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UW professor agrees with Idaho court that concerns over potential 'conflict of interest' shouldn't disqualify Kohberger's defense lawyer

Kohberger's public defender represented the mother of one of the Idaho murder victims, Xana Kernodle, in an unrelated case.

LATAH COUNTY, Idaho — New search warrants were released in the Idaho murders case this week, along with the details of a hearing in which the court discussed reports of a potential conflict of interest involving Bryan Kohberger's public defender. 

Reports say Kohberger's defender Anne Taylor also represented the mother of Xana Kernodle, one of the victims, in an unrelated case.

KING 5 spoke with University of Washington School of Law Professor of Practice Bill Bailey, a former chair of the Disciplinary Board of the Washington State Bar Association and a disciplinary hearing officer for many years, to get some context on the events. 

"Conflicts of interest are very important and there are a lot of precise rules for lawyers so that we don't get into problems representing one client that's adverse to another," Bailey said. 

"Just because you represent a client once upon a time and then later on you get another case where you're representing another client and the interest is adverse to the former client, that does not knock the lawyer out of representation," he continued.

According to documents, Taylor said she had no contact or relationship with Kernodle's mother. Taylor said her name appears on every document in the public defender's office due to her position as chief public defender.

Bailey said, according to the rule, it's a question of degree.  

"So here, Ms. Taylor [says she] does not know anything about the victim's mother, so there is no real conflict," Bailey said. "It's not a substantially similar or the same case so the Idaho court made exactly the right ruling, the only person that could raise a conflict is the defendant."

Bryan Kohberger agreed to keep Taylor on as his defender. There is also a limited pool of attorneys who are both qualified and willing to take cases like this one, which could involve the death penalty.

"The burden of a death penalty case is as heavy as it gets for a lawyer, literally how well the case turns out is a matter of life and death and frankly, most lawyers- even dogged criminal defense lawyers- don't want that kind of burden," Bailey said. "There's a very small number of experienced lawyers and it's so important that if the government is going to potentially take the life of a defendant, we want to make sure the defendant has had all of their rights afforded to them under the constitution."

Bailey says there is a lot to balance in these cases, but that he believes the court is simply following the letter of law and codes of conduct in place.

"This is a tragic case," Bailey said. "As a University professor, I have an emotional response, I'm very close to my students, but the procedures were followed here and that's what's really important to me, as a lawyer, as a professor of law, that our court system is taking the rules and applying them correctly even in the most difficult of circumstances."

Watch: KING 5's coverage on the Idaho murders

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