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A Long Island, N.Y., attorney who represented a law firm bookkeeper in a criminal case cannot now also represent the defendant’s wife and sisters-in-law in a civil suit, a New York state judge has ruled. Garden City, N.Y., lawyer Thomas F. Liotti represents Anthony Galasso, who worked as a bookkeeper for law firm Galasso, Langione, Catterson & LoFrumento, where Anthony’s brother, Peter, is a partner. Last year, Anthony Galasso pleaded guilty to stealing more than $2 million from the firm and an escrow account, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 to 7 1/2 years in prison. The criminal matter spawned two civil suits by the law firm — one against Liotti for allegedly making defamatory statements regarding the firm’s involvement in the theft, and another against Anthony Galasso and other members of his family. Liotti also had represented Anthony’s wife, Christine, her two sisters and their husbands in the civil suit. The firm, including named partner Peter J. Galasso, charged that the family benefitted from “exorbitant gifts” and other perks gained from the theft, said Mark E. Goidell, also of Garden City, who represents Galasso Langione. The firm, which included as defendants the banks that housed the escrow account depleted by Anthony Galasso, is seeking $4 million in damages. Supreme Court Justice Ira B. Warshawsky of Nassau County ruled that Liotti had to be disqualified from representing Anthony’s family members, as both he and Anthony “have the potential to sink [his co-defendants'] ships.” “As a practical matter, their guilt or innocence of the allegations of the complaint will depend upon their knowledge of the source of the funds to finance a lavish lifestyle, which they may have discussed with Anthony, or with Liotti before the attorney-client relationship with him blossomed,” Warshawsky wrote in Galasso, Langione & Botter v. Galasso, 10038/07. The judge cited a previous ruling by Acting Justice Daniel Palmieri, who is presiding over the defamation action against Liotti, for the proposition that Anthony Galasso had waived attorney-client privilege. Therefore, Warshawsky wrote, “at least some of the conversations between them will be subject to inquiry” in the civil case. “There have undoubtedly … been numerous conversations among the siblings and their spouses as to Anthony’s dilemma, and what they knew of it while he was perpetrating his deceit,” Warshawsky held. It also is likely that Christine Galasso or her siblings discussed the case with Liotti while he was preparing to defend Anthony Galasso, the judge wrote. The waiver of privilege raised in the context of the defamation suit stemmed from affidavits from Anthony Galasso submitted by Liotti in support of a quotation attributed to Liotti by Newsday, which forms the basis of that suit. In October 2007, while the criminal case was pending, Liotti was quoted by Newsday as saying, “Anthony didn’t do anything that he was not instructed to do by his superiors. Whatever he did, he did with their full knowledge and consent. Dipping into company accounts was a common practice among attorneys there. Is the Galasso firm going to say they never went to a concert or a sporting event using this money? I think that’s something that should be addressed.” In refusing to dismiss the defamation suit, Palmieri described Anthony Galasso’s affidavits as “replete with tales of alleged ethical violations and questionable practices” by the partners of the law firm. The judge concluded that Anthony Galasso’s affidavits were “contradicted by his own sworn testimony” at his plea allocution. ‘VERY LITTLE TO GAIN’ In the latest case, given the family members “financial limitations,” Warshawsky found “commendable” Liotti’s willingness to represent them “for less than it would cost elsewhere.” But the judge said it placed Anthony Galasso’s codefendants in a difficult position. He observed that Anthony Galasso has “very little to gain by a vigorous defense of the civil action.” But the judge noted that Anthony’s relatives are “either responsible or not depending on what Anthony may have told them” about where he was getting the money. “To that extent there is certainly, at the very least, the appearance that a conflict may impinge on the representation of the individuals other than Anthony,” Warshawsky concluded. The judge then turned to 22 NYCRR §1200.24 (DR 5-105), which directs that a lawyer disqualify himself from a case if “it would be likely to involve the lawyer in representing different interests.” Representation is permitted only if a “disinterested lawyer” would believe that the attorney could competently represent all the clients, despite competing interests. As Anthony Galasso had “in certain respects” waived his attorney-client privilege, and because Liotti could be called to testify about his discussions with Anthony or his family members, “there is essentially no likelihood that a disinterested attorney would find that these relationships do not hinder the ability of Liotti to adequately represent all the parties,” Warshawsky ruled. The judge also denied a motion by Liotti to disqualify Goidell, who was a partner of Galasso Langione, but left seven years prior to the theft. “There is no rational basis to conclude that Goidell is, or may reasonably be anticipated to incur a conflict, or require his personal testimony in the action,” the judge wrote. Edward A. Paltzik, a lawyer in Liotti’s office, said that the firm was “disappointed with the decision” but had no plans to appeal. According to Paltzik, there was no conflict of interest, since there were “no conversations” between Anthony and members of his family that would have tipped them off to the source of the money. “We felt that we should have been able to handle the entire case,” he said. “Now, unfortunately, Anthony’s family members will have to find new counsel.” The firm will continue to represent Anthony Galasso in the civil suit, Paltzik said.

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