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ROCCHIGIANI v. WORLD BOXING COUNSEL

January 27, 2000

GRACIANO ROCCHIGIANI AND CEDRIC KUSHNER PROMOTIONS, LTD., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
WORLD BOXING COUNSEL, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McKENNA, District Judge.

  MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is (i) the motion of Plaintiff Cedric Kushner Promotions, Ltd. ("CKP") for a preliminary injunction in aid of arbitration and to file a supplemental complaint against Plaintiff Graciano Rocchigiani ("Rocchigiani") and (ii) Rocchigiani's motion to disqualify Scott N. Gelfand ("Gelfand"), individually, and Meister Seelig & Fein LLP ("MS & F"), collectively, from representing CKP in this action and to stay all proceedings against Rocchigiani pending final decision of the motion, including appeals. For the reasons set forth below, all of the motions are denied.

1.

A brief review of the underlying facts leading up to the instant motions, as alleged in the Complaint and Supplemental complaint, is necessary.

The Rocchigiani-WBC Dispute

The World Boxing Counsel ("WBC") is a major prizefighting ranking organization that certifies and recognizes championship boxers in various weight divisions throughout the world. (See Compl. ¶ 15). The WBC promulgates rules and regulations which govern its sanctioned bouts, including the percentage of the "purse" that the individual boxers receive from WBC fights. (Compl. ¶ 8).

Rocchigiani is a professional light heavyweight boxer and a German citizen. On March 21, 1998, Rocchigiani defeated Michael Nunn ("Nunn") in what he alleges was the WBC Light Heavyweight Championship (the "Title"). According to Rocchigiani, as the new champion he had the right to defend the Title against Roy Jones, Jr. ("Jones"), whom Rocchigiani claims was then the former WBC Light Heavyweight champion. As the champion, Rocchigiani would be entitled to garner a high percentage of the Title purse. (Compl. ¶¶ 2-4).

A few months after Rocchigiani's victory over Nunn, however, the WBC declared Rocchigiani the "Interim" Light Heavyweight Champion and designated Jones, who previously was the undisputed Titleholder, as the "Champion in Recess." (Compl. ¶ 5). The WBC then set new terms for a championship bout between Jones and Rocchigiani, which included a purse split that was substantially less favorable than Rocchigiani believed he was entitled to under the WBC rules. (Compl. ¶¶ 4-6).

Rocchigiani sought to dispute the WBC's declaration that he was merely an interim champion. On August 24, 1998, he entered into a promotional agreement with CKP (the "Memorandum Agreement"), under which CKP was to become his exclusive promoter. (Suppl. Compl. ¶¶ 37-40, Ex. A ¶¶ 1, 5-8, 10). In exchange, CKP agreed to "commence and pay for legal proceedings against the WBC . . . for the purpose of establishing Rocchigiani as the sole recognized champion in the light heavyweight class. . . ." (Suppl. Compl. ¶ 41, Ex. A ¶ 12). Additionally, CKP undertook to provide Rocchigiani with several fights, with the opponent and purse for each fight dependent upon the outcome of the litigation against the WBC. (Suppl.Compl. ¶¶ 43-46, Ex. A).

On September 18, 1998, Rocchigiani signed an authorization (the "Authorization") for the retention of the Law Offices of Gelfand in connection with the contemplated litigation against the WBC, pursuant to the "joint litigation agreement" of paragraph 12 of the Memorandum Agreement. (Gelfand Decl., Ex. A). The Authorization stated that Gelfand had been "retained by CKP" pursuant to the Memorandum Agreement and that "Gelfand may act on Rocchigiani's behalf in connection with[] the Litigation, including, but not limited to, appearing as counsel of record for Rocchigiani in the Litigation." (Id.).

Gelfand commenced a law suit against the WBC on behalf of Rocchigiani and CKP on September 24, 1998. This action, currently pending before the Court, seeks, inter alia, a declaration that Rocchigiani is the undisputed WBC Light Heavyweight Champion. The Complaint identifies "The Law Offices of Scott N. Gelfand" as attorneys for Rocchigiani and CKP.*fn1

The CKP-Rocchigiani Dispute

After the commencement of the lawsuit against the WBC, the relationship between Rocchigiani and CKP soured. On January 11, 1999, Gelfand wrote to Dr. Hans-Joachim Rust ("Rust"), Rocchigiani's German business attorney who handled Rocchigiani's boxing contracts and participated in discussions with Gelfand regarding the status of the WBC litigation. (See Gelfand Suppl. Decl., Ex. C, Rust Decl. ¶¶ 1, 4). This letter noted that CKP had learned that Rocchigiani was negotiating for bouts "without CKP's knowledge and involvement[,]" which Gelfand deemed was "in derogation of CKP's rights" under the Memorandum Agreement. (Gelfand Suppl. Decl., Ex. C).

Rust responded to Gelfand's letter the next day via facsimile, questioning the validity of the Memorandum Agreement and protesting an additional letter that Gelfand had apparently faxed to Premier Television Network. (Id., Ex. D).*fn2 Gelfand responded on January 13, 1999, disputing Dr. Rust's assertions. (Id., Ex. E).

On January 15, 1999, Oppenhoff & Radler ("O & R") wrote to Gelfand on behalf of Rocchigiani, indicating that it was now German counsel for Rocchigiani. (Id., Ex. K). 0 & R's letter also stated that it had consulted New York counsel, Ross & Hardies, and determined that the Memorandum Agreement did not preclude Rocchigiani from negotiating for future bouts without CKP, that CKP had failed to perform its own obligations under the agreement, and, in any event, Rocchigiani was formally terminating the agreement. (Id.). O & R further stated that Rocchigiani would hold CKP liable for any attempts by CKP to interfere with negotiations between Rocchigiani and the television networks regarding a possible fight with Jones. (Id.).

On March 1, 1999, Gelfand wrote to 0 & R, again asserting that the Memorandum Agreement was still in effect and demanding that Rocchigiani cease negotiating to arrange fights without CKP's involvement. (Gelfand Suppl. Decl. Ex., F). Gelfand stated that this was the "final warning" to O & R and Rocchigiani and that CKP would move for an immediate injunction should Rocchigiani agree to any fights without CKP's involvement. (Id.) (emphasis in original). Nevertheless, Gelfand closed his letter indicating that CKP would be willing to release Rocchigiani from the Memorandum Agreement in exchange for sufficient remuneration. (Id.).

A series of letters were exchanged in March 1999 regarding CKP's proposal to release Rocchigiani from what CKP considered to be the still active Memorandum Agreement. (See Rocchigiani Decl., Ex. B). However, 0 & R ultimately rejected any settlement and notified Gelfand that new counsel, Ross & Hardies, had been selected as Rocchigiani's attorneys in the underlying action against the WBC. (Id. Ex. C).

Another letter-writing campaign ensued between Ross & Hardies and MS & F regarding the terms of MS & F's withdrawal, which was ultimately resolved by this Court's July 26, 1999 Order granting substitution of Ross & Hardies as counsel for Rocchigiani.

On October 18, 1999, MS & F filed a Demand for Arbitration with the American Arbitration Association on behalf of CKP (the "Arbitration"). (Dunning Aff. Ex. L, M). Three days later, CKP moved by Order to Show Cause for leave to file a Supplemental Complaint against Rocchigiani, realignment of the parties to reflect the Supplemental Complaint, and to enjoin Rocchigiani from entering into any agreements for, or participating in, any boxing matches without CKP's consent. Rocchigiani opposed that Order to Show Cause and filed the instant motion for disqualification of Gelfand and MS & F as counsel for CKP.

2.

Rocchigiani's motion to disqualify Gelfand and MS & F invokes Canons 4, 5, and 9 and various disciplinary rules of the New York State Lawyers' Code of Professional Responsibility (the "Code"). The Code, "as adopted from time to time by the Appellate Divisions of the State of New York, and as interpreted and applied by the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, and this court," governs the instant action. Local ...


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