Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
IN RE DARREN KEITH REED; DEREK PAUL SMITH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE OF THE SMITH IRREVOCABLE TRUST; CADDOA CREEK RANCH, LLC; CANADIAN RIVER RANCH PARTNERSHIP; SMITH LAND & CATTLE GP, LLC; SMITH RANCHING LTD; HIGH POINT RANCH, LLC; LAKESIDE RANCH BC, LLC; AND SMITH RANCH MERIDIAN, LLC RELATORS
THE 325TH DISTRICT COURT OF TARRANT COUNTY TRIAL COURT NO.
SUDDERTH, C.J.; MEIER and PITTMAN
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
SUDDERTH CHIEF JUSTICE
Jeffrey Armstrong represents Relators in the divorce proceeding
between Real Parties in Interest Husband Daryl Greg Smith and
Wife Karen Annette Smith. Relators are Darren Keith Reed,
entities in which Husband purportedly holds an interest, a
family trust, and the trustee thereof. Armstrong has
petitioned this court seeking a writ of mandamus ordering the
trial court to allow him to withdraw as counsel for the
Relators due to a conflict of interest. Because we conclude
that Armstrong is entitled to the relief sought, we
conditionally grant the writ.
The divorce proceeding
18 years of what she described as a tumultuous marriage, Wife
filed for divorce in October 2015. The proceedings appear to
have been acrimonious and contentious ever since, with Wife
accusing Husband of having deceptively secreted funds and
property away from the community estate and to the Relators
in the years prior to the divorce being filed. In fact, in
March 2017, Wife filed a Second Amended Counterpetition
naming Relators as third-party defendants and alleging that
the Relators had acted individually or in concert with
Husband to defraud the community estate through fraudulent
transfers of community property interests. Relators promptly
retained Armstrong as counsel.
to Wife's frustration is her view of Husband's
alleged misconduct during the proceedings themselves.
According to Wife, Husband has refused to pay spousal and
child support, has refused to comply with discovery requests
despite court orders to do so and sanctions for his failure
to obey the orders, has hired and fired multiple attorneys
representing him, and has wrongfully attempted to recuse the
trial court judge. Wife blames Husband almost exclusively for
delaying this case-two trial settings have been continued
over the two-and-a-half years that the case has been
pending-although she was the party who requested each
continuance. The case is currently set for a two-week jury
trial to begin June 4, 2018.
Armstrong's motion to withdraw and the hearing
March 2, 2018, Armstrong moved to withdraw from his
representation of Relators, alleging that he was unable to
effectively communicate with them. Ten days later, on March
12, 2018, Armstrong filed a supplement to his motion to
withdraw in which he alleged that, in addition to being
unable to effectively communicate with Relators, a conflict
of interest had arisen between two or more of the Relators
requiring his withdrawal. The motion and the supplement
notified Relators of Armstrong's request to withdraw and
their right to contest his withdrawal. They did not file a
trial court heard Armstrong's motion to withdraw in a
hearing on March 13, 2018. Relators did not attend. During
the hearing, Armstrong argued three bases for his withdrawal:
first, that he had been unable to effectively communicate
with Relators; second, that a conflict of interest had arisen
among at least two of the Relators; and third, that
"there [was] a problem with fulfilling obligations to
[his] firm with [his] clients."
written response and her counsel's argument at the
hearing focused on her allegations of Husband's
transgressions and her desire to avoid any further delay in
the case. Wife argued that the trial court was empowered by
the disciplinary rules to require Armstrong to continue
representing Relators and that doing so was necessary to do
justice in this case by preventing a third continuance of the
trial setting and to avoid unfairness and prejudice to her.
did not file a written response to Armstrong's motion,
but at the hearing, Husband's counsel opposed
Armstrong's withdrawal on the basis that the parties were
in the midst of conducting discovery and had depositions
response to their opposition, Armstrong argued that he was
required to withdraw because of the conflict of interest and
that, even if the trial court could shield him from
disciplinary action if he were required to remain as counsel
to Relators, he would be exposed to potential malpractice
actions or actions for breach of any fiduciary duty owed to
Relators. The following exchange then took place:
THE COURT: What is the nature of the conflict?
MR. ARMSTRONG: I understand the Court's question. I have
to be careful and not - I still have a duty of
confidentiality, Judge, and so under the rules I have to
respond with, "Professional considerations require my
withdrawal, and there's a conflict that exists."
I understand the Court's question, Your Honor, but I have
to maintain the confidence.
[WIFE'S COUNSEL]: Your Honor, we object. There's no
evidence of conflict that has actually been offered other
than the say-so of Mr. Armstrong.
MR. ARMSTRONG: And, Your Honor, to produce evidence of a
conflict is to breach the confidence of my clients.
further argument, the trial court denied the motion to
withdraw, stating, "I'm not continuing this case.
The motion to withdraw is denied." Armstrong asked the
trial court to reconsider, urging that his withdrawal was
mandatory and reiterating his concern regarding exposure for
legal malpractice or breach of his fiduciary duty. The trial
court replied, "I'm not."
Armstrong's petition ...