SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge has disqualified a well-known Seattle attorney and her law firm from representing a man who says glass artist Dale Chihuly failed to credit him for artistic contributions.
Attorney Anne Bremner was representing Michael Moi, who worked for Chihuly for about 15 years. Moi sued Chihuly last spring, saying that Moi and others collaborated on many pieces that Chihuly sold for millions of dollars, but he never received credit or promised compensation. He is seeking millions of dollars.
U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik removed Bremner from the case this week at the request of Chihuly’s lawyers, who argued that she previously represented others who sued the artist. During those cases, they said, she obtained confidential information about Chihuly’s operations — including attorney-client communications — to which Moi isn’t entitled.
The lawyers also objected to Bremner and her firm, Frey Buck, announcing in a news release that Chihuly had confidentially settled similar cases she brought against him for “substantial sums.”
“While counsel’s initial access to the privileged information may not have been wrongful, there is no dispute regarding its privileged nature,” the judge wrote in an order Wednesday. “Nor can there be any dispute that counsel has knowingly used confidential information obtained through prior litigation to argue Moi’s case in the media or that they intend to use the information they obtained to benefit Moi in his litigation.”
Chihuly and his wife, Leslie Chihuly, who runs his studio, have adamantly denied that Moi did any artistic work for him. They said Moi was hired as a contract handyman to perform cleaning, repair and light construction tasks. In February, before filing the lawsuit, Moi threatened to disclose information about Chihuly’s mental health — he suffers from bipolar disorder — unless Chihuly paid him.
Chihuly, who began working with glass in the 1960s, is a pioneer of the glass art movement. Known for styles that include vibrant seashell-like shapes, baskets, chandeliers and ambitious installations in botanical gardens and museums, he has long acknowledged that he works with teams of glassblowers and other artists. But the final artworks are his vision, his studio says.
Chihuly Studio said it did not have any comment on the ruling.
Bremner, who frequently appears as a legal analyst on cable news channels, has handled several high-profile cases, including working on behalf of Amanda Knox, the American exchange student from Seattle who spent about four years in an Italian prison before being exonerated in the 2007 killing of her roommate.
In a text message, Bremner said she wasn’t immediately available to discuss the case. Ted Buck, a founder of the law firm, said the information Bremner obtained through the prior cases fell into a gray area: “It’s not clear that it was privileged material, and it’s not clear it wasn’t privileged material.”
But, he said, the firm respected Lasnik’s decision even if it disagreed. Bremner did not plan to appeal, given that judges have broad discretion over whether to disqualify a lawyer, and she was working on finding new representation for Moi.
The judge also ordered Bremner and the firm to return any confidential materials to Chihuly’s legal team and to refrain from disseminating it further.
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