Conflict Ridden Law Firm Loses Bid To Dismiss Claim For Forfeiture Of $500,000 In Legal Fees

Yesterday an appellate court overruled Nassau County Supreme Court Justice Jerome Murphy who dismissed a claim for forfeiture of $500,000 in legal fees against a Garden City law firm, Cullen & Dykman. The client had retained Cullen & Dykman to analyze her ownership interest of $20 million in W.S. Wilson Corporation (Wilson) over a 2 year period. At the very same time, Cullen & Dykman was serving as Wilson's corporate counsel and also provided legal advice to Wilson regarding its other client's $20 million claim.

When the client passed away her Estate continued the pursuit of the $20 million. On behalf of the deceased client's Estate, Cullen & Dykman then filed a turnover proceeding against Wilson (while still representing Wilson) for the $20 million claim. Outraged, Wilson successfully moved in Surrogate's Court to disqualify Cullen & Dykman from representing the Estate in violation of Rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct.

Cullen & Dykman argued that any conflict was waived by each client when they signed an acknowledgment waiving "a potential conflict of interest". However, as explained by the Surrogate's Court, a law firm that represents adverse parties on the exact same issue presents a conflict of interest that is unwaivable. The lower court erred in concluding that since the Estate had not claimed the conflict caused economic losses, (other than the return of $500,000 in attorney's fees) the lack of such damages was fatal to the claim of disgorgement.

The appellate court explained that: "A cause of action for forfeiture of legal fees based on an attorney's discharge for cause due to ethical violations may be maintained independent of a cause of action alleging legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty, and does not require proof or allegations of damages." Hard lesson to learn for lawyers? Just don't represent both sides to a dispute. Baugher v Cullen & Dykman, 2019 WL 2519020

Ronald C. Burke, Esq

Trial Attorney with 30+ Years of Experience Attorney Ronald C. Burke, Esq. has more than 30 years of experience and has focused his career on representing clients in cases involving personal injury, medical malpractice and legal malpractice. He is a seasoned trial lawyer and has won many seven-figure settlements and verdicts for his clients over the years, including many case victories listed among the largest in the history of the New York State. He has been featured in the news and is a regular lecturer for the New York County Lawyers Association, as well as having lectured before the New York State Bar Association. Ron is also an attorney with Kelner & Kelner, a New York personal injury law firm. Awards and Accolades Mr. Burke's awards and accolades are many. Among them, he has been included in New York Super Lawyers® each year since 2010, and he has received the highest-possible AV® Rating from Martindale-Hubbell®. Verdict Search, a part of the New York Law Journal, frequently recognizes his notable successes after winning some of the highest settlements and verdicts in past years. He was also featured in their list of the "Top New York Verdicts " and "Top New York Settlements." He is a member of the New York State Bar Association and is licensed to practice law in the U.S. District Court for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, as well as before the United States Supreme Court. When Attorney Burke is not handling legal malpractice cases, he is highly involved in the local community. He was a member of the Village of Rockville Centre Volunteer Fire Department, has served on the local school board and as Chairman of the local Zoning Board. Learn more about Attorney Burke and how he can skillfully handle your malpractice case by contacting the Law Offices of Ronald C. Burke, Esq. right away to schedule your complimentary case evaluation. Our firm is here to help! Contact a New York Legal Malpractice Attorney Our firm provides each client's case with thorough preparation and aggressive representation, ensuring that you win the best possible results for your case whether it is settled or goes to trial. As a seasoned trial lawyer, Mr. Burke can provide the strong and relentless representation you need to establish negligence in a legal malpractice case and to recover any damages you may have suffered. Our firm can recover compensation for pre-trial and trial malpractice, violations of fee arrangements, loss of income, pain and suffering, and much more. Contact us today!


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