A Long Island law firm that is representing a matrimonial defendant and which hired an associate who previously worked on the case on the plaintiff’s behalf is fighting a judge’s ruling to disqualify it from the case for a conflict of interest.
According to court papers, matrimonial plaintiff Lori Janczewski previously retained Robert Venturo of the Suffolk County-based Law Office of Robert G. Venturo to represent her in her divorce from Adam Janczewski, who retained Ray, Mitev & Associates.
Lori Janczewski said during the time that she retained Venturo’s firm, she worked closely with his associate, Nicole Berkman, and that she shared personal and intimate information with the associate.
In February 2017, Berkman took a new job with Ray Mitev and Acting Suffolk County Supreme Court Justice Glenn Murphy, who presides over the case, said the conflict was brought to his attention in the spring.
Lori Janczewski relieved Venturo as her counsel on Nov. 15 and, one month later, filed pro se to disqualify Ray Mitev as her husband’s counsel in the case.
Janczewski is represented by a guardian ad litem, Arza Feldman of Feldman & Feldman in Nassau County. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Ruling on Feb. 13 to grant Janczewski’s motion, Murphy said Janczewski satisfied a three-part test for granting disqualification outlined by the state Court of Appeals in its 1996 ruling in Tekni-Plex v. Meyner & Landis, 89 NY2d 123: that there is evidence of a prior attorney-client relationship between the moving party and opposing counsel, that the matters in both representations are related and that the interests of the former and current clients are “materially adverse.”
Murphy acknowledged Ray Mitev partner Vesselin Mitev’s argument that the only conflict in the case is equitable distribution and that the issues in the case are not complex, as his client is a W-2 employee and the plaintiff’s income is derived from Social Security disability.
But nevertheless, Murphy found, the plaintiff is entitled to the conflict-of-interest protections extended to her under the New York Lawyer’s Code of Professional Responsibility.
Mitev said in an interview that the plaintiffs motion amounts to “litigation tactics,” that he has filed a notice of appeal to challenge Murphy’s ruling in the case and that he will file a motion to stay disqualification pending an appeal in the case.
“I am chagrined and perplexed at this decision, which eviscerated my client’s right to counsel of his choosing, and appears to eviscerate the ‘Chinese wall’ exception,” Mitev said. “It goes against the long-standing rule that there are no confidences in matrimonials that are limited to finances, which the court ruled that this is.”