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Michael P. Stratton, Individually and As Administrator of the Estate of Julie L. Stratton, Deceased v. Thomas M. Wallace

July 31, 2012

MICHAEL P. STRATTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE ESTATE OF JULIE L. STRATTON, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS M. WALLACE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. United States Magistrate Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

This matter was referred to the undersigned by the Hon. Richard J. Arcara, in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), for all pretrial matters and to hear and report upon dispositive motions. Dkt. #13.

Currently before me is plaintiff's motion to disqualify attorney Kathleen J. Martin and her current law firm, Goldberg Segalla LLP, from representing the defendants in this action due to Ms. Martin's prior employment as an attorney in the law office of Francis M. Letro, counsel for plaintiff, and her work on behalf of plaintiff during the course such employment. Dkt. #29. Plainitff also moves to preclude the same law firm from representing both defendant Thomas Wallace and defendant Great River Leasing, LLC due to a conflict of interest. Dkt. #29. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is granted.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On December 12, 2009, defendant Thomas Wallace, acting in the course of his employment with defendant Millis Transfer, Inc., drove a tractor trailer owned by Great River Leasing LLC, into a disabled motor vehicle on the New York State Thruway, causing the death of the occupant of that vehicle, Julie Stratton. Defendant Wallace is currently serving a sentence of 3 to 9 years incarceration following his plea of guilty to charges of second degree manslaughter and his admission to driving in excess of federal regulations limiting commercial driving hours and to viewing online pornographic movies at the time of the collision.

Plaintiff engaged the law office of Francis M. Letro, Esq. in December of 2009. Attorney Kathleen Martin had been employed as an associate of Mr. Letro since November of 1999 and was assigned to assist Mr. Letro with this matter. Dkt. #29-1, ¶¶ 5-6. Mr. Letro affirms that

Ms. Martin worked specifically on the Stratton file since intake in December 2009, interviewing witnesses, working with a private investigator, speaking with the client and the clients' family concerning confidential matters, conducting pre-action discovery, communicating with defense's counsel, Albert J. D'Aquino, Esq., appearing in New York State Supreme Court on pre-action discovery issues and preparing pleadings. Ms. Martin had multiple conversations with Michael Stratton during which personal and confidential information was exchanged. Ms. Martin even met with Michael Stratton in his home as part of her representation in the case. Ms. Martin's work on the case was not fleeting or tangential. Ms. Martin was actively involved in all aspects of the case up until her departure from the law office of Francis M. Letro.

Dkt. #29-1, ¶ 7. Mr. Letro further affirms that Ms. Martin had access to the file during her entire time while working as an associate with the law office of Francis M. Letro and that she drafted the Summons and Complaint. Dkt. #29-1, ¶ 9. Plaintiff affirms that on various occasions I spoke personally about the case with Attorney Martin, face to face at Mr. Letro's law offices.

Additionally, on one occasion I spoke about the case with Attorney Martin when she visited me at my home during which time we had a lengthy and emotional discussion concerning personal and confidential matters pertaining to my family. I've also spoken personally with Ms. Martin on the telephone on several occasions, individually and with Mr. Letro. Our discussions involved the basis for our lawsuit, the circumstances surrounding the fatal crash and the resultant harm.

Dkt. #29-2, ¶ 4. Plaintiff does not consent to Ms. Martin's representation of the defendants. Dkt. #29-2, ¶ 6.

Ms. Martin denies possessing confidential information about the case or plaintiff and recounts minimal involvement in this matter. Dkt. #32-16. She specifically denies any involvement in the damages aspect of the case, affirming that the only facts she is aware of relating to "the damages aspect of the case are those generally known by the public through widespread and on-going national media coverage of this case." Dkt. #32-16, ¶ 35. However, Ms. Martin recounts a brief meeting with plaintiff at his home in March of 2010 to obtain his signature on a Notice of Claim as well as efforts to identify defendants and investigate liability, including state court practice to obtain and preserve electronic data and other evidence from the tractor trailer, service of subpoenas to obtain and thereafter review 911 tapes, scheduling inspections of the vehicles and communication with a trucking expert and professional engineer. Dkt. #32-16, ¶¶ 28-29 & 31. Ms. Martin also drafted the complaint in this action. Dkt. #32- 16, ¶ 31. Ms. Martin's employment with the law office of Francis M. Letro ended in March of 2011. Dkt. #29-1, ¶ 9.

In May of 2011, defense counsel Albert D'Aquino telephoned Mr. Letro and informed him that his law firm, Goldberg Segalla LLP, wanted to hire Ms. Martin. Dkt. #29-1, ¶ 10. Mr. Letro and Mr. D'Aquino recall the substance of that conversation differently. Dkt. #29-1, ¶ 10 & Dkt. #32, p.9. Ms. Martin commenced employment with Goldberg Segalla, LLP in June of 2011. Dkt. #29-1, ¶ 12. Goldberg Segalla LLP affirms that "Ms. Martin will have no contact with the Stratton matter and will never discuss any aspect of it with anyone at Goldberg Segalla LLP." Dkt. #32, p.9. Ms. Martin also affirms that she has not, nor would she ever, discuss this matter with anyone other than to alert Goldberg Segalla LLP to her involvement in this matter at her place of prior employment. Dkt. #32-16, ¶ 36.

DISCUSSION AND ...


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