SMALL INFORMAL LAW FIRM PROPERLY DISQUALIFIED BECAUSE AN ASSOCIATE PREVIOUSLY REPRESENTED THE OPPOSING PARTY 3RD DEPT.
The Third Department determined a law firm was properly disqualified from representing mother because an associate at the firm had previously represented father in a case involving the same child:
We … address whether, due to the associate’s former attorney-client relationship with the father and current employment with the law firm, the principal is also precluded from representing the mother. While the principal has apparently never represented the father, “where an attorney working in a law firm is disqualified from undertaking a subsequent representation opposing a former client, all the attorneys in that firm are likewise precluded from such representation” … . Application of this rule creates a rebuttable presumption that the law firm should be disqualified … . To that end, “[a] court must examine the circumstances of the particular case and, if it is not clear as a matter of law that disqualification of the entire firm is required, the firm should be given an opportunity to rebut the presumption” … . The presumption may be rebutted by proof that “any information acquired by the disqualified lawyer [i.e., the associate] is unlikely to be significant or material in the [subject] litigation” and by evidence that the law firm screened the associate from receipt and dissemination of information subject to the attorney-client privilege … . * * *
We are mindful here that “[d]oubts as to the existence of a conflict of interest must be resolved in favor of disqualification”… , and that “disqualification avoids any suggestion of impropriety and preserves [the client’s] expectation of loyalty” … . Under these facts, we are unpersuaded by the principal’s assertion that a sufficient firewall exists to separate his work on behalf of the mother from the associate so as to screen her from the receipt of information that is protected by the attorney-client privilege in this small, informal law office environment. As the principal has not rebutted the presumption that all attorneys in his law firm are disqualified from representing the mother, the father’s motion was properly granted, and Family Court’s order will not be disturbed. Matter of Yeomans v Gaska, 2017 NY Slip Op 05786, 3rd Dept 7-20-17
ATTORNEYS (CONFLICT OF INTEREST, SMALL INFORMAL LAW FIRM PROPERLY DISQUALIFIED BECAUSE AN ASSOCIATE PREVIOUSLY REPRESENTED THE OPPOSING PARTY 3RD DEPT)/CONFLICT OF INTEREST (ATTORNEYS, SMALL INFORMAL LAW FIRM PROPERLY DISQUALIFIED BECAUSE AN ASSOCIATE PREVIOUSLY REPRESENTED THE OPPOSING PARTY 3RD DEPT)