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A former associate who called a partner “abusive and nasty” cannot be sued by her former firm for defamation but may be liable for breaching her duty of loyalty, a New York judge has ruled. Five-lawyer New York firm Greenberg & Reicher sued former associate Julie Hyman after she abruptly quit last November to start her own practice. The firm claimed her leaving without notice disrupted the firm’s work, causing it to incur great expense completing unfinished files. The firm also accused Hyman of removing property from the office, soliciting clients prior to her departure and later defaming name partner Edward Greenberg to other employees of the firm. Hyman allegedly told a firm clerical employee that, along with being “abusive and nasty,” Greenberg was a “person with whom you could not settle cases.” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Rosalyn Richter said the firm had failed to plead its defamation claim with sufficient particularity in terms of time, place and circumstance. She also said that the statements could be considered nonactionable opinion rather than defamation. But the judge said the firm could proceed with its claim of breach of duty of loyalty on the ground that Hyman may have used firm time and resources to promote her own practice. Greenberg & Reicher v. Hyman, No. 117703/04.

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