Cozen O’Connor is facing allegations that it failed to properly handle conflicts in a multimillion-dollar construction law arbitration after hiring a group of construction lawyers from Pepper Hamilton.
When it announced the hires in April, Cozen O’Connor said the new partners would help elevate the construction practice on a national and international scale. But a former client of those partners, Henry McNeil, alleges that the firm gained an unfair advantage for its client, E.B. Mahoney Brothers, through the lateral hires.
McNeil filed a complaint late last month in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, seeking to disqualify Cozen O’Connor from representing Mahoney under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct. McNeil had worked with lawyers from Pepper Hamilton for over a year in his arbitration claims against Mahoney, until they left for Cozen O’Connor.
“When Cozen [O’Connor] poached McNeil’s attorneys from Pepper in the midst of an ongoing litigation, it knew that its ongoing representation of Mahoney would create an irreconcilable conflict under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, and it knowingly assumed that risk, and knowingly failed to timely implement an appropriate screen and give notice of that screen to McNeil,” the complaint alleged. “Cozen’s actions improperly provide its client, Mahoney, with an advantage in the litigation.”
According to the complaint, McNeil hired Mahoney as a general contractor for a multimillion-dollar residential construction project in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. But the project was not completed, the complaint said, and McNeil pursued claims against the contractor in arbitration, alleging that Mahoney was negligent and left him “with a shoddily-built structure.”