A team of Arizona lawyers hired to retrieve millions of dollars for Bonneville Pacific's creditors narrowly averted a $1 million disaster of their own Friday over the hiring of a secretary.
When the team of Phoenix lawyers set up shop in Salt Lake City last fall, they inadvertently hired a secretary who had worked briefly for the local law firm used by Portland General.The Oregon power company and Bonneville Pacific are locked in a legal battle over who damaged whom during their brief 1991 merger. Portland General feared the secretary may have shared secrets about Portland General's legal strategy with the Phoenix lawyers.
Portland General lawyers urged a federal judge Friday to order Bonneville Pacific trustee Roger Segal to fire the Phoenix lawyers and start over with a new team.
Bonneville Pacific's lawyers argued that such a ruling would force Bonneville Pacific to scuttle $1.3 million worth of legal work done by the team over the past several months.
"It would have been disastrous for us," said Vernon Hopkinson, attorney for Segal. Ironically, the secretary in question has worked for Hopkinson as well.
After hearing arguments from both sides, U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins ruled in favor of Bonneville Pacific. Portland General did not prove that secretary Terri White conveyed sensitive information about Portland General to Bonneville Pacific's lawyers, he said.
The debate of how much White knew and what she did with the information has cost each side thousands of dollars. Each company filed briefs and exhibits several inches thick over the matter. A dozen attorneys showed up for the short hearing.
Bonneville Pacific lawyers accused Portland General of using White's employment history as a ploy to gain unfair advantage in the legal war waged by the two.
Portland General lawyers deliberately exaggerated the White matter for that reason, Bonneville Pacific lawyers said in their brief.
But Leonard Girard, general counsel for Portland General, denied the accusation. "This motion was definitely not a maneuver or a tactic." Portland General honestly believes that a secretary should not work for attorneys working on opposite sides of the same case, he said.
White worked as a temporary secretary at Kimball, Parr, Waddoups, Brown & Gee for six weeks in 1992. She filled in for another secretary on maternity leave. A few months later, she began working for Bonneville Pacific's Phoenix lawyers. When the lawyers hired White, they did not know she had worked for the Kimball firm.