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The hot potato doctrine serves as an exception to the general rule that the status of a client must be determined by the date of the filed complaint. An attorney may not drop one client like a hot potato in order to avoid a conflict with another, more remunerative client. Such behavior is unethical as it violates attorneys' duty of loyalty.
The firm, Jaffe & Asher, attorneys for Goldberg Estate's Executors, represented Stefania Santacroce and decedent Arthur Goldberg in personal and business matters. Santacroce filed suit alleging breach of promise for support and breach of promise to make a will against the Executors. After Santacroce informed the Executors that she was filing suit but before she filed suit, Jaffe & Asher fired Santacroce and were substituted as counsel for the Executors. Santacroce sought, and the court signed, an order to show cause why attorneys for the Executors should not have been disqualified.
Was Jaffe & Asher precluded from representing any of the Executors since it concurrently represented Santacroce?
The court determined that N.J. Ct. R. Prof. Conduct 1.7(a) and 1.9(a)(1) compelled disqualification. The interests of Santacroce and the Executors were directly adverse because they were opposing parties. Accordingly, if Jaffe & Asher represented the Executors, the firm's relationship with Santacroce would have been adversely affected. Furthermore, Santacroce never consented to their representation of the Executors. The fact that Santacroce was fired before the suit was filed was not significant since notice of the proposed complaint precipitated the present matter.