Plaintiffs sought to purchase a cooperative apartment unit from the Defendant pursuant to a contract of sale. After the Plaintiffs were rejected by the cooperative board, they demanded that the Defendant return their down payment. The Defendant refused and the Plaintiffs then sued the Defendant for recovery of their down payment.
The down payment was held in escrow by the Defendant’s real estate attorney who was also acting as the escrow agent under the parties’ contract of sale That same real estate attorney represented the Defendant in the ensuing litigation. The Plaintiffs in the course of the litigation sought to have the Defendant’s attorney disqualified from representing the Defendant. The reasoning for such a request was that the Defendant’s attorney would likely be a witness and could not act as an advocate for his client and also as a witness.
The Court refused to disqualify the Defendant’s attorney from representing the Defendant in the litigation. It first stated that every party has an entitlement to be represented by an attorney of their own choosing absent a valid reason for disqualification. In this case, there was no valid reason for disqualification of the real estate attorney given that there were other witnesses who could testify to the same facts that the real estate attorney could testify to. In fact, there was no showing that the real estate attorney could provide relevant testimony anyway.
The case is entitled Vukel v. The Joan Dirigolomo Irrevocable Trust and was decided in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of Queens.