Ethics

Madison Square Garden misinterpreted ethics rules when it banned firm's lawyers from venues, suit says

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Updated: The Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. violated New York law when it used a “flimsy” ethics rationale to ban nearly 60 lawyers from Madison Square Garden venues, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The real reason for the ban on lawyers from Davidoff Hutcher & Citron is the firm’s filing of a prior suit against Madison Square Garden on behalf of ticket resellers, the Oct. 13 suit says.

Name partner Larry Hutcher is the lead lawyer in the prior case. The new suit says he is particularly affected because he has two season tickets to New York Knicks games, which have been revoked. He has had the tickets since 1976 and risks losing his seat location if the tickets are redistributed to a third party.

“Even though he faithfully renewed this subscription to his great expense through zero championships, long playoff droughts, postseason failures, and coaching musical chairs he was still summarily discarded by MSG without warning solely because he fulfilled his ethical duties to his clients,” the suit says of Hutcher.

Hutcher filed the new suit with a colleague, Joseph Polito. Both are also among the nearly 60 suit plaintiffs. Defendants in the suit are the Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. and the lawyer who sent notice of the ban, Harold Weidenfeld—the company’s senior vice president of legal and business affairs.

The prior suit was filed Sept. 7 on behalf of 24 ticket resellers who claim that Madison Square Garden violated New York law by refusing to renew their season tickets to Knicks and New York Rangers games. Two weeks later, Madison Square Garden sent a written notice of the lawyer ban to Davidoff Hutcher & Citron.

“In one fell swoop,” the suit says, “nearly 60 attorneys, almost all of whom have no involvement or knowledge of the subject litigation, are now pariahs causing them irreparable harm.”

Hutcher says in his new suit Madison Square Garden misinterpreted lawyer ethics rules when explaining one of the justifications for the ban. The entertainment venue said it was banning the firm’s lawyers because they are prohibited from discussing the litigation with any employee of Madison Square Garden under Rule 4.2 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct.

That’s based on an “erroneous interpretation” of the ethics rule, the suit says. The idea that a lawyer from Hutcher’s firm will discuss the substance of the litigation during a sports event or a concert “is nothing more than a flimsy unsupportable pretext to justify the infantile behavior of MSG’s principals,” the suit says.

What’s more, the suit says, the ethics rule applies only to lawyer discussions with employees who have the authority to bind Madison Square Garden that will affect the litigation.

“How many MSG employees fall into this limited category?” the suit asks. “The odds of an individual plaintiff discussing the subject of the litigation with that MSG employee are astronomical. There are better odds of being struck by lightning or the Knicks winning the NBA championship this year.”

A spokesperson for Madison Square Garden told the ABA Journal that a judge denied Hutcher’s request for a temporary restraining order Wednesday.

The spokesperson, Natalie Ravitz, released this statement: “The law is on our side, and the court affirmed that again today. It is not unreasonable that while in active litigation—including the case Mr. Hutcher brought on behalf of ticket scalpers, as well as litigation by other law firms—we will preserve our right to protect against improper disclosure and discovery.

“That is why in June we instituted this broad policy around active litigation and have continued to defend our position in court.

“We have also repeatedly made clear—to Mr. Hutcher and others—that once litigation is resolved, we will reinstate access for impacted attorneys.”

Among the publications covering the suit are the Associated Press, the New York Post and the New York Times.

Updated Oct. 19 at 12:25 p.m. to include the statement from the spokesperson for the Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. and information on the temporary restraining order.

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