The Hunoval Law Firm and its married partners, Mathias Hunoval and Christina Hunoval, were sued by Everbank for failure to make payments on its lease, with Christina Hunoval representing the Law Firm, as well as herself and her husband. Everbank sought to disqualify Ms. Hunoval as acting as counsel under Rule 3.7 of the North Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct because she was a necessary witness. The exceptions to Rule 3.7 allow attorney representation if:
(1) the testimony relates to an uncontested issue;
(2) the testimony relates to the nature and value of legal services rendered in the case; or
(3) disqualification of the lawyer would work substantial hardship on the client.
A witness’s testimony is necessary within the meaning of Rule 3.7(a) “when it is relevant, material, and unobtainable by other means.” State v. Smith, 230 N.C. App. 387, 391, 749 S.E.2d 507, 510 (2013). The Hunovals argued that Mr. Hunoval could provide all relevant testimony, but Everbank contended that their testimonies would actually contradict each other. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial court’s determinations both that Ms. Hunoval was a necessary witness and that her disqualification would not be a substantial hardship. The Court of Appeals did, however, reverse her disqualification regarding pretrial matters as Rule 3.7 only prohibits serving as an “advocate at trial.”
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