Hello welcome to this edition of the JACPA Ethics Alert which will discuss another New York appellate opinion which suspended a lawyer for 6 months after she pled guilty to one count of petit larceny for falsifying a paid leave request while employed by a New York public school. The case is: In the Matter of Brenna L. Stewart, 2010 NY Slip Op 03047 [74 AD3d 51] April 15, 2010.
According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York on January 23, 1995. In 2005, the lawyer submitting a false document to her then employer, a New York public school, in order to receive paid leave to which she was not entitled. The false document was an altered death certificate that she used to improperly obtain paid bereavement leave. On September 3, 2008, the pled guilty to and was convicted of one count of petit larceny, a class A misdemeanor, for criminal charges brought against her. On October 10, 2008, she was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge (dismissal after compliance with conditions).
The NY Appellate Court issued an order finding that the criminal charge was a “serious crime” and directed a hearing panel to hold a hearing and recommend the appropriate sanction. The panel heard evidence of the lawyer’s extensive pro bono legal and community service, and considered “the convergence of personal, medical, financial and emotional problems upon her at the time of her misconduct”, her remorse, and the fact that restitution had been paid to the Department of Education. The panel recommended a suspension of six months and the opinion approved that recommendation and suspended the lawyer for 6 months.
Bottom line: Not sure what this lawyer was thinking, but this is a clear example of how lawyers can be disciplined for conduct outside of the practice of law. The Supreme Court of Florida has consistently stated in its disciplinary opinions that “a lawyer, is a lawyer, is a lawyer” and Florida lawyers can and will be disciplined for such misconduct.
Please be careful out there!
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me.
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