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A federal magistrate judge has booted a Boston plaintiffs law firm from an overtime case because of a conflict created when it hired a laid-off Seyfarth Shaw associate. Granting an emergency motion to disqualify counsel filed by Robert Half International, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Robert B. Collings in Massachusetts ruled that Lichten & Liss-Riordan could not continue representing two former Robert Half managers in a case alleging that the company violated the Fair Labor Standards Act. Seyfarth Shaw represents Robert Half in the case, O’Donnell v. Robert Half Int’l, No. 2004-12719-NMG. The judge said that the conflict question was “admittedly close” and that the court was “quite mindful of the hardships” that the decision would create in the five-year-old case, which is scheduled for trial on Sept. 21. Even so, he determined that the former Seyfarth Shaw associate had material information that was substantial to the case, creating a conflict of interest requiring Lichten & Liss-Riordan’s disqualification. The Aug. 10 decision stems from Lichten & Liss-Riordan’s hiring of Sarah Getchell, who worked at Seyfarth Shaw from October 2008 to May 2009, when the firm let her go in a reduction in force. Before hiring Getchell at Lichten & Liss-Riordan, attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan sought references from Seyfarth Shaw. According to the decision, Seyfarth Shaw told Liss-Riordan that “serious conflicts” would arise and disqualify the firm because Getchell had worked on the case. Although the judge credited Getchell’s testimony that she had “absolutely no memory” of working on the matter, he also found that she had performed research directly pertaining to it for another associate and billed about seven hours for that work. The judge noted that Lichten & Liss-Riordan took a risk when it brought aboard Getchell. “The Lichten firm was on notice that if they hired Attorney Getchell, they would have to meet a challenge to their continued participation in the case. Hopefully, they researched the law with respect to the [conflicts rules] before hiring Attorney Getchell so that they were aware of the risk they were taking.” “We disagree with the decision,” said Liss-Riordan, who declined to comment further. Seyfarth Shaw partner Krista Pratt, who represents Robert Half, said that the court “came to the right decision.”

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