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March 7, 2001


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


The "Hot Potato Doctrine" has evolved to prevent attorneys from dropping one client like a "hot potato" to avoid a conflict with another, more remunerative client. See International Longshoremen's Ass'n, Local Union 1332 v. International Longshoremen's Assoc., 909 F. Supp. 287, 293 (E.D.Pa.). Upon review of the undisputed facts and the inferences drawn therefrom, the Court concludes that this is exactly what happened to plaintiff Stefania Santacroce ("Santacroce"). Accordingly, RPC 1.7(a) and 1.9(a)(1) of the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct preclude the firm of Jaffe & Asher from representing Arthur Goldberg's Estate in this case.*fn1


Arthur Goldberg ("Goldberg") was a longstanding client of Jaffe & Asher. (Asher Aff. ¶ 15) The firm represented Goldberg in personal matters and represented many of Goldberg's corporations, including DiGiorgio Corporation, Bally Total Fitness Corporation, and Dice Investments. (Asher Aff. ¶ 15)

In 1998, Goldberg and Santacroce became romantically involved. (Complaint ¶¶ 10-12) According to Santacroce, Goldberg requested that she leave her apartment in New York City, abandon her business, EuroJewels, Inc. ("EuroJewels"), and live with Goldberg in New Jersey to medically care for him and provide companionship. (Complaint ¶¶ 13-14)

At Goldberg's request, Jaffe & Asher was retained in November, 1999 to represent Santacroce and EuroJewels in connection with a contractual dispute with Damiani International ("Damiani"), a manufacturer of jewelry products. (Santacroce Dec. ¶ 2-3) Santacroce's legal fees in the Damiani matter were paid by Goldberg until his death. (Asher Aff. ¶ 2) On Santacroce's behalf, Jaffe & Asher filed a complaint in the New York Supreme Court, New York County, against Damiani, regarding the termination of an exclusive agency agreement ("Damiani matter"). (Asher Aff., ¶ 17) Santacroce filed an affidavit with the New York Supreme Court in the Damiani matter on November 5, 1999. (Asher Aff., Exhibit A, Santacroce Affidavit) As Santacroce's counsel, Jaffe & Asher prepared her affidavit which states that Damiani terminated the agency agreement with EuroJewels without good cause or reasonable notice and Damiani misappropriated confidential customer information from EuroJewels. (Asher Aff., Exhibit A ¶¶ 2,3) Santacroce's affidavit generally claims that EuroJewels did nothing to provoke Damiani's "commercially unreasonable termination" of the agency agreement. (Asher Aff., Exhibit A ¶¶ 2,3)

Although the New York action was dismissed due to improper venue, Jaffe & Asher continued to provide Santacroce with legal services and helped her obtain local counsel in the proper venue. (Asher Aff., ¶ 17) Moreover, Jaffe & Asher "also assisted EuroJewels in connection with minor business disputes with its landlord and freight forwarder." (Asher Aff., ¶ 17)

On October 19, 2000, Goldberg died. (Complaint ¶ 26) Richard Neff, one of the Goldberg Estate's Executors, approached Asher and stated that the Estate wanted Jaffe & Asher to represent its interests in any forthcoming litigation. See Transcript of February 16, 2001 Hearing at 55:4-10.

Goldberg's Last Will and Testament did not leave anything to Santacroce. (Complaint ¶ 27) In December, 2000, Santacroce retained Michael Rosenbaum ("Rosenbaum") as counsel with the intent to file a palimony suit against the Goldberg Estate ("Estate"). Frank Stifelman ("Stifelman") was then counsel to the Estate. In December, 2000,*fn2 Rosenbaum gave a "courtesy copy" draft of Santacroce's complaint to Stifelman. (Rosenbaum Dec. ¶ 3) Rosenbaum agreed not to file the complaint while settlement negotiations were pending. (Rosenbaum Dec. ¶ 3)

On December 22, 2000, Jaffe & Asher sent Santacroce a letter withdrawing as counsel in the Damiani matter. The letter stated that "[i]n light of the fact that you have commenced an action against the estate of Arthur Goldberg, a conflict of interest has arisen in our representation of you. Regrettably, we must therefore withdraw as your attorneys effective immediately. . . . At this time, we ask that you pay in full your current outstanding legal bills for legal fees and disbursements in the amount of $8,828.20." (Santacroce Dec., Exhibit A)

On January 4, 2001, Santacroce filed the complaint in this Court, alleging breach of promise for support and breach of promise to make a will. She seeks a declaratory judgment and specific performance and asserts promissory estoppel against defendants, the Executors of the Estate.*fn3 Santacroce alleges that Goldberg persuaded her to move to New Jersey and abandon EuroJewels in exchange for Goldberg's promise of financial security for the rest of her life. (Complaint ¶¶ 15,16)


This Court has a "duty to root out, condemn and `initiate appropriate disciplinary measures against a . . . lawyer for unprofessional conduct of which [it has] become aware.'" Schiffli Embroidery Workers Pension Fund v. Ryan, Beck & Co., 1994 WL 62124, at *2 (D.N.J. 1994). (quoting Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3.B.(3)); see also Corn Derivatives Antitrust Litig., 748 F.2d 157, 160 (3d Cir. 1984) (stating that "[o]ne ...

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