A collective bargaining unit's attorneys can represent employees (who are not members of the unit) in a wage and hour class action even if the unit is subsidizing the litigation costs, as long as the attorneys' representation complies with Rule 3-310's disclosure and consent requirements. Sharp v. Next Entertainment, Inc. (2008) __ Cal.App.4th __.
The Writers Guild of America (the Guild) had reason to believe that reality television production companies and television networks violated wage and labor laws. The Guild held meetings during which employees of reality television discussed the purported violations. Some who participated in the meetings, along with other reality television employees, agreed to be the named plaintiffs in two wage and labor law class action lawsuits against the production companies and the networks (collectively defendants). Thereafter, the trial court denied defendants’ motion to disqualify plaintiffs’ counsel, but did disqualify some plaintiffs from acting as representatives of the putative classes.
On appeal from the trial court’s order denying the disqualification order, defendants rely on California Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar, rule 3-310 (Rule 3-310) to contend that the trial court erred in failing to disqualify counsel for plaintiffs. This contention is based upon the facts that the firm who represented the Guild was also counsel for plaintiffs, the Guild paid for plaintiffs’ attorney fees and costs, and the litigation was conceived by the Guild as part of its organizing campaign, a campaign which many plaintiffs supported. Defendants use many of the same facts to further contend that the trial court erred in failing to disqualify all plaintiffs from their roles as representatives of the uncertified classes.
In the published portion of this opinion (pts. I., II., III.A. & IV.), we hold that the trial court did not err in failing to disqualify class counsel and the trial court did not err in refusing to disqualify all plaintiffs from acting as the named representatives of the putative classes.
In their cross-appeal, plaintiffs appeal from the trial court’s orders directing their counsel to ask them certain questions relating to their association with the Guild. In the unpublished portion of this opinion (pt. III.B.), we hold that the trial court’s orders were vague.
Thus, we affirm in part and reverse in part.We don't get many published opinions concerning disqualification of class counsel, so Sharp v. Next Entertainment, Inc. is interesting reading even if you don't have a union issue in your case. You can download the full text from the court's website here in pdf or word format.