A divided D.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that lawyers C. Francis Murphy and Iverson O. Mitchell need not be disqualified from representing developer Oliver T. Carr in a building project even though they were involved in the plans while employed by the city.
The majority found that Murphy, former D.C. corporation counsel, and Mitchell, then an assistant in the office, did not create a conflict of interest when they took on Carr as a client.
But three of the court's conservative judges issued a stern rebuke, saying the ruling undercuts efforts by the D.C. Bar to enforce its ethical code, which prohibits "revolving door" activities that give the appearance of impropriety.
Murphy and Mitchell were first involved in Carr's Westbridge project on the city's side when Carr sought a zoning variance to raise the height of the building. After leaving the government, they represented Carr in a separate fight before the city's Board of Zoning Adjustment to increase parking capacity at the complex.
The board found that the two zoning actions were substantially different, a view adopted by the court majority.
Retired Judge George R. Gallagher, writing on behalf of himself and judges Frank Q. Nebeker and John W. Kern III, faulted the board for "a serious lack of understanding of the ethical question" and criticized the court for being "excessively solicitous of the law firms."
Kern wrote that the court's treatment of the case reminded him of a Eugene Field poem, "Wynken, Blynken and Nod."