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Law School Case Brief

Herbert v. Haytaian - 292 N.J. Super. 426, 678 A.2d 1183 (Super. Ct. App. Div. 1996)

Rule:

The creation of an attorney-client relationship does not rest on whether the client ultimately decides not to retain the lawyer or whether the lawyer submits a bill. When the prospective client requests the lawyer to undertake the representation, the lawyer agrees to do so and preliminary conversations are held between the attorney and client regarding the case, then an attorney-client relationship is created.

Facts:

Plaintiff sexual harassment claimant filed an action against defendants, former New Jersey Speaker and the State of New Jersey, to recover damages for sexual harassment she alleged was perpetrated upon her by defendant former Speaker. Plaintiff's counsel had earlier consulted with defendant former Speaker and his representative in connection with a possible investigation into allegations of sexual harassment that took place in a legislative office headed by defendant former Speaker. Defendants moved to disqualify plaintiff's counsel due to conflict of interest. The trial court granted the motion and the appellate court affirmed.

Issue:

Did the court properly disqualify the plaintiff’s counsel for conflict of interest when he has had previous dealings involving a similar case with the defendant?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the order disqualifying plaintiff sexual harassment claimant's attorney from representing her in her sexual harassment case against defendants, former New Jersey Speaker and the state of New Jersey. The court ruled that the attorney's former consultations with defendant former New Jersey Speaker and his agent on a related matter presented both a real conflict of interest and the appearance of impropriety.

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