there was no evidence of what confidential information was passed from Weglarz to attorney O'Brien, the trial court should have allowed the defendant's attorneys to use the "Chinese wall" instead of disqualifying them.
The term "Chinese wall" is a fictional device used as a screening procedure which permits an attorney involved in an earlier adverse role to be "screened" from other attorneys in the firm. Typically, these procedures include prohibiting the attorney in question from any contact with the case. This may be done by restricting access to files, informing the attorneys working on the case of the barrier and assuring that it is maintained, and sometimes actually separating the attorney in question from those attorneys who are handling the case. The attorney in question does not receive a share of the fees from the litigation. Employment of this device prevents disqualification of the entire law firm simply because one member of the firm previously represented a client who is now an adversary of a client currently represented by the firm. (See Note, 128 U. Pa. L. Rev. 677 (1980).) The Chinese wall defense offers courts> a practicable solution to this problem of legal ethics, which seems to be facing the courts> with growing frequency. However, the procedure can only be utilized where the attorney can clearly and effectively show that he had no knowledge of the confidences and secrets of the client. Freeman v. Chicago Musical Instrument Co. (7th Cir. 1982), 689 F.2d 715, 723.
Canon 4 of the Illinois Code of Professional Responsibility directs that a lawyer should preserve the confidences and secrets of a client. (See 81 Ill.2d R. 4-101.) Canon 9 provides that a lawyer should avoid even the appearance of professional impropriety. (See 81 Ill.2d R. 9-101.) Thus, where, as in this case, there are facts which suggest that the former client (Weglarz) may indeed have disclosed confidences to attorney O'Brien, we must apply the standard test carved out by the courts> in numerous cases involving this issue. See Novo Therapeutisk Laboratorium A/S v. Baxter Travenol Laboratories, Inc. (7th Cir. 1979), 607 F.2d 186; Skokie Gold Standard Liquors, Inc. v. Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc. (1983), 116 Ill. App.3d 1043, 452 N.E.2d 804; La Salle National Bank v. Triumvera Homeowners Association (1982), 109 Ill. App.3d 654, 440 N.E.2d 1073.
• 1 The "Chinese wall" defense notwithstanding, the relevant test for disqualification under these facts is: where any substantial relationship can be shown between the subject matter of a former representation and that of a subsequent adverse representation, the latter will be prohibited. (Skokie Gold Standard Liquors, Inc. v. Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, Inc. (1983), 116 Ill. App.3d 1043, 1051, 452 N.E.2d 804; La Salle National Bank v. Triumvera Homeowners Association (1982), 109 Ill. App.3d 654, 664, 440 N.E.2d 1073.) Further, as proof of a substantial relationship, the former client need show no more than the matters embraced within the pending suit are substantially related to matters handled by the attorney in question during the previous representation. La Salle National Bank v. Triumvera Homeowners Association (1982), 109 Ill. App.3d 654, 664.
• 2 In the instant case, the parties are embroiled in litigation involving dissolution and division of their various business interests. This includes division of interests in some of the corporate plaintiffs. Attorney O'Brien admitted that he set up corporations and gave legal advice and owned shares of stock jointly with Weglarz and Bruck in many of their numerous business ventures. This was enough to satisfy the trial court that it was improper for attorney Guerard, working with O'Brien, to represent Bruck against plaintiff Weglarz. The record indicates that the law firms in question are not large firms employing scores of attorneys but are in fact small firms where the attorneys presumably work more closely with each other. Therefore, the trial court acted properly in disqualifying attorney Guerard. That exercise of the ...