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The co-head of Weil, Gotshal & Manges’ antitrust and competition practice became the firm’s first witness Monday in a legal malpractice trial. The case, in which opening statements were also delivered Monday, stems from Weil Gotshal’s representation of a New Jersey mall boutique in an unfair competition suit against Italian fashion house Fendi. Annette and Randi Fischer, owners of Fashion Boutique of Short Hills, which sold Fendi goods, claimed Fendi instructed its Manhattan store employees to disparage the New Jersey store’s offerings, contributing to its 1991 closing. A federal jury awarded the boutique a disappointing $110,000 in damages in 2000. After Weil Gotshal sued the Fischers in 2003 for legal fees, the former owners counterclaimed for malpractice on the grounds the firm had a conflict of interest because Prada, which acquired an interest in Fendi in 1999, also became a firm client. Weil Gotshal partner and antitrust co-chair Helene D. Jaffe, who led the firm’s representation of Fashion Boutique, testified Monday that she was unaware of the firm’s representation of Prada until around the time the Fendi matter was at trial and did not tell her clients about it until the second day of jury deliberations. But she denied it had any impact on her work for Fashion Boutique. Both Jaffe and litigation partner Robert Sugarman are also individually named counterclaim-defendants in the matter. On direct examination by Michael Feldberg of Allen & Overy, Jaffe also testified that Fashion Boutique only paid around $200,000 of its legal bills, which totaled $2.3 million including expenses by 1998. She said the firm did offer to waive its fees if the Fischers accepted a pretrial settlement offer from Fendi of $1.4 million but the boutique owners declined. Jaffe also testified about how the owners came to be clients of Weil Gotshal. They were brought in by former partner Dennis Block at the behest of Alan “Ace” Greenberg, chairman of investment bank Bear Stearns & Co. Randi Fischer explained during a court recess Monday that they were introduced to Greenberg by Trump Organization executive Norma Foederer, who had been a loyal customer of the Short Hills boutique. Cross-examination of Jaffe by attorney Kenneth F. McCalllion will continue today, with Sugarman also expected to take the stand.

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