William Schwitzer & Associates, a New York-area personal injury law firm that was sued by a rival firm for allegedly poaching its clients in a doctor’s office, told a New York state court Friday that its competitor’s evidence has violated court rules.
Joseph Ginarte’s firm raised eyebrows when it filed a complaint last year accusing William Schwitzer & Associates name partner William Schwitzer and his firm of using non-attorney runners to trawl a Manhattan medical waiting room and entice Ginarte clients to switch firms. Ginarte Gallardo Gonzalez Winograd also revealed last month that its paralegal Juan Flores Hernandez pretended to be a prospective client and recorded conversations with runners and Schwitzer lawyers.
Schwitzer and his firm, defended by Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner Randy Mastro, have denied the claims, seeking to dismiss the suit, and have accused the Ginarte firm of defamation.
In court papers Friday, the Schwitzer firm and several of its lawyers said the Ginarte firm’s own affidavits and phone records don’t support its arguments, while its anonymous affidavits broke court rules. The Schwitzer firm said they were clearly filed to stir up media attention.
In the Friday court papers in Manhattan Supreme Court, Schwitzer & Associates took shots at Ginarte for having had a paralegal bluff his way into the firm’s offices with a phony injury. The paralegal played secret agent, but he didn’t actually uncover any wrongdoing, the Schwitzer firm and its co-defendants argued.
“It is now clear from Ginarte’s extensive exhibits and its ‘Keystone Cop’ effort to entrap the Schwitzer defendants with an undercover sting operation by one of its paralegals that Ginarte has not a shred of evidence” to support its claim that Schwitzer’s lawyers defamed Ginarte in meetings with potential clients, the firm said.
The Schwitzer defendants further argue that the Ginarte firm filed anonymous client affidavits that were redacted without sealing requests, so the affidavits should be ignored. Even if they are to be believed, Schwitzer and his lawyers said, the affidavits don’t evidence any tortious interference on their part, just as the paralegal’s recording didn’t show defamation. The defendants strenuously denied any connection to the alleged runners.
The Schwitzer defendants contend that several Ginarte clients ultimately didn’t switch lawyers, meaning there wasn’t any injury to the Ginarte firm and thus nothing to sue over. The Schwitzer defendants point out that Ginarte only has documents related to one client who was allegedly convinced to switch lawyers.
But Clifford Robert of Robert & Robert, who represents the Ginarte firm, said in a statement that it is “absurd” to think his team could have obtained evidence from clients who switched to the Schwitzer’s firm, as it would have been unethical for his client to approach Schwitzer clients. “As Mr. Schwitzer should know, contacting the clients of another attorney is prohibited by the New York Rules of Professional Conduct,” he said. “In fact, claims of improper contact with the clients of another attorney is at the heart of this case.”
Rene Garcia, a solo practitioner who was also sued and is represented by Walden Macht & Haran, made many of the same arguments in seeking dismissal of the suit. When the complaint against him is boiled down, Garcia said, it is only alleged that he shared office space with the Schwitzer firm and that three Ginarte clients who went to the same doctor’s office switched from the Ginarte firm to Garcia’s. Key details are missing, Garcia said.
“This silence speaks volumes,” Garcia argued.
Georgia Winston, an attorney for Garcia and his firm, said there was “no merit” to the claims against her clients and expressed confidence that they would be vindicated.
An argument date has not been set on the dismissal motions.