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The former GC of Stolt-Nielsen Transportation Group has suffered a setback in his wrongful termination suit against the Connecticut-based shipping company. In January a judge ruled that Paul O’Brien cannot reveal client confidences to make his case because the ethics code in New York � where O’Brien is admitted � bars disclosure. However, the former GC says he’ll still be able to prove his case anyway. O’Brien claims that legal and ethical obligations forced him to resign from his SNTG post in March 2002 because the company would not stop engaging in criminal conduct. In a suit filed in Connecticut state court, the lawyer accuses SNTG and CEO Samuel Cooperman of price-fixing and trading with the enemy. The company, which denies O’Brien’s allegations, is trying to have the case tossed out ["A GC's Worst Nightmare," November 2003]. In his latest ruling in the case, Judge Taggart Adams looked at whether O’Brien is covered by the ethics rules of New York, where the ex-GC is admitted, or Connecticut, where he worked. The question matters because New York’s code doesn’t allow an in-house lawyer to divulge client secrets when waging a wrongful discharge suit, while Connecticut’s apparently does. Under New York disciplinary rule 4-101(C), a lawyer may reveal client confidences only if it is necessary to collect a fee or defend himself against an accusation of wrongful conduct. Rule 1.6 of Connecticut’s ethics code allows a lawyer to “reveal such information to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client.” While Connecticut courts haven’t ruled on this point, Adams noted that the American Bar Association’s ethics committee decided three years ago that the word “claim” includes “a retaliatory discharge or similar claim by an in-house lawyer against [an] employer.” O’Brien argued that Connecticut rules should apply, but Adams concluded otherwise. The judge wrote that O’Brien’s sole source of authority to act as a lawyer � and the source of his claim that his status as a lawyer forced him to leave SNTG � “was his good standing as a lawyer in New York.” As a result, Adam decided that “there is really only one choice, and that is to prohibit O’Brien from divulging client confidences and secrets in violation of the New York Code of Professional Responsibility.” The judge pointedly outlined what his decision did not address. He made no determination of which facts in the case qualify as client secrets, or what secrets can be divulged under New York’s rule allowing a defense against wrongful conduct. O’Brien’s lawyer, David Golub of Silver, Golub & Teitell in Stamford, contends that his client can still make his case in court, regardless of restrictions on divulging client secrets.

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