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In a case that one justice called “vital to the profession, ” two law firm partners asked an Appellate Division, First Department, panel yesterday to reverse a ruling that they breached their fiduciary duties when they left one law firm for another, and that must pay nearly $2 million in damages.

Supreme Court Justice Herman Cahn, in a controversial ruling, found in October 1998 that Charles Gibbs and Robert W. Sheehan committed three improper acts when they moved their trusts and estates practice from Breed Abbott & Morgan to Chadbourne & Parke in 1991, assigning $1.8 million in damages last June.

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