The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University v. Chi-yi et al

Filing 174

ORDER GRANTING 168 VENABLE LLP'S MOTION TO LIFT THE STAY AND WITHDRAW AS COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS, SUBJECT TO ADMINISTRATIVE CONDITION. Signed by Judge Beth Labson Freeman on 11/30/2017. (blflc2S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 11/30/2017)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 SAN JOSE DIVISION 7 8 9 THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE LELAND STANFORD JUNIOR UNIVERSITY, Plaintiff, 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 v. CHIANG FANG CHI-YI, et al., Case No. 13-cv-04383-BLF ORDER GRANTING VENABLE’S MOTION TO LIFT THE STAY AND WITHDRAW AS COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANTS, SUBJECT TO ADMINISTRATIVE CONDITION Defendants. 14 15 Before the Court is Venable LLP’s (“Venable”) motion to lift the stay and withdraw as 16 counsel of record in this matter for Defendants and Cross-Defendants Chiang Fang Chi-yi, Chiang 17 Tsai Hui-mei, Chiang Yo-sung, Chiang Yo-lan, Chiang Yo-bo, Chiang Yochang and Chiang Yo- 18 ching (collectively, “Venable Defendants”) pursuant to Civil Local Rule 11-5(a). See ECF 168. 19 No party has opposed the motion, but Plaintiff the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior 20 University (“Stanford University”) expressed its concern that once Venable withdraws as counsel, 21 the Court and the remaining counsel will not have an effective means of communicating with 22 those defendants. See ECF 169. The Court held a hearing on the motion to withdraw on 23 November 30, 2017 to discuss how the Court and remaining counsel could effectively contact the 24 25 26 27 28 Venable Defendants going forward. For the reasons stated on the record and below, Plaintiff’s Motion to Withdraw as Counsel is GRANTED subject to Venable’s remaining administrative obligation to request that the Venable Defendants accept service by email in this matter, and to notify them of their obligation to inform the Court of their mailing addresses. I. 1 LEGAL STANDARD The decision to grant or deny an attorney’s motion to withdraw as counsel is committed to 2 3 the sound discretion of the trial court. j2 Glob. Commc'ns, Inc. v. Blue Jay, Inc., No. C 08- 4 4254PJH, 2009 WL 464768, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2009) (citing LaGrand v. Stewart, 133 F.3d 5 1253, 1269 (9th Cir.)). In this district, the California Rules of Professional Conduct govern 6 withdrawal of counsel. See Nehad v. Mukasey, 535 F.3d 962, 970 (9th Cir. 2008); j2 Glob. 7 Commc'ns, Inc. v. Blue Jay, Inc., No. C 08-4254PJH, 2009 WL 464768, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 8 2009). The Rules set forth several grounds under which an attorney may seek to withdraw, 9 including “conduct [that] renders it unreasonably difficult for the member to carry out the 10 employment effectively.” Cal. Rules of Prof ‘l Conduct R. 3–700(C)(1)(d). United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Under Civil Local Rule 11-5, “[c]ounsel may not withdraw from an action unless relieved 12 by order of Court after written notice has been given reasonably in advance to the client and to all 13 other parties who have appeared in the case.” Where “withdrawal of an attorney is not 14 accompanied by simultaneous appearance of substitute counsel or agreement of the party to appear 15 pro se, leave to withdraw may be subject to the condition that papers may continue to be served on 16 counsel for forwarding purposes.” Civ. L.R. 11-5(b). II. 17 DISCUSSION 18 This is an interpleader action initiated by Stanford University to determine claims of 19 ownership to various diaries, papers, and items pertaining to two former presidents of the Republic 20 of China: Chiang Kai-shek and his son Chiang Ching-kuo. The action has been stayed since 21 September 2, 2015 pending the resolution of related litigation in the Republic of China (Taiwan). 22 See ECF 122.1 Although the litigation in Taiwan is actively moving toward a resolution of the 23 claimants’ ownership interests, it is possible that once that litigation has resolved, the stay will be 24 lifted and the instant case may resume. In addition, Academia Historica has recently filed a 25 motion for a temporary lift of the stay in this case for the limited purpose of conducting an 26 27 28 1 The stay has been continuous with the exception of a brief lifting of the stay for the sole purpose of allowing Stanford to amend its pleadings to add Chiu Ju-hsüeh (a/k/a Chiang Chiu Ju-hsüeh) to the complaint. See ECF 151. 2 1 2 inspection and inventory of items held by Stanford University. See ECF 172. On July 20, 2017, the Venable Defendants emailed their counsel at Venable, Tamany 3 Bentz, indicating that they no longer needed Venable’s legal services. See Declaration of Tamany 4 Vinson Bentz (“Bentz Decl.”) ¶ 2, ECF 168-1. Counsel wrote to Defendants to confirm and 5 clarify the instruction, and Defendants responded unequivocally that they no longer want 6 Venable’s representation. Id. ¶¶ 3-4. The Venable Defendants do not have substitute counsel, and 7 they will proceed pro se if this motion is granted until these defendants secure substitute counsel. 8 With this background in mind, the Court finds that Venable’s communication with its clients constitutes good cause to GRANT Venable’s motion to withdraw as counsel. Given the 10 current stay in the case, the Court further concludes that withdrawal will not prejudice justice or 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 9 unduly delay resolution of this matter. Moreover, the next hearing in this matter is set for March 12 22, 2018 on Academia Historica’s motion to lift the stay for the limited purpose of conducting an 13 inspection and inventory of items held by Stanford, which gives the Venable Defendants an 14 opportunity to engage new counsel in advance of the hearing 15 The Court also shares Stanford University’s concern that the Court and the remaining 16 parties and counsel need to have a method to contact the Venable Defendants both before and after 17 the stay is lifted. Ms. Bentz represents that Venable has “consistently and successfully 18 communicated with Defendants via email throughout this case.” Bentz Decl. ¶ 5. At the hearing, 19 Stanford indicated that it does not have the email addresses of the Venable Defendants. Venable 20 agreed to provide the email addresses of its former clients to Stanford, and further agreed as an 21 administrative courtesy to contact the Venable Defendants and request their acceptance of service 22 by email in this action. The Court also instructed Venable to notify these defendants that as 23 parties to this action, they are obligated to inform the Court of their current mailing addresses. 24 Should these defendants decline to consent to service by email, they shall be served by mail going 25 forward. 26 Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Venable’s Motion to Lift the Stay and Withdraw as 27 Counsel of Record. Pursuant to Rule 11-5(b) and the discussion at the hearing on Venable’s 28 motion, this withdrawal is subject to the condition that Venable retains an administrative 3 1 obligation to contact the Venable Defendants in order to: (1) request their consent to service via 2 email in this matter; and (2) notify the Venable Defendants of their obligation to inform the Court 3 of their current mailing addresses in order for the remaining parties and the Court to serve these 4 Defendants by mail should they decline to accept email service. Venable shall provide this 5 administrative duty until all of the Venable Defendants have provided the Court and all counsel 6 with mailing addresses. 7 8 IT IS SO ORDERED. 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 Dated: November 30, 2017 ______________________________________ BETH LABSON FREEMAN United States District Judge 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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