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Name: Rhauburn v. Superior Court
Case #: E038620
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 2
Opinion Date: 06/09/2006

Disqualification for conflict of interest is not mandatory when a public defender’s office previously represented a witness for the prosecution. The trial court granted the prosecutor’s motion to disqualify the public defender’s office because the office had represented a witness in a prior criminal proceeding. The prosecutor argued there would be a conflict in using information about the offense against the witness for impeachment purposes. The Court of Appeal held it was error to apply a rigid rule of vicarious disqualification. The trial court should consider the totality of the circumstances in evaluating whether the individual attorney representing the defendant either has confidential information about the witness or may inadvertently acquire such information. The factors to be considered include: the length of time since the representation of the witness; the nature and notoriety of the case; whether the current attorney was employed by the public defender’s office at the time of the witnesses’ trial; whether the attorney who represented the witness is still employed by the office; and any measures established by the office to ensure information acquired by a deputy in a prior case is made unavailable to the current attorney.