Feb 17 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge has disqualified newly-merged law firm Squire Patton Boggs from representing a group of U.S. sugar companies suing corn syrup producers for false advertising, saying it had a conflict because of work done by one of the legacy firms for two of the defendants in the case.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall in Los Angeles in an order Friday wrote that “no alternative short of disqualification will suffice” over Patton Boggs’ work for clients Tate & Lyle and Ingredion Inc before its 2014 merger with Squire Sanders.
The judge noted the hardships the disqualification would cause for the sugar companies and their trade groups, including Sugar Association Inc, American Sugar Refining Inc, Western Sugar Cooperative and C&H Sugar Co.
The ruling gives a glimpse into the types of conflicts created by law firm mergers and by lawyers moving from firm to firm and the complications that can arise.
The ruling stemmed from a 2011 lawsuit in which Squire Sanders represented sugar companies suing manufactures and trade groups in the corn and high-fructose corn syrup industry.
The lawsuit accused the defendants of misleading consumers by using the term “corn sugar.” Other defendants include Archer Daniels Midland Co, Cargill Inc and the Corn Refiners Association.
Squire Sanders and Patton Boggs merged in June, creating a law firm with more than 1,500 lawyers with 44 offices in 21 countries.
The conflict was only identified after the deal closed when Tate & Lyle brought the lawsuit and Patton Boggs’ previous work for it to the merged firm’s attention, according to the ruling.
The ruling means the sugar companies will be without lawyers who had already put in 20,000 hours on the case and racked up $12 million in legal fees.
A spokesman for Squire Patton Boggs referred a request for comment to the Sugar Association.
Tonya Allen, a spokeswoman for the association, said it had the “utmost respect for the lawyers of Squire Patton Boggs” and looked forward to taking its case to a jury with lawyers at another law firm, The Lanier Law Firm.
Representatives for Tate and Ingredion did not respond to requests for comment.
The case is Western Sugar Coop et al v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co, et al, U.S. District Court, Central District of California, No. 11-03473. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Grant McCool)