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Justices allow lawyer to pick a side in parents’ divorce

CARSON CITY – Common sense might dictate a lawyer should not represent one parent in a divorce case with his other parent.

But that is not the case in Nevada.

Supreme Court justices ruled 3-0 Thursday that a lower court was wrong in deciding Reno lawyer Mark Liapis could not represent his father, Theodore, in the divorce action against his mother, Marie.

In a decision that cites several previous cases, justices decided that Washoe County District Court “manifestly abused its discretion” by disqualifying Mark Liapis based on his likelihood of being a witness even before the case went to trial.

They also said Marie Liapis did not establish that her son had a “pecuniary interest” that would require his disqualification. “Thus, while a child’s decision to represent one of his or her parents in a divorce proceeding may appear unusual, we conclude that Marie’s argument lacks merit,” the justices decided.

Among other reasons, Marie Liapis had sought to disqualify her son because he was a potential witness.

The court also said the mother never argued that her son’s representation of Theodore Liapis constituted an ethical problem or would affect her legal interests. Instead they noted she alleged “Mark’s love for his parents” could affect his ability properly to represent his father.

Marie had argued there was an inherent conflict of interest because it was unclear how her son could “zealously represent” his father while professing to “still love both his parents.”

In the decision written by Justice James Hardesty, the court said that several Nevada Rules of Professional Conduct allow a lawyer to represent a family member and that “no rule prohibits Mark’s conduct in this case.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at evogel@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3901.

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