Thursday, January 14, 2016

Rule 3.7 Disqualification Affirmed

A law firm that sued its client got the usual response - a counterclaim of legal malpractice.

The client then moved to disqualify defendant's counsel on necessary witness grounds.

The trial court disqualified counsel. The disqualification was affirmed by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

...plaintiff is a law firm that was retained by the defendant, inter alia, to represent it as a third-party defendant in a personal injury action. After the conclusion of the underlying action, the plaintiff commenced this action against the defendant, among other things, to recover damages for breach of contract and on an account stated, seeking to recover unpaid legal fees. The defendant asserted a counterclaim to recover damages for legal malpractice. The plaintiff moved to disqualify the defendant's attorney, James Haddad, on the basis that Haddad would be a witness in this action. The defendant cross-moved, inter alia, for summary judgment dismissing the complaint and on its counterclaim. The Supreme Court granted the plaintiff's motion and denied the defendant's cross motion. The defendant appeals. We affirm.

The disqualification of an attorney is a matter that rests within the sound discretion of the Supreme Court (see Gould v Decolator, 131 AD3d 448; Lauder v Goldhamer, 122 AD3d 908; Nationscredit Fin. Servs. Corp. v Turcios, 41 AD3d 802, 802). Rule 3.7(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0) provides that, unless certain exceptions apply, "[a] lawyer shall not act as advocate before a tribunal in a matter in which the lawyer is likely to be a witness on a significant issue of fact." Based upon the allegations supporting the defendant's counterclaim and the statements contained in Haddad's affirmation in opposition to the plaintiff's motion and in support of the defendant's cross motion, Haddad is likely to be a witness on the significant facts pertaining to the plaintiff's acts allegedly constituting malpractice and the actions taken by Haddad to mitigate the alleged damage caused by the malpractice. The Supreme Court, therefore, providently exercised its discretion in granting the plaintiff's motion to disqualify Haddad from representing the defendant in this action (see Fuller v Collins, 114 AD3d 827).

Thanks to the commenter for the correction. (Mike Frisch)

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The summary above the quote is wrong. The DQ'd lawyer was the lawyer for the defendant (i.e., the lawyer for the plaintiff law firm's former client).

Posted by: noah | Jan 14, 2016 2:40:01 PM

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