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A federal judge in New York has refused to hold in contempt the attorney for rock legend George Harrison, finding that the lawyer did not violate a confidential settlement agreement with the Staten Island doctor who treated the late Beatle for cancer. Eastern District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said that attorney Matthew L. Lifflander did not violate the agreement with the doctor, Gilbert Lederman, and Staten Island University Hospital by making public comments about Lederman in connection with another, unrelated lawsuit. An order entered by the judge in February supposedly brought to a close the suit over Lederman’s alleged abuse of trust while he was treating Harrison. The lawsuit claimed Lederman, then the hospital’s radiation oncology director, leaked confidential information about Harrison’s treatment and coerced Harrison into autographing a guitar and two cards to create valuable memorabilia. In addition to being part of a sealed record, the settlement agreement contained confidentiality provisions that forbade either party to make public statements about Harrison’s treatment. It also prohibited mention of the memorabilia controversy or any statement that implied a connection between Harrison, his treatment and the hospital. Lifflander is of counsel to Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal and is also a partner at Lifflander, Reich & Smith. He and other attorneys at Sonnenschein represented the Harrison estate during the lawsuit. In June, the attorney filed another suit against Lederman, the hospital and a second physician for $31 million on behalf of Elizabeth M. Ryan, the widow of former Lederman patient Thomas W. Ryan. The action said Ryan was “lured into useless treatment by aggressive, false, advertising” by the defendants and that the Ryans were induced to select Staten Island University Hospital and Lederman for Ryan’s care after viewing “several autographed photographs” of George Harrison when they visited the hospital. In connection with the filing of the Ryan suit, Lifflander was quoted in a newspaper article as saying the defendant doctors “are preying on people who have been told they have terminal cancer.” The article mentioned that Lifflander had represented the Harrison estate in its suit against the doctor and that, as a result of the Harrison suit, Lederman was censured and reprimanded by the New York Board for Professional Conduct. Lifflander was quoted in another newspaper as saying, “They’re ghouls. These doctors are preying on desperate people who are terminally ill. They’re guilty of false advertising. They say they can cure pancreatic cancer, and that’s just not true.” Lederman asked Garaufis to hold Lifflander in contempt because he filed the Ryan lawsuit and linked it to the Harrison matter. He also argued that Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal should be found in contempt because Lifflander signed the complaint against the hospital and Lederman, and still maintains ties to the firm. But Garaufis wrote, “In filing the Ryan lawsuit against Lederman, Lifflander was acting at the behest of his client and so his actions must be judged in that light… . “Only in paragraph twenty-two of the complaint, in which it is alleged that Lederman obtained ‘free publicity for himself and his medical practice at the expense of his famous patient,’ does Lifflander come close to violating the terms of the Settlement Agreement. But even in this instance, the court is satisfied that the allegation is sufficiently related to his representation of Ryan that it is not contemptuous.” While some of the comments about Harrison were “certainly not essential to the Ryans’ claims, and quite likely gratuitous, a diligent lawyer other than Lifflander might have been prompted to include such an accusation upon conducting further research into the relevance of the Harrison photos,” he said. REMARKS TO MEDIA Turning to Lifflander’s comments to the press, Garaufis said there was no basis for finding that Lifflander’s comments about “preying” upon patients was connected to the settlement agreement. The comment about the censure and reprimand of Lederman, Judge Garaufis said, “presents a closer call, but does not constitute unambiguous proof of contempt.” Because Lifflander was not quoted directly on the censure and reprimand, the judge was loath to speculate “in order to assess the extent and nature of the connection that Lifflander drew between the Harrisons and Lederman.” The judge continued, “On its face, the statement reflects poor judgment by Lifflander, but it does not amount to a clear and convincing violation of the Settlement Agreement meriting a contempt finding.” Wayne Roth of McAloon & Friedman represented Lederman. Richard Reich of Lifflander, Reich & Smith represented his firm and Lifflander. Paul Licalsi of Sonnenschein represented his firm.

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