513 F.2d 568 (2nd Cir. 1975), 579, Hull v. Celanese Corp.

Docket Nº:579, Docket 74-2126.
Citation:513 F.2d 568
Party Name:Dec. P 10,042 Joan HULL, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CELANESE CORPORATION et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:March 26, 1975
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Page 568

513 F.2d 568 (2nd Cir. 1975)

Dec. P 10,042

Joan HULL, on behalf of herself and others similarly

situated, Plaintiff-Appellant,


CELANESE CORPORATION et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 579, Docket 74-2126.

United States Court of Appeals, Second Circuit

March 26, 1975

Argued Jan. 30, 1975.

Page 569

Leonard B. Boudin, New York City (Rabinowitz, Boudin & Standard, New York City, K. Randlett Walster and Eric M. Lieberman, New York City, of counsel), for plaintiff-appellant.

Gilbert S. Edelson, New York City (Rosenman, Colin, Kaye, Petschek, Freund & Emil, New York City, Charles A. Crum and Nadia Colin, New York City, of counsel), for defendants-appellees.

Before OAKES and GURFEIN, Circuit Judges, and TENNEY, [*] District Judge.

TENNEY, District Judge.

This Court today hears the appeal from an order of disqualification of plaintiff's counsel, the law firm of Rabinowitz, Boudin & Standard ("the Rabinowitz firm"). 1 The question at issue is whether a law firm can take on, as a client, a lawyer for the opposing party in the very litigation against the opposing party. Factually, the case is novel and we approach it mindful of the important competing interests present. It is incumbent upon us to preserve, to the greatest extent possible, both the individual's right to be represented by counsel of his or her choice and the public's interest in maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct and the scrupulous administration of justice.

The complaint in this action was brought by plaintiff-appellant Joan Hull ("Hull"), an employee of Celanese Corporation ("Celanese"), against Celanese alleging sex-based discrimination in employment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e et seq. In its answer, Celanese denied the material allegations of the complaint. Thereafter, the Rabinowitz firm filed a motion seeking leave for five other women to intervene as plaintiffs in the action. 2 One of the proposed intervenors was Donata A. Delulio, an attorney on the corporate legal staff of Celanese. Celanese opposed the proposed intervention and additionally sought the disqualification of the Rabinowitz firm based on the risk that confidential information received by Delulio as Celanese's attorney might be used by the Rabinowitz firm against Celanese in the prosecution of the joint Hull-Delulio claims. 3

The trial court denied Delulio's motion to intervene 4 and subsequently ordered the disqualification of the Rabinowitz firm. 5

Judge Owen premised the denial of intervention on the fact that Delulio had been active in the defense of this very action, thus raising a serious risk of disclosure of confidential information. He found the opportunity for even inadvertent disclosure to be ever-present. 6

Page 570

In granting the motion to disqualify the Rabinowitz firm, Judge Owen clearly recognized three competing interests: (1) Hull's interest in freely selecting counsel of her choice, (2) Celanese's interest in the trial free from the risk of even inadvertent disclosures of confidential information, and (3) the public's interest in the scrupulous administration of justice. In balancing these competing interests, the trial court acknowledged the right of Hull to counsel of her choice, but held the interests of Celanese and the public to be predominant. Based upon the relationship between Delulio and the Rabinowitz firm, the preparation by the Rabinowitz firm on the motion to intervene, supporting affidavits, and amended complaint, and the contents of those documents, Judge Owen concluded:

"The foregoing contents of affidavits prepared by Delulio and the Rabinowitz office are some evidence, in my opinion, of the possibility that Delulio, unquestionably possessed of information within the attorney-client privilege, did in fact transmit some of it to the Rabinowitz firm, consciously or unconsciously." 7

The trial court felt that the continued retention of the Rabinowitz firm would create at least the appearance of impropriety due to the on-going possibility for improper disclosure. 8 For the...

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