Oleg Cassini was wildly successful as a fashion designer.  When he divorced, back in the 1950’s he agreed that his estate would (50%) go to his two daughters.  Fast forward to the 21st century.  As you might guess, the daughters were disinherited.  As you might further guess, this led to litigation.  It led to legal malpractice litigation, but only as the tail to the dog.  Matter of Cassini  2020 NY Slip Op 01056 Decided on February 13, 2020 Appellate Division, Second Department Scheinkman, P.J., J. and two other simultaneous decisions were reported just before Valentine’s day.

Well beyond the space limits of this blog, the history of the fight between second wife and two daughters of the first marriage, the Oleg Cassini estate, consisting of  clothing, perfumes and other products was worth upwards of $ 50 million.  The daughters both died during the litigation and the Nassau County Public Administrator has been prosecuting the case for many years.

At issue here was how CPLR 321 is applied when an attorney simultaneously seeks to be relieved and tells the court that he is too ill to continue.  The stays, adjournments and process are fully discussed by Presiding Judge Scheinkman.

“The decedent was survived by his wife, Marianne Nestor Cassini (hereinafter Marianne), and his two daughters from a previous marriage, Christina Cassini (hereinafter Christina) and Daria Cassini (hereinafter Daria). The decedent’s last will and testament was admitted to probate in August 2007, and, pursuant to its terms, Marianne was appointed executor of the decedent’s estate. Christina subsequently petitioned to remove Marianne as executor and, in 2014, pursuant to a stipulation entered into between the parties, Marianne resigned as executor and the Public Administrator of Nassau County (hereinafter the Public Administrator) was appointed to administer the decedent’s estate.

During the course of this litigation, Marianne was represented by J. Vincent Reppert, of the law firm of Reppert Kelly, LLC (hereinafter RK), as well as by Charles H. Kaplan, of the law firm of Sills Cummis & Gross P.C. (Sills Cummis), in three proceedings. The three proceedings consisted of: (1) a proceeding to judicially settle the intermediate account of the estate (hereinafter the Accounting Proceeding); (2) a proceeding for the turnover of certain assets allegedly belonging [*2]to the estate (hereinafter the Turnover Proceeding); and (3) a proceeding to settle the account of a supplemental needs trust established for the benefit of Daria (hereinafter the SNT Proceeding).

In July 2015, Reppert notified the Surrogate’s Court that he had a “medical condition” that required surgery and requested an adjournment of the trial in the Accounting Proceeding, which was scheduled to commence in August 2015. The court granted the request, largely, but not entirely, because of Reppert’s health condition. A subsidiary reason for the adjournment was the need for the court to determine certain motions, which were not decided until October 9, 2015.

In December 2015, RK and Sills Cummis each filed separate motions for leave to withdraw as counsel of record for Marianne in each of the three pending proceedings. In a supporting affirmation, Reppert advised the court that “Marianne specifically requested [him] to work on this action based on a pre-existing work relationship” and that “[f]or medical reasons, [he has] not been able to fully return to the practice of law full-time since July of 2015.” Reppert stated that both he and his partner, Christopher Kelly, advised Marianne that RK “would have to move to withdraw as counsel” and that RK “will provide all records in [its] possession and will attempt to assist as much as reasonably possible with any transition.” The motions, which were returnable on January 13, 2016, were unopposed.

By two orders dated February 16, 2016, the Surrogate’s Court granted RK’s motions for leave to withdraw as counsel for Marianne in the Turnover Proceeding and the SNT Proceeding, respectively, finding that Reppert was “unable to continue to represent [Marianne] due to health reasons.” According to Kelly of RK, RK did not receive copies of those orders until March 14, 2016. The court also granted Sills Cummis’s motions for leave to withdraw as counsel in all three proceedings. After several inquiries by Kelly as to the status of his firm’s motion for leave to withdraw from the Accounting Proceeding, court personnel, on May 23, 2016, transmitted to RK a copy of an order dated March 14, 2016, granting its motion for leave to withdraw as counsel for Marianne in the Accounting Proceeding. This order contained a finding by the court that Reppert was unable to continue to represent Marianne due to health reasons. It also contained a provision staying all proceedings in the Accounting Proceeding for a period of 30 days from its date.

A court conference was held on June 8, 2016, at which Marianne appeared with an attorney, Robert McKay. The proceedings on June 8, 2016, were not transcribed. However, according to an order dated June 9, 2016, issued by the Surrogate’s Court for the purpose of memorializing the conference, the court directed that the trial of the Accounting Proceeding would commence on July 25, 2016, that the trial dates could not be adjourned without court approval, and that “[t]he trial shall proceed whether the parties are represented by counsel or not.” While not mentioned in the June 9, 2016, order, it is undisputed that McKay decided against undertaking Marianne’s representation and declined to file a notice of appearance.”

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened…

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.