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An attorney’s claim for a $15 million stock certificate granted to him six months after he withdrew his representation of a client has been rejected by a New York Supreme Court judge. Justice Leonard Austin of Nassau County held that because the law firm withdrew its representation of the client, it was no longer entitled to a lien on case materials under New York law. The issue before the Commercial Division in Dilluvio v. GT Associates, 9714-02, started when plaintiff Charles Dilluvio submitted an unopposed motion for summary judgment in February. His role in the case dimmed afterward, as two of the defendants — Marie Burns and Leonard Thoubburon — and their lawyer, David Rubin, went through what Justice Austin described as a “tortured history.” Rubin, a litigator at Rubin & Purcell, withdrew as counsel to the defendants in September 2003. In April, the defendants, now acting without counsel, asked for and received an extension to respond to Dilluvio’s motion for summary judgment. But they never filed a response. Instead, the court said, they delivered a stock certificate representing 1.3 million shares of a company now known as Tiger Telematics to Rubin. An accompanying letter stated that Thoubburon redeposited the certificate in order to reattach it to the retainer agreement originally entered into with Rubin. In June, the judge ruled in Dilluvio’s favor but Rubin resisted turning over the certificate to him. According to the ruling, Rubin & Purcell claimed that under �475 of New York’s Judiciary Law, it was entitled to the certificate through its representation of the defendants. Justice Austin rejected the claim. Section 475 states that an attorney “who appears for a party has a lien upon his client’s cause of action, claim or counterclaim, which attaches to a verdict, report, determination, decision, judgment or final order.” The statute goes on to say that a verdict or settlement cannot subjugate the lien. The purpose of the law is to protect attorneys from clients who, upon severing their professional relationship, refuse to pay the attorney for his services. “Such a lien,” held the court, “is recognized as applying to a client’s papers that come into the attorney’s possession during the course of the attorney’s representation of the client.” “Having relinquished possession of the stock certificate at some point prior to April 1, 2004,” the judge said of Rubin & Purcell, its lien, “if it had one at all, did not revive upon the stock certificate returning to its possession. Inasmuch as it was no longer the attorney of record for Defendants, [Rubin & Purcell] was no longer covered or protected by Judiciary Law S 475.” Because Rubin & Purcell “voluntarily” withdrew from the case, the judge wrote, it did not have “an absolute right to invoke a retaining agreement.” What complicated matters was the high value of the stock certificate. Justice Austin saw its transfer from the defendants to the lawyer as a ploy. “Here, delivery of the stock certificate to Mr. Rubin is little more than an artifice on the part of Defendants intended to avoid this Court’s Order . . . determining Plaintiff’s superior right to possession and ownership of the stock certificate.” The ruling prevented defendants from evading the court’s decision and ordered the law firm to hand over the certificate to Dilluvio.

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