Commercial Division Blog

Posted: February 27, 2020 / Categories Commercial, Law Firms and Professional Ethics

Firm Disqualified From Representation Because Some Members of Firm Would be Trial Witnesses

On February 11, 2020, the First Department issued a decision in Matter of Diet Drug Litig. v. Wyeth-Ayerst Labs., 2020 NY Slip Op. 00993, upholding the disqualification of a law firm because some of the firm's members would be trial witnesses, explaining:

The court correctly determined that provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct applied to the facts at issue and prohibit current associates at the Parker firm from representing plaintiffs in this case. Specifically, rule 3.7(a) provides that a lawyer shall not act as an advocate before a tribunal in a matter in which the lawyer is likely to be a witness on a significant issue of fact, which is the case here. This rule extends to associate attorneys that practice within the same firm as the potential witness pursuant to rule 3.7(b)(1). It was uncontested before the motion court that the witnesses from the Parker firm would be material witnesses. At oral argument, defendants' counsel represented that it was undisputed that Mr. Parker would be a material witness, and plaintiffs' counsel did not respond or object. Regardless, it is undeniable that the Parker firm witnesses will provide material and necessary testimony at trial. In fact, this Court has previously recognized the potential materiality of the Parker firm witnesses' testimony in holding that their knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the underlying settlement agreements would be imputed to plaintiffs, and could result in plaintiffs' claims being dismissed.

Nor will plaintiffs be prejudiced by the disqualification order. Plaintiffs' counsel has represented plaintiffs for the more than 10 years that this action has been pending.

Furthermore, plaintiffs' argument that the disqualification motion should be barred because it is untimely is unavailing. The Parker firm has not appeared in this lawsuit, and defendants brought the issue to the court's attention immediately after it was put on notice of the conflict.