A New York appellate court recently affirmed an arbitration award to a former law firm partner.
The claimant had alleged that his former partners dissolved their partnership and immediately formed a new partnership without him, so that they did not have to share the fees obtained in a class action settlement. The claimant asserted that his former partners brought disciplinary proceedings against him in an attempt to cut him out of his share of the fees.
The arbitration panel awarded the former partner $5 million, and his former partners challenged the award on the grounds that it violated public policy by interfering with the attorney disciplinary process.
In Wittels v. Sanford, the New York appellate court held that the award did not violate public policy, stating that “[e]ven attorneys who have been disbarred or suspended are entitled to an accounting of fees for services rendered to other clients before their disbarment or suspension….”
The court further explained that “an attorney whose conduct might have raised concerns for respondents but who was not at the time, and ultimately was never, disbarred or suspended, is entitled to his distributive share of his partnership interest.”