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Lexjac, LLC v. Beckerman

November 14, 2008

LEXJAC, LLC AND RICHARD ENTEL, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JULIANNE W. BECKERMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS MAYOR OF THE INCORPORATED VILLAGE OF MUTTONTOWN, CARL JUUL-NIELSON, J. RANDOLPH BARTHOLOMEW, STEVEN FINE AND PAT MILLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS MEMBERS OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE INCORPORATED VILLAGE OF MUTTONTOWN, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE INCORPORATED VILLAGE OF MUTTONTOWN, THE INCORPORATED VILLAGE OF MUTTONTOWN AND BONNIE O'CONNELL. DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Pending before this Court is a motion brought by Defendant Bonnie O'Connell ("O'Connell") to disqualify Plaintiffs' represented law firm, Jaspan, Schlesinger & Hoffman, LLP. For the reasons set for below, the motion to disqualify is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

The full facts of this case are set forth in detail in this Court's September 30, 2008 Order denying in part and granting in part the various motions to dismiss filed in this case. The Court addresses only those facts relevant for an understanding of the pending motion to disqualify.

I. The Underlying Property Dispute

The underling claims in this matter stem from a property dispute over a 1.1 acre parcel of land (the "Property") in the Village of Muttontown, New York (the "Village"). The property concerned in this dispute is located adjacent to Plaintiffs' residential property. Lexjac, LLC is a domestic limited liability company with its principal place of business in the Village. Plaintiff Richard Entel ("Entel") is the sole member and owner of Lexjac and resides adjacent to the Property at the center of this dispute. Defendant O'Connell is an individual residing in Muttontown who is the President of the Pond's Edge Civic Association ("Pond's Edge").

In brief, Plaintiff Entel and the Village dispute the ownership of the Property. In 2003, Entel purchased the Property from the previous owner, Foreal Homes, Inc ("Foreal"), for $90,000.00. Entel intended to incorporate the Property into the yard of his residence, which adjoined the Property. On February 26, 2004, Foreal executed a deed to Lexjac as assignee of Entel, which was recorded in the office of the Nassau County Clerk on May 17, 2004.

However, at the time of Entel's purchase, the property still had an open Offer of Dedication for a recreational area, which Foreal had made to the Village in 1972. The Offer of Dedication had been neither accepted nor rejected between 1972 and Plaintiffs' purchase in 2003. On October 17, 2005 the Village Board of Trustees adopted a resolution (the "October 2005 Resolution") declining the Offer of Dedication made in 1972. The resolution provided that "any and all right, title and interest the Village of Muttontown may have to the parcel is hereby extinguished." In exchange for the resolution, Lexjac agreed to plant and maintain screen planting and that he would not develop the Property.

In 2006, Entel was a candidate for the Office of Mayor of the Village. The Mayor, Julianne W. Beckerman (the "Mayor") whom Entel was running against, was actively supported by Defendant O'Connell, the President of the Pond's Edge Civic Association, who has long advocated for the Village to create a recreational park on the Property. In her attempts to secure approval for the creation of a park, O'Connell objected to the October 2005 Resolution, and at her behest, the Village required Plaintiffs to make certain landscaping improvements to the Property. Shortly after the Mayor was elected, Entel went to the office of the Mayor to speak to her about his plumbing investigation. During the conversation, the Mayor raised the issue of the Property, although it was unrelated to Plaintiffs's question regarding his plumbing inspection. The Mayor allegedly accused Entel of seeking to sell the Property for development, and informed Entel that O'Connell had said that Entel had "stolen" the Property from the Village. Thereafter, the Mayor and O'Connell publicly requested that the Village investigate the October 2005 Resolution declining the Offer of Dedication.

On July 10, 2007, as a result of the investigation, the Village adopted a resolution ("July 2007 Resolution"), allegedly without notice to Plaintiffs, which rescinded the October 2005 Resolution and accepted the original Offer of Dedication made by Foreal. Furthermore, the July 2007 Resolution directed that the Foreal Deed be recorded with the Nassau County Clerk, "conveying to and vesting in the Village all right, title and interest in the Property." (Complaint ¶ 55.)

Plaintiffs commenced suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiffs contend that Defendant O'Connell conspired with the other Defendants to deprive Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights.

II. Facts Pertinent to Motion to Disqualify

O'Connell moves to disqualify Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman LLP ("Jaspan") as Plaintiffs' counsel on the grounds that Chris J. Coschignano, Esq. ("Coschignano"), a partner with the firm, represented O'Connell in the past, and that O'Connell confided in Coschignano with the belief that Coschignano would represent O'Connell if she were to initiate legal proceedings against Plaintiffs.

Jaspan argues that disqualification is not warranted because Coschignano did not represent O'Connell in this matter, and the only attorney/client relationship between Coschignano and O'Connell existed in March of 2004, when Coschignano prepared O'Connell and her husband's wills. Jaspan does not deny that O'Connell approached Coschignano to discuss certain concerns she had regarding Plaintiffs' property. However, Jaspan argues that O'Connell's conversations with Coschignano did not establish an attorney/client relationship because O'Connell did not approach Coschignano with the intent to retain him, and rather spoke with Coschignano because of his position as Town Councilman. Jaspan further argues ...


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