Category Archives: Attorney discipline

California lawyer suspended for 30 days for failure to disclose client’s death while continuing to litigate matter

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent California Supreme Court Order which suspended a lawyer for failing to disclose the death of his client while continuing the litigation. The case is In the Matter of: Steven Pabros, Case No. 17-O-05369.   The Stipulation Re Facts, Conclusions of Law and Disposition are here: https://appellatecases.courtinfo.ca.gov/search/case/dockets.cfm?dist=0&doc_id=2280292&doc_no=S254475&request_token=NiIwLSIkTkw6WyBdSCM9SE9IMEA0UDxTJiNeVz1SICAgCg%3D%3D and the May 2, 2019 California Supreme Court Order is here: http://members.calbar.ca.gov/courtDocs/17-O-5369.pdf

According to stipulated facts, the lawyer represented Alfeo and Leann Mattei, who were commercial landlords, as defendants, individually and as co-trustees of a trust in a civil suit that was brought by tenants whose antique shop was damaged by a fire in 2011. The fire started in the business of an adjacent tenant who sold the contents of storage units. The antique shop tenants claimed that the landlords knew the storage business was a fire hazard but did nothing about it.  The landlords claimed in a counterclaim that the contract required the tenants to indemnify them.

After a trial, the jury found the landlords liable based upon a theory of passive negligence; however, the trial judge found that the negligence was active and rendered a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The lawyer appealed the judge’s findings.  While the appeal was pending, one of the landlords (Alfeo) died. The lawyer ultimately prevailed on the appeal, and the case returned to the trial court.

According to the stipulated facts, “Respondent learned of Alfeo Mattei’s death in or about June 2016 after the Court of Appeal remanded the case but failed to inform the court or opposing counsel, as required by Sonoma County Superior Court Local Rule 4.1(A). Local Rule 4.1(A) states “When a party to a case dies, the attorney for that party shall promptly serve and file a notice with the court.”

The lawyer failed to inform the court (or opposing counsel) of the death of Alfeo, even though Alfeo was the only person who could testify about the landlord’s contractual intent since he other landlord (Leann) was not involved in the lease.  The lawyer stated that he believed that he could establish intent by legal argument, by cross-examination or by use of an expert. He successfully opposed the tenants’ motion for summary judgment, and a trial was scheduled for April 2017.

On the first day of the trial, opposing counsel asked the lawyer why Alfeo was not on the witness list and the lawyer did not answer. The trial judge heard pretrial motions and opposing counsel commented on the fact that Alfeo had not been in court. Opposing counsel again asked whether Alfeo would testify, and the lawyer again did not answer.

Opposing counsel then conducted an internet search during a break in the proceedings, learned that Alfeo had died, and informed the judge.  The judge asked the lawyer if that was true, and the lawyer responded: “He has passed, yes.”.  The judge sanctioned the lawyer approximately $31,000.00 for continuing to litigate the case for more than a year without informing the court or the opposing counsel of the death and the judge also reported the order to the California State Bar.

The lawyer appealed the judge’s sanction, which is pending, and the judge also granted the tenants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that there was no triable issue of fact on intent behind the lease.  That order is also on appeal.

The lawyer stipulated to a 30-day actual suspension, one-year stayed suspension, and a three-year probationary period with a condition that he attend Bar Ethics School and pay costs.  The May 2, 2019 Supreme Court Order approved the discipline.

Bottom line:  In this case, a defendant died during the pendency of litigation and the lawyer who represented him failed to advise the judge or opposing counsel (even after he was asked multiple times by opposing counsel) and he continued to litigate the case.  This case is somewhat unusual since many of the reported cases involve lawyers who are representing plaintiffs who die during ongoing litigation and fail to advise the judge and opposing counsel.

This lawyer apparently concluded that he could defend the matter without the testimony of the client; however, he clearly should have informed the judge and opposing counsel that his client had died and that he was planning to proceed without the client’s testimony.  The failure to disclose the death violated the local rule and the disciplinary rules, and the lawyer was suspended for 30 days with one year suspended.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ohio lawyer sentenced to 30 days in jail for pleading that “was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Court Order imposing a 30 day jail sentence on an Ohio lawyer, who is general counsel to Bowling Green State University (BGSU), for, inter alia, filing a pleading that “was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice”. The case is Fitzgerald vs. Fitzgerald, Case No. 2017DR0012.  The April 4, 2019 Order and Notice of Appeal are here: https://images.law.com/contrib/content/uploads/documents/292/April-5-Wood-County-decision.pdf (PDF of Order courtesy of Law.com)

According to media reports, the lawyer is employed as BGSU’s general counsel and vice president, and was representing himself in a divorce proceeding from his wife in the Wood County (Ohio) Common Pleas Court Domestic Relations Division.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail to begin on April 8, 2019 after a series of incidents during the proceedings.  He was then placed on paid leave by the university and he was also suspended from an appointment as an assistant attorney general through that position.

According to the Order, the lawyer objected to an attorney fee request filed by a lawyer who was representing one of his sons and told the judge he would be filing a grievance against that lawyer.  The Order states that “The Court finds that (the lawyer) was untruthful.  He claims to have filed a grievance against Mr. Mohler.  That was not true, no grievance was filed.  His pleading was an attempt to mislead the court, obstruct justice and prejudice the administration of justice.  Such a grievance, if true, would “impede of eliminate Mr. Mohler from representing his client.  This situation is magnified by the fact that Mr. Mohler has practiced before courts across Ohio, including this one, with calming superior legal skills, cogent writing and impeccable integrity. If Mr. FitzGerald had a grievance, he is duty bound to file it. He did not do so.”

“By his pleadings, e-mails and exhibits, Mr. FitzGerald has, at the least, been unprofessional toward the magistrate, Ms. Heringhaus; his former lawyer, Ms. Shope; the Guardian ad Litem, Ms.Cox; and his opposing counsel, Ms.Engwert-Loyd. During the last telephone pretrial, Mr. FitzGerald attacked Ms. Engwert-Loyd twice.”  The judge also found that the pleading violated the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct and referred the matter to the Ohio disciplinary authorities.  The lawyer appealed the Order to the Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals.

Bottom line: this lawyer apparently engaged in the misconduct while representing himself in a divorce proceeding from his spouse.  Notwithstanding the old adage that “he (or she) who represents him or herself has a —- for a client”, according to the Order, he attacked another lawyer who the judge “had practiced before courts across Ohio with calming superior legal skills, cogent writing and impeccable integrity.”

Be careful out there.

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or may need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding ethics, risk management, or other issues, do not hesitate to contact me.

My law firm focuses on review, analysis, and interpretation of the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, advice and representation of lawyers in Bar disciplinary matters, defense of applicants for admission to The Florida Bar before the Board of Bar Examiners, defense of all Florida licensed professionals in discipline and admission matters before all state agencies and boards, expert ethics opinions, and practice management for lawyers and law firms.  If there is a lawyer or other Florida professional license involved, I can defend the complaint or help you get your license. 

If you have any questions or comments, please call me at (727) 799-1688 or e-mail me at jcorsmeier@jac-law.com.  You can find my law firm on the web at www.jac-law.com. In addition to handling individual cases, matters, problems and issues for my clients, I also am on retainer to provide ethics advice to numerous lawyers and law firms throughout the state of Florida.  I also provide legal assistance and advice to numerous individuals and non-legal entities to help insure compliance with the law and rules related to UPL and other issues.

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Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New York lawyer receives four month suspension for “excessively aggressive” and threatening conduct

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York Appellate Court opinion suspending a lawyer for 4 months for engaging in aggressive, threatening, and bizarre conduct. The case is Matter of Bailey, 2019 NY Slip Op 02487 (April 2, 2019).  The disciplinary opinion is here: http://nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_02487.htm#2FN

The opinion states that the lawyer engaged in inappropriate conduct several times in 2016.  In one instance, the lawyer barged into an arbitration hearing at his law firm, started taking pictures with his telephone, and said: “This will be in the newspaper when I put this in there after we kick your asses.”

In a second matter, the lawyer threatened the resident of a building owned by a law firm client after that individual had alleged that the owner was overcharging tenants in an online post.  The lawyer demanded that the individual take down the post because it was defamatory and, when this did not occur, the lawyer sent a text to the individual stating that he would use “all means necessary” to protect his client.

The lawyer later called the individual, who recorded the conversation, and said that the resident should kill himself because he was worthless and that he would have him arrested.  The lawyer also said: “(y)ou have no idea what you stepped into . . . Welcome to my world. Now you’re my bitch . . . you’re gonna be paying for this heavily for the rest of your life.”

The Attorney Grievance Committee (AGC) held a hearing on the matter and found that the lawyer’s conduct violated multiple New York disciplinary rules, including threatening criminal charges solely to obtain an advantage in a civil matter and conduct that adversely reflects on counsel’s fitness as a lawyer, and recommended that the lawyer be suspended for three months.

A referee was appointed, who found, inter alia, that the lawyer “engaged in excessively aggressive behavior while representing a client. . . . (,) failed to conduct himself within the bounds of propriety, and . . . violated one or another Rule.’ The Referee found that respondent had never apologized to the arbitrator, the witness whose testimony respondent interrupted, or to Mr. Dawson and “refuse(d) to take full responsibility for his actions, which would include admitting he knew that he was interrupting an arbitration, properly apologizing, and recognizing that his aggressive litigation tactics must be controlled.”  The referee recommended that the lawyer be suspended for 3 months.

The opinion rejected the lawyer’s argument for a public censure because he failed to apologize for his actions and he had been admonished in 2011 and 2014 for aggressive behavior and failing “to conduct himself within the bounds of propriety.”  The opinion also rejected the AGC and referee’s recommendation of a 3 month suspension and imposed a 4 month suspension “until further order of the Court” and required the lawyer to “engage in counseling for a period of up to one year, as determined and monitored by the New York City Bar Association’s Lawyer Assistance Program.”

Bottom line: this lawyer engaged in in bizarre and very aggressive conduct, including stating to an individual (on a recorded line): “Now you’re my bitch … you’re gonna be paying for this heavily for the rest of your life.”  The suspended the lawyer for 4 months and required that the lawyer participate in counseling supervised the Bar’s Lawyer Assistance Program for 1 year.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this Ethics Alert is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

 

 

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Ohio lawyer suspended for 1 year for engaging in “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on paralegal for over 2 years is reinstated to practice

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Ohio Supreme Court reinstating a lawyer who was suspended for 1 year for “extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on a paralegal lasting over 2 years. The case is Disciplinary Counsel v. Skolnick, No. 2018-OHIO-2990. The 8/1/18 suspension opinion is here: http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2018/2018-Ohio-2990.pdf and the 3/11/19 reinstatement Order is here: https://supremecourt.ohio.gov/rod/docs/pdf/0/2019/2019-ohio-821.pdf

The August 1, 2018 Ohio Supreme Court opinion suspending the lawyer described the lawyer’s conduct as follows: “(d)uring (the paralegal’s) two-and a-half year tenure, Skolnick berated her for her physical appearance, dress, education, and parenting skills. He called her a bitch, a ‘hoe’, a dirtbag, and a piece of shit, and he told her that he hoped she would die. And because (the paralegal) recorded her interactions with Skolnick on more than 30 occasions, we have had the opportunity to hear Skolnick’s outbursts for ourselves.”

“In addition, the lawyer ‘called (the paralegal) stupid, dumb, fat, ‘whorey,’ and bitch.’ Further, he remarked that she should give him ‘road head’ during a drive and falsely told an African American client that the paralegal “did not like black people.”

“The only explanation that Skolnick offered for his extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks on L.D. was that he had learned the lingo from rappers and hip-hop artists while practicing entertainment law and that he believed he was using the phrases in more of a humorous than a harmful way.” In addition, “(a)lthough (the lawyer) presented some evidence that he had been diagnosed with and was being treated for cyclothymic disorder and exhibited traits of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, the board declined to afford mitigating effect to those conditions because Skolnick did not present any evidence that they were causally related to his misconduct.”

The opinion found that the lawyer violated Ohio Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(h), prohibiting a lawyer from “engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on the lawyer’s fitness to practice law” and suspended the lawyer for one (1) year with the final 6 months deferred; however, on March 11, 2019, the Ohio Supreme Court reinstated the lawyer. “On application for reinstatement by respondent, Howard Evan Skolnick, Attorney Registration No. 0061905, last known business address in Cleveland, Ohio. Application granted. Howard Evan Skolnick reinstated to the practice of law in Ohio.”

Bottom line: this lawyer engaged in extreme, obnoxious, and humiliating attacks” on his paralegal and tried to minimize and justify his conduct by claiming that he learned the “lingo” from “rappers and hip-hop artists” and was being treated for psychiatric disorders. The court imposed a 1 year suspension with the final 6 months deferred on August 1, 2018 and he was reinstated on March 11, 2019, approximately 7 months later.

Be careful out there.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150
Clearwater, Florida 33761
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670
jcorsmeier@jac-law.com
http://www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier
about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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Florida Bar obtains emergency suspension of lawyer for “waging a personal and public war on social media”

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent emergency suspension of a Florida lawyer for allegedly “waging a personal and public war on social media against attorneys representing clients” and “resort(ing) to terrorist legal tactics.”  The case is: The Florida Bar v. Ashley Ann Krapacs, Case No.: SC-277 Lower Tribunal No(s) 2018-50,829 (17I)FES; 2018-50,851(17I);2019-50,081(17I) and The Florida Bar’s Petition for Emergency Suspension is here: https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2019/277/2019-277_petition_72430_petition2dsuspension2028emergency29.pdf

According to the Petition, the lawyer “launched an attack of massive and continuous proportions” on social media and “(c)learly, respondent’s fury has no bounds.” The lawyer’s alleged “terrorist legal tactics” began after she moved to Florida and initiating a petition for a domestic violence injunction against a former boyfriend in Texas and lawyer Russell Williams represented the ex-boyfriend.  The lawyer dismissed the case; however, she then allegedly “began a social media blitz” on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The lawyer allegedly called  Williams an “old white male attorney” and a “bully attorney” who had threatened to file a motion for sanctions against her if she did not dismiss the case.  She also stated that “opposing counsel flat-out LIED” and the judge ‘didn’t bat an eye.’”.  She also allegedly used the hashtag #holymisogyny on social media when talking about the case and accused the judge of membership in the “Old Boys Club.”

The lawyer also allegedly continued the misconduct in a YouTube video posted after Williams hired lawyer Nisha Bacchus to represent him and filed a lawsuit against the lawyer for Libel, Slander, Malicious Prosecution and Injunctive Relief.  In the video, the lawyer allegedly called Williams “a moron and a sexist and a bully” and said Bacchus was “a backstabbing traitor” for representing “misogynist pigs, misogynist bullies.”  “Also, she’s a door lawyer. Which is basically a lawyer who takes anything that walks in the door in any area of law.  Because you can’t do every area of law and do them all well. You just can’t. Some people try and they end up like Nisha Bacchus who are so hard up that they’ll take anything, including shit like this. So I almost feel bad for her because he’s playing her. It is really obvious from the way that she presents herself that she’ll take anything if the price is right. Or even if it’s not.”  The lawyer also used hashtags #sellout and #womanhater for Bacchus.

The Petition states that the lawyer made multiple posts on Facebook “accusing The Florida Bar of being corruptly influenced by Nisha Bacchus. Bacchus requested a domestic violence injunction against the lawyer after she posted a Home Alone meme showing a shotgun pointed at an individual and added the caption “when opposing counsel tries to use the same exact trick you saw in your last case.”  According to the Petition, “(o)n February 1, 2019, Judge Moon granted an indefinite Final Judgment of Injunction for Protection Against Stalking against (the lawyer) as a result of her actions toward Nisha Bacchus”

The Florida Supreme Court granted the emergency petition in an Order dated February 27, 2019 with 2 of the court’s seven justices dissenting and stating that they would not grant it.  The February 27, 2019 Supreme Court Order suspending the lawyer on an emergency basis is here:  https://efactssc-public.flcourts.org/casedocuments/2019/277/2019-277_disposition_145483_d31i.pdf.  A referee will be appointed.

Bottom line:  This Petition is highly unusual and there may be a question as to whether such conduct constitutes “great public harm” under the Florida bar Rule.  It will certainly be interesting to see how this drama plays out.

Be careful out there.

Disclaimer:  this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.

Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire

Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N. Suite 150

Clearwater, Florida 33761

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

Joseph Corsmeier

about.me/corsmeierethicsblogs

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