The struggle for control of St. Stanislaus Parish has received considerable St. Louis media attention in recent years. A Missouri lawyer seeking to evaluate whether someone is a client, and whether a conflict arising from a former client relationship should prevent a representation, should likewise devote attention to the February 2010 appellate decision arising from the St. Stanislaus conflict, Polish Roman Catholic St. Stanislaus Parish v. Hettenbach, 303 S.W.3d 591 (Mo. App. E.D., Feb. 2, 2010) (“St. Stanislaus”).

The St. Stanislaus decision provides important analysis regarding (1) what forms an attorney-client relationship and (2) whether a former client representation is substantially related so as to create a conflict with a current representation under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 4-1.9. This column reviews how St. Stanislaus evaluates these two issues.

Background

For several years, the Archdiocese of St. Louis and certain parishioners, including the present parish board, have been fighting over control of St. Stanislaus Church and its assets. This conflict resulted in litigation initiated by the archdiocese and aligned parties (the “archdiocese”) against the president of the parish board and aligned parties (the “parish board”).

Subsequently, the parish board moved to disqualify the archdiocese’s counsel, including Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale (“Greensfelder”), claiming Greensfelder had entered into a co-counsel relationship with and improperly received confidential parish board information from Roger Krasnicki, a lawyer who had previously represented the parish board.

The relevant facts are highly disputed. The Missouri appellate court quotes the parish board’s statement of facts as follows:

Krasnicki, a Parish parishioner, served as attorney for the Parish and its Board beginning in 1977 and continuing through the spring of 2008. Krasnicki publicly acknowledged his relationship with the Parish on numerous occasions, including as recently as a May 2008 email . . . .

During his tenure as the Parish’s attorney, Krasnicki represented the Parish on a wide range of legal matters. . . . Krasnicki also advised the Parish Board concerning the instant lawsuit before Plaintiffs filed their petition.

Read more...Precedent, a quarterly publication of The Missouri Bar (PDF - pages 35-37) Winter 2011