The opinion of the court was delivered by: Debevoise, Senior District Judge.
This matter comes before the court on plaintiffs', Main Events
Productions, LLC. and New Jersey Sports Productions, Inc. appeal
(collectively hereinafter referred to as "Main Events") from
Magistrate Judge Hedges's order disqualifying Patrick English,
Esq. from participating as counsel for Main Events. For the
reasons set forth below, Magistrate Judge Hedges's order will be
This action arises out of a Promotion Agreement (the
"Agreement") between Main Events, a boxing promotion company,
and Jeff Lacy, ("Lacy"), a professional boxer and former
Olympian. The present controversy arises out of Lacy's
termination of a promotion agreement entered into in November or
December 2000 between himself, Main Events, and Lacy's manager,
Shelly Finkel. The right to terminate is located in paragraph 11
of the Agreement. Patrick English, Esq., Main Events's general
counsel, negotiated paragraph 11 of the Agreement with Lacy's
attorney, Jim Wilkes, Esq. Mr. English and Mr. Wilkes were the
only persons directly involved in the negotiation of paragraph
Invoking paragraph 11 of the Agreement, Lacy attempted to
terminate the Agreement in June 2002. After Lacy left Main
Events, Mr. English was involved with communications with Lacy's
counsel regarding the propriety of Lacy's termination.
Plaintiffs commenced this action against Lacy on or about June
24, 2002 in the New Jersey Superior Court, Bergen County,
Chancery Division, seeking inter alia a temporary restraining
order and preliminary injunction. Lacy removed the action to
this court on June 25, 2002. In a letter dated July 3, 2002,
Lacy first raised the issue of Mr. English's
disqualification.*fn1 On July 11, 2002, Mr. English indicated
he would be involving Laurence Orloff, Esq. in the proceedings.
On July 15, 2002, Mr. Orloff participated by phone on a hearing
on the plaintiffs request for a temporary restraining order,
which was denied. On
that day, the court also scheduled an evidentiary hearing on the
application for a preliminary injunction for August 20 and 21,
2002, and urged the parties to take all necessary discovery in
anticipation of the hearing.*fn2 At some point after July 15,
2002, it appears that the parties tentatively agreed to conduct
depositions the week of August 5, 2002. However, after the
depositions where scheduled and during the week of July 22,
2002, Lacy informed Main Events that he intended to seek the
disqualification of Mr. English from engaging in pre-trial
representation of Main Events. By letter dated July 29, 2002,
Lacy again raised the disqualification issue of Mr. English, and
the matter was immediately referred to Magistrate Judge Hedges.
By letter dated July 30, 2002, Mr. Orloff and Mr. English
opposed the disqualification. On July 31, 2002, Magistrate Judge
Hedges conducted a telephone conference with the parties, during
which he disqualified Mr. English from representing Main Events
in any phase of this action. In accordance with his ruling
during the July 31, 2002 telephone conference, Magistrate Judge
Hedges issued a letter order dated August 1, 2002, setting forth
the basis of his July 31, 2002 oral ruling.
The evidentiary hearing on the application for the preliminary
injunction was held on August 22 and 23, 2002, and Mr. English
testified as to the negotiations surrounding paragraph 11. Mr.
Orloff conducted the proceedings on behalf of Main Events. An
order staying Magistrate Judge Hedges's order pending this
appeal was issued on September 3, 2002, and entered on September
4, 2002. The request for a preliminary injunction was denied by
an order and accompanying opinion dated September 4, 2002.
A district court reviewing a magistrate judge's order on a
non-dispositive motion may modify or vacate the order only if
the ruling was "clearly erroneous or contrary to law."
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Loc. R. 72.1(c)(1); see
Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 785 F.2d 1108, 1113 & n. 5
(3d Cir. 1986). "A finding is clearly erroneous `when although
there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the
entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction
that a mistake has been committed.'" Dome Petroleum Ltd. v.
Employers Mut. Liab. Ins. Co., 131 F.R.D. 63, 65 (N.J. 1990),
quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395,
68 S.Ct. 525, 92 L.Ed. 746 (1948). A ruling is contrary to law
if the magistrate judge has misinterpreted or misapplied
applicable law. Gunter v. Ridgewood Energy Corp., 32 F. Supp.2d 162,
164 (N.J. 1998).
This appeal centers on the interpretation and application of
Rule of Professional Conduct (RPC) 3.7(a) which states:
(a) A lawyer shall not act as advocate at a trial in
which the lawyer is likely to be a necessary witness
(1) the testimony relates to an uncontested issue;
(2) the testimony relates to the nature and value of
legal services ...