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Brown v. City of Syracuse

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 4, 2013

JAMES BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF SYRACUSE; SYRACUSE POLICE DEPARTMENT; OFFICER JASON WELLS, in his individual and official capacity; and OFFICER PATRICIA SARGENT, in her individual and official capacity, Defendants.

TRICIA M. DORN, ESQ. VINCENT J. FINOCCHIO, JR., ESQ. FINOCCHIO & ENGLISH, Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

AIMEE M. PAQUETTE, ESQ. CATHERINE ENA CARNRIKE, ESQ. JAMES P. MCGINTY, ESQ. CITY OF SYRACUSE CORPORATION COUNSEL Syracuse, New York, Attorneys for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

FREDERICK J. SCULLIN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion to disqualify Vincent J. Finocchio, Jr., Esq., Tricia M. Dorn, Esq. and their law firm, Finocchio & English, from representing Plaintiff due to an alleged conflict of interest. See Dkt. No. 43.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Factual history

On June 14, 2011, Plaintiff commenced the instant civil action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Syracuse ("Defendant City"), the Syracuse Police Department ("SPD"), and Officers Patricia Sargent and Jason Wells. See Dkt. No. 1.[1] Plaintiff contends that Officers Sargent and Wells (1) used excessive force and committed assault and battery, see id. at ¶¶ 11-15; (2) falsely arrested and imprisoned him, see id. at ¶¶ 18-19; and (3) acted pursuant to Defendant City's policy when arresting him and using excessive force, see id. at ¶¶ 22-24, all in violation of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

On August 29, 2012, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. See Dkt. No. 19. In a Memorandum-Decision and Order dated March 28, 2013, the Court (1) dismissed the SPD as a defendant in this case; (2) granted the motion for summary judgment with respect to Plaintiff's excessive force claim against Officer Wells and his Monell claim against Defendant City; and (3) denied the motion in all other respects. See Dkt. No. 30. A jury trial is set to commence on June 25, 2013

B. Alleged conflict

On April 23, 2013, Defendants allegedly learned that Finocchio & English, the law firm representing Plaintiff, employs Rory Gilhooley, Esq. ("Gilhooley"). See Dkt. No. 43 at 2. Gilhooley maintains a general practice of law, focusing on family law, matrimonial law, and appeals. See id. Gilhooley, however, also currently works for the SPD. See id. He has been a police officer since 1994 and a detective in the Criminal Investigations Division since 2003. Upon learning of Gilhooley's dual employment, defense counsel telephoned Plaintiff's attorney at Finocchio & English and sent two letters regarding a purported conflict of interest. See id. at 2; see also Dkt. No. 34-1 at 1-2.

On May 2, 2013, Plaintiff's attorney responded to defense counsel's letters, explaining that Gilhooley "works, very part-time, on selective projects[, ]" and that "[h]e has had no contact on [Plaintiff's] case whatsoever." See id. at 3. Plaintiff's attorney also accused Defendants of "grasping at straws" and confirmed that Finocchio & English would not withdraw from this matter. See id.

On May 7, 2003, Defendants advised the Court of the alleged conflict of interest that Gilhooley's dual employment presented. See Dkt. No. 34. Defendants requested that the Court examine the alleged conflict of interest and determine whether Finocchio & English should continue as Plaintiff's counsel of record. See id.

On May 23, 2013, the Court held a conflict-of-interest hearing. Defendants argued, in sum, that the Court should disqualify Finocchio & English from representing Plaintiff because Gilhooley's dual employment has created a conflict of interest that is imputed to said law firm. Plaintiff responded that Gilhooley's dual employment does not create a conflict of interest because, among other things, (1) Gilhooley started working at Finocchio & English on a part-time basis approximately eighteen months after this case commenced; (2) Gilhooley has neither worked on Plaintiff's case nor represented ...


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