The claim in Berkovits v Berkovits 2021 NY Slip Op 00406 Decided on January 27, 2021Appellate Division, Second Department is not matrimonial, it is patriarchal. Father alleges that son defrauded him over valuable assets. For our purposes, there is also a claim against his attorneys for not explaining the deal.
“The plaintiff Joseph Berkovits alleges that his son, the defendant Mayer Berkovits, improperly induced him to execute an agreement creating an irrevocable trust (hereinafter the trust). Joseph Berkovits alleges that Mayer Berkovits falsely advised him to sign documents purportedly related to the tax treatment of certain real property, and that those documents actually established the trust. Pursuant to the trust agreement, Joseph Berkovits, as grantor, transferred to the trust certain shares in the plaintiff Aberko Realty, Inc. (hereinafter Aberko; hereinafter together with Joseph Berkovits, the plaintiffs). The trust agreement provided, inter alia, that Mayer Berkovits was to serve as investment advisor, distribution advisor, and protector of the trust. In those capacities, Mayer Berkovits allegedly was granted sole authority to manage the trust and its assets, including the sole discretion to make any distributions.
According to the plaintiffs, the defendant Roberts & Holland, LLP, and the defendant David Mark Rozen, a partner in that firm (hereinafter together the attorney defendants), represented both Joseph Berkovits and Aberko in connection with the creation of the trust. The plaintiffs allege that the attorney defendants failed to explain to Joseph Berkovits the terms of the trust agreement. The plaintiffs allege that the attorney defendants improperly represented and promoted the interests of Mayer Berkovits in that transaction, and failed to seek or obtain a waiver of any conflict of interest.”
“Contrary to the contention of the attorney defendants, the fourth cause of action states a viable legal malpractice cause of action. “In an action to recover damages for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the attorney ‘failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession’ and that the attorney’s breach of this duty proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages” (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 442, quoting McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 301; see Iannucci v Kucker & Bruh, LLP, 161 AD3d 959, 960). The “binding nature of [an] agreement between [a client] and a third party is not a complete defense to the professional malpractice of [a] law firm that generated the agreement to its client’s detriment” (Arnav Indus., Inc. Retirement Trust v Brown, Raysman, Millstein, Felder & Steiner, 96 NY2d 300, 305; see Bishop v Maurer, 9 NY3d 910, 911).
The complaint alleges that the attorney defendants committed malpractice by failing to provide adequate legal advice to their client, Joseph Berkovits, prior to his execution of the trust agreement, and in failing to explain or seek any waiver of a potential conflict of interest created by their alleged simultaneous representation of Joseph Berkovits, Mayer Berkovits, and Aberko. The complaint also alleges that such conduct proximately caused damages to both Joseph Berkovits and Aberko. Under these circumstances, the complaint states a valid legal malpractice cause of action (see Arnav Indus., Inc. Retirement Trust v Brown, Raysman, Millstein, Felder & Steiner, 96 NY3d at 304-305; see also Kram Knarf, LLC v Djonovic, 74 AD3d 628, 628; Tabner v Drake, 9 AD3d 606, 610).”