Category Archives: fraud

New Jersey lawyer receives censure for neglecting client matters, failing to communicate with clients, and fraud and dishonesty

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Order which adopted the findings of the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board and censured a lawyer for neglecting client matters, failing to communicate with clients, and engaging in conduct involving fraud or dishonesty.  The case is In The Matter of John R. Dusinberre, D-37 September Term 2015 078531 (Supreme Court of New Jersey April 5, 2017).  The New Jersey Supreme Court Order is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1082216 and the Disciplinary Board (DRB) Decision dated November 9, 2016 is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1077667

According to the DRB Decision, the lawyer was charged with violating Bar rules in four separate matters:

“In the first matter, respondent represented Anthony Domenick and 407-409 Summer Associates, LLC for a Paterson condominium development known as ‘Sandy Hill at Summer Street.’ The terms of the representation called for respondent to file a public offering statement (POS) with the New Jersey Division of Community Affairs (DCA) and to record a master deed in the county clerk’s office. Respondent told his client that he had filed the POS with the DCA and furnished him with a copy of a November 12, 2007 POS carrying registration number ‘04368.’ Respondent stipulated that he never filed a POS with the DCA. Rather, he had fabricated the POS and created a fictitious registration number; the DCA had never assigned a registration number to the Sandy Hill project. Although respondent also failed to record the master deed, he either informed his client, or led him to believe, that he had done so.

“In a second matter, respondent represented a client identified only as ‘Mr. Cerquirra’ and ‘88 St. Francis LLC’ regarding a condominium development project at 88 St. Francis Street in Newark. The representation required respondent to register the project with the DCA and to obtain a registration order. Respondent informed the client that he had obtained a registration order for the project from the DCA. He also gave the client an October 27, 2008 letter, purportedly from DCA’s Manager of the Planned Real Estate Department, Stewart P. Pallonis. Enclosed with that letter was an order of registration from the DCA carrying registration number 04487, and signed ‘Stewart P. Pallonis.’  In fact, respondent never registered the 88 St. Francis Street project with the DCA. Rather, he had fabricated both the Pallonis letter and the registration order, signing Pallonis’ name to both documents before giving them to the client.

“In a third matter, respondent represented Sterling Properties (Sterling) for a Cedar Knolls condominium project known as ‘Viera at Hanover.’ The representation required respondent to register the project with the DCA, but he failed to do so. Respondent, nevertheless, led Sterling to believe that he had registered the project with the DCA, knowing that he had not done so. In reliance on respondent’s false information, Sterling went forward with the project.

“In a fourth matter, respondent represented Sterling for another condominium project in Piscataway. That representation, too, required respondent to register the project with the DCA. Again, respondent failed to do so. Respondent led Sterling to believe that the Piscataway project, too, was registered with the DCA, knowing that it was not. Relying on respondent’s statements, Sterling proceeded with the development project.”

“During respondent’s entire thirty-four-year career at MSLD, he reported to Barry Mandelbaum, the managing attorney, and twelve years his senior. Respondent described Mandelbaum as a “benevolent despot” and a “mentor.” Respondent was never “encouraged” to generate business for the firm. Rather, he tended to work on legal matters that Mandelbaum generated.

“Respondent described his relationship with Mandelbaum as a stressful one. Mandelbaum would berate respondent publicly, place notes on respondent’s door about perceived failings, and subject him to ‘105 decibel,’ public ‘dress downs,’ all of which were extremely embarrassing.

“As the law firm grew larger, younger attorneys became partners. By the mid-2000s, some of those partners had come to expect respondent to complete work on projects that they had generated, placing additional pressure on respondent to perform.

“Several years before respondent engaged in the within misconduct, MSLD established an executive committee to manage the law firm. Respondent perceived that the new arrangement rewarded some of the younger, income-generating attorneys, at his expense. Feeling exposed, he became “terrified” about losing his job. At that juncture, he grew even more reliant on Mandelbaum for protection:

So my desire and drive to please him became extremely strong. And I can’t tell you the number of times when I would have an issue with a client, I would hear the client five minutes later on the phone with Barry and then I would hear Barry’s footsteps stomping down the hall to basically dress me down or yell at me and to confront me, or whatever it might be very publicly.

And it was extremely upsetting and got to the point where I went from a lawyer who loved to go to work every day to a lawyer who dreaded pulling into the parking lot of my law firm, counting whose cars were in to try and decide whose work I should be doing that day so that I wouldn’t get yelled at or — or, you know, almost — I almost use the word bullied, although I’m an adult and was an adult at the time, and it’s a hard concept to have, but it’s the desperate situation I found myself in. (T20-10 to T21-2.)

“Worried about being ‘kicked out’ of MSLD, respondent felt tremendous pressure to complete tasks on time, according to schedules that other attorneys prepared for him. Also pressing was the fear that, because he was over sixty years old and had never been in another legal setting, he could not strike out on his own.”

The DRB Decision also found that the lawyer had no prior discipline, expressed remorse for his misconduct, and paid former clients, the firm and the DCA hundreds of thousands of dollars as restitution.  The DRB recommended a censure (which is a stronger sanction than a reprimand in New Jersey).  The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted that sanction and censured the lawyer.

Bottom line:  This case is unusual, to say the least.  Although the lawyer provided significant mitigation (including the serious “berating” by a supervising partner and “cracking under the pressure” of the partner’s criticism), his underlying misconduct, including his multiple false statements to clients, neglecting client matters and failing to communicate, would appear to be serious enough to merit a suspension, notwithstanding the mitigation that he provided.  The lawyer was in his 50’s and 60’s when the misconduct occurred. One could certainly conclude that the lawyer’s testimony about the “pressure” of the practice was somewhat of an excuse and not an explanation.

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

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

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New Jersey lawyer receives censure for neglecting client matters, failing to communicate with clients, and fraud and dishonesty

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New Jersey Supreme Court Order which adopted the findings of the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board and censured a lawyer for neglecting client matters, failing to communicate with clients, and engaging in conduct involving fraud or dishonesty.  The case is In The Matter of John R. Dusinberre, D-37 September Term 2015 078531 (Supreme Court of New Jersey April 5, 2017).  The New Jersey Supreme Court Order is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1082216 and the Disciplinary Board (DRB) Decision dated November 9, 2016 is here:  http://drblookupportal.judiciary.state.nj.us/DocumentHandler.ashx?document_id=1077667

According to the DRB Decision, the lawyer was charged with violating Bar rules in four separate matters:

“In the first matter, respondent represented Anthony Domenick and 407-409 Summer Associates, LLC for a Paterson condominium development known as ‘Sandy Hill at Summer Street.’ The terms of the representation called for respondent to file a public offering statement (POS) with the New Jersey Division of Community Affairs (DCA) and to record a master deed in the county clerk’s office. Respondent told his client that he had filed the POS with the DCA and furnished him with a copy of a November 12, 2007 POS carrying registration number ‘04368.’ Respondent stipulated that he never filed a POS with the DCA. Rather, he had fabricated the POS and created a fictitious registration number; the DCA had never assigned a registration number to the Sandy Hill project. Although respondent also failed to record the master deed, he either informed his client, or led him to believe, that he had done so.

“In a second matter, respondent represented a client identified only as ‘Mr. Cerquirra’ and ‘88 St. Francis LLC’ regarding a condominium development project at 88 St. Francis Street in Newark. The representation required respondent to register the project with the DCA and to obtain a registration order. Respondent informed the client that he had obtained a registration order for the project from the DCA. He also gave the client an October 27, 2008 letter, purportedly from DCA’s Manager of the Planned Real Estate Department, Stewart P. Pallonis. Enclosed with that letter was an order of registration from the DCA carrying registration number 04487, and signed ‘Stewart P. Pallonis.’  In fact, respondent never registered the 88 St. Francis Street project with the DCA. Rather, he had fabricated both the Pallonis letter and the registration order, signing Pallonis’ name to both documents before giving them to the client.

“In a third matter, respondent represented Sterling Properties (Sterling) for a Cedar Knolls condominium project known as ‘Viera at Hanover.’ The representation required respondent to register the project with the DCA, but he failed to do so. Respondent, nevertheless, led Sterling to believe that he had registered the project with the DCA, knowing that he had not done so. In reliance on respondent’s false information, Sterling went forward with the project.

“In a fourth matter, respondent represented Sterling for another condominium project in Piscataway. That representation, too, required respondent to register the project with the DCA. Again, respondent failed to do so. Respondent led Sterling to believe that the Piscataway project, too, was registered with the DCA, knowing that it was not. Relying on respondent’s statements, Sterling proceeded with the development project.”

“During respondent’s entire thirty-four-year career at MSLD, he reported to Barry Mandelbaum, the managing attorney, and twelve years his senior. Respondent described Mandelbaum as a “benevolent despot” and a “mentor.” Respondent was never “encouraged” to generate business for the firm. Rather, he tended to work on legal matters that Mandelbaum generated.

“Respondent described his relationship with Mandelbaum as a stressful one. Mandelbaum would berate respondent publicly, place notes on respondent’s door about perceived failings, and subject him to ‘105 decibel,’ public ‘dress downs,’ all of which were extremely embarrassing.

“As the law firm grew larger, younger attorneys became partners. By the mid-2000s, some of those partners had come to expect respondent to complete work on projects that they had generated, placing additional pressure on respondent to perform.

“Several years before respondent engaged in the within misconduct, MSLD established an executive committee to manage the law firm. Respondent perceived that the new arrangement rewarded some of the younger, income-generating attorneys, at his expense. Feeling exposed, he became “terrified” about losing his job. At that juncture, he grew even more reliant on Mandelbaum for protection:

So my desire and drive to please him became extremely strong. And I can’t tell you the number of times when I would have an issue with a client, I would hear the client five minutes later on the phone with Barry and then I would hear Barry’s footsteps stomping down the hall to basically dress me down or yell at me and to confront me, or whatever it might be very publicly.

And it was extremely upsetting and got to the point where I went from a lawyer who loved to go to work every day to a lawyer who dreaded pulling into the parking lot of my law firm, counting whose cars were in to try and decide whose work I should be doing that day so that I wouldn’t get yelled at or — or, you know, almost — I almost use the word bullied, although I’m an adult and was an adult at the time, and it’s a hard concept to have, but it’s the desperate situation I found myself in. (T20-10 to T21-2.)

“Worried about being ‘kicked out’ of MSLD, respondent felt tremendous pressure to complete tasks on time, according to schedules that other attorneys prepared for him. Also pressing was the fear that, because he was over sixty years old and had never been in another legal setting, he could not strike out on his own.”

The DRB Decision also found that the lawyer had no prior discipline, expressed remorse for his misconduct, and paid former clients, the firm and the DCA hundreds of thousands of dollars as restitution.  The DRB recommended a censure (which is a stronger sanction than a reprimand in New Jersey).  The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted that sanction and censured the lawyer.

Bottom line:  This case is unusual, to say the least.  Although the lawyer provided significant mitigation (including the serious “berating” by a supervising partner and “cracking under the pressure” of the partner’s criticism), his underlying misconduct, including his multiple false statements to clients, neglecting client matters and failing to communicate, would appear to be serious enough to merit a suspension, notwithstanding the mitigation that he provided.  The lawyer was in his 50’s and 60’s when the misconduct occurred. One could certainly conclude that the lawyer’s testimony about the “pressure” of the practice was somewhat of an excuse and not an explanation.

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

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

 

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Lawyer receives 1 year suspension in New York and Oregon for, inter alia, falsely claiming completion of CLE

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York appellate court opinion suspending a New York lawyer for one year on a reciprocal basis after he was suspended by the Oregon Supreme Court for one year for making false representations regarding his completion of the required Oregon CLE and providing false testimony.  The New York case is: Matter of Joseph R. Sanchez, 017 NY Slip Op 01869 (Appellate Division, Second Department March 15, 2017) and the New York opinion is here:  http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_01869.htm.  The Oregon disciplinary board opinion is here:  http://www.osbar.org/_docs/dbreport/dbr29.pdf

The lawyer was admitted to practice in both New York and Oregon.  He was required to complete 45 CLE hours for the 2009 to 2011 Oregon reporting period and he purchased on-line CLE courses.  Two days later, he certified to the Oregon Bar that he had completed the required 45 hours of CLE although he had not previously completed any CLE for that reporting period.

After receiving the lawyer’s certification, the Oregon Bar’s CLE administrator asked him how he was able to watch 48 hours of CLE courses in about one day.  The lawyer responded by providing copies of his CLE completion certificates.  He later provided “evasive, incomplete and/or untruthful” answers under oath. The panel also found that the lawyer made the misrepresentations knowingly and intentionally.

According to the New York opinion:

“The trial panel found the respondent’s overall testimony lacking in credibility:

(The lawyer’s) testimony was inconsistent with his prior writings, including an affidavit he prepared and signed under oath in 2012. The testimony he provided at the hearing was inconsistent with the testimony he previously provided at his deposition in this matter on September 3, 2014, which was also provided under oath. The [respondent] presented facts during his testimony that he had never presented before, notwithstanding having had multiple opportunities to have done so during the course of the [Oregon] Bar’s investigation. Put simply, the panel finds that the [respondent’s] testimony was untruthful. Lastly, the panel finds that the [respondent] made his misrepresentations knowingly and intentionally. The [respondent] was provided multiple opportunities to explain how he could have possibly fit 48 hours of work into a shorter (and potentially significantly shorter) period of time and each time he failed to do so. It is clear he changed the facts over time, [and] added explanations’ when prior ones were not accepted, with each subsequent explanation less plausible than the prior.”

The trial panel concluded that the respondent violated his duty to the public and to the legal profession when he intentionally and knowingly misrepresented to both Lawline and the Oregon Bar the fact that he had attended and successfully completed the CLE courses he had purchased.”

Based upon the reciprocal Oregon discipline (and the facts), the New York opinion suspended the lawyer from the practice of law for one year, beginning on April 14, 2017.  He was also required to “furnish satisfactory proof that during the period of suspension he (1) refrained from practicing or attempting to practice law, (2) fully complied with this order and with the terms and provisions of the written rules governing the conduct of disbarred and suspended attorneys (see 22 NYCRR 1240.15), (3) complied with the applicable continuing legal education requirements of 22 NYCRR 691.11(a), and (4) otherwise properly conducted himself.”

Bottom line:  It should certainly should go without saying that lawyers must never provide false information to the Bar (or at any other time); however, this lawyer apparently very blatantly believed that he could pass under the Bar radar in making the false representations.  He compounded the misconduct by providing “inconsistent testimony” that as “lacking in credibility.”  Not only is this conduct completely unethical, but lawyers should never assume that the Bar will fail to detect false representations such as these.

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

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

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Pennsylvania woman who impersonated a lawyer for 10 years is sentenced to 2 to 5 years in prison

Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert blog which will update my March 30, 2016 blog and discuss recent sentence of a Pennsylvania woman who impersonated a lawyer for 10 years.  The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Kimberly M. Kitchen, case number CP-31-CR-0000274-2015 (Court of Common Pleas of Huntingdon County).  The court docket is here:  https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/DocketSheets/CPReport.ashx?docketNumber=CP-31-CR-0000274-2015

According to media reports, the woman was a partner at a Pennsylvania law firm when her actions were discovered later that year.  In the winter of 2014, attorney Gregory Jackson was creating a seniority list for the Huntingdon County Bar Association (for whom the lawyer had previously served as President) but could not find any information on her indicating that she was a lawyer.  He then reported her.

She had spent the previous 10 years impersonating a lawyer when the state attorney general’s office brought criminal charges against her in 2015.  According to the criminal charges and media reports, the individual created fictitious bar examination results and a law license and also a false check for the state attorney registration fee.  She also created a false e-mail purportedly showing that she attended Duquesne University law school.

The individual had handled estate planning for clients and was made a partner at her firm.  Her law firm biography page (which has been deleted) claimed that she spent a decade as a paralegal at another firm in Pittsburgh and that she graduated summa cum laude from Duquesne law school.

On March 24, 2016, the individual was found guilty of misdemeanor UPL, misdemeanor forgery, and felony tampering with a public record/information.  On July 19, 2016, the judge sentenced her to two to five years in prison.  According to online media reports, the prison sentence was “on the higher end of the sentencing guidelines”.  The judge stated that there were several reasons for the sentence, including: “not only did she pretend to be a lawyer but she pretended to be the best and biggest around.”

Two of the media reports are here: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/one_time_law_firm_partner_without_law_degree_is_sentenced_for_unlicensed_pr and here: http://wjactv.com/news/local/huntingdon-county-woman-exposed-as-a-fraudulent-lawyer-sentenced-to-prison

Bottom line:  This individual appears to have been successful in boldly impersonating an attorney and pretending “to be the best and biggest around” for over ten years.  She was made a partner and served as a county Bar president using the false credentials and a nonexistent license to practice.  She was ultimately discovered and will now serve 2 to 5 years in prison.  The takeaway:  lawyers must be very wary and be sure to fully investigate any lawyer that are being considered for employment.  It is easy to do this in Florida, just go here: Florida Bar find a lawyer.

Be careful out there.

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

Please note:  Effective June 27, 2016, my new office address is:

29605 U.S. Highway 19 N., Suite 150, Clearwater, Florida 33761

E-mail addresses and telephone numbers below will remain the same. 

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

NOTICE OF CONFIDENTIALITY:  This electronic communication and the information contained herein is legally privileged and confidential proprietary information intended only for the individual and/or entity to whom it is addressed pursuant to the American Bar Association Formal Opinion No. 99-413, dated March 10, 1999 and all other applicable laws and rules.  If you receive this transmission in error, you are advised that any disclosure, copying, distribution, or the taking of any action in reliance upon the communication is strictly prohibited.  Any unauthorized use, distribution, or disclosure of this communication is strictly prohibited.  If you have received this in error, please notify us immediately by return e-mail at the above telephone number and then delete message entirely from your system.  Thank you for your cooperation.

 

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Pennsylvania lawyer agrees to disbarment for forging judge’s name on court order and misspelling it

 

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court disciplinary Order disbarring a lawyer on consent for forging a judge’s name on an Order and misspelling it. The disciplinary case is In the Matter of Stephen P. Ellwood, Docket No. 181 DB 2015 (11/10/15), and the disbarment entry is here:  http://www.padisciplinaryboard.org/look-up/supreme-court-actions.php

According to media reports, the lawyer represented a client in a matter and claimed that he had obtained the $250,000.00 judgment.  The former client then went to another lawyer for assistance in collecting the judgment that he thought he had received; however, the new lawyer noticed that the judge’s name had been misspelled in the order.

After being confronted with the evidence, the lawyer admitted to forging the signature and agreed to two years of probation with 75 hours of community service in a criminal prosecution.  The lawyer then agreed to be disbarred by consent after admitting to forging a judge’s signature on a $250,000.00 judgment.  The media reports are here:  http://www.pennlive.com/news/2015/11/schuylkill_attorney_disbarred.html and here: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_gets_probation_for_forging_judges_name_on_court_order_and_is_disbarr/

Bottom line: This is a very bizarre example of a lawyer who apparently wanted a client to believe that he had accomplished a positive result and resorted to creating a false judgment, which led to his criminal prosecution and disbarment.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tennessee lawyer who, inter alia, billed clients for watching crime TV shows and was “doggedly unrepentant” is suspended for one year

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Tennessee Supreme Court disciplinary opinion which suspended a lawyer for one year for, inter alia, billing clients for watching true-crime shows.  The opinion is Yarboro Sallee v. Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility, No. E2014-01062-SC-R3-BP (July 23, 2015) and is online here:  http://www.tsc.state.tn.us/sites/default/files/salleeyarboro.opn_.pdf

According to the opinion, the underlying matter involved an accident which occurred on October 15, 2009.  The decedent, Lori Noll, fell down steps in her home and died five days later. Although a medical examiner found that the death was accidental, the Ms. Noll’s parents suspected that their daughter’s husband was motivated by a one-million dollar insurance policy on Ms. Noll’s life and was responsible for her death.

The lawyer was hired by the parents in September 2010 to file a wrongful death action.  The lawyer estimated that the litigation would cost no more than $100,000.00.  The parents agreed to pay the lawyer an hourly rate of $250.00 and paid her an initial retainer of $5,000.00.  The parents paid the lawyer an additional $15,000.00 and, within a month after the initial engagement, the parents paid an additional $19,000.00 in three separate checks: (1) $10,000.00 as a further retainer (2) $4,000.00 flat fee for the juvenile court proceeding, and (3) $5,000.00 to retain a forensics expert.

Less than three months later, the lawyer claimed that she had incurred hourly fees totaling over $140,000.00.  At that point, she had done “little more” than file the wrongful death complaint, file related pleadings in probate and juvenile court, and gather records.  When the lawyer insisted that the clients agree to pay her a contingency fees plus the hourly fees, they terminated her.

After the clients terminated the lawyer, she refused to return to them important evidence and documents related to the wrongful death litigation, including brain tissue slides from their daughter’s autopsy. The clients sued the lawyer to force her to return the withheld items and the lawyer threatened to file criminal charges against them. The clients then filed a complaint against the lawyer with the Tennessee Board of Professional Responsibility.

The Professional Responsibility Board investigated the lawyer, who argued that her conduct had been reasonable and ethical.  She provided the Board documentation of her hourly charges, which claimed that she had worked as many as 23 hours of billable time in a single day and included fees for tasks such as watching many hours of reality and fictional crime TV shows.

A hearing panel found that the lawyer had violated numerous the Bar by charging excessive fees, demanding that the clients agree to pay a contingency fee in addition to hourly fees, failing to communicate with the clients regarding the basis for the fees, improperly withholding items from the clients after they discharged her, and threatening to file criminal charges against the clients. The hearing panel found five aggravating factors: (1) a dishonest and selfish motive; (2) a pattern of misconduct; (3) multiple offenses; (4) refusal to acknowledge the wrongfulness of her conduct; and (5) indifference to making restitution and one mitigating factor: the absence of a prior disciplinary record and recommended a one year suspension.

The lawyer requested judicial review of the hearing panel’s recommendation, and the trial judge upheld the sanction. The lawyer then appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court, claiming that there was no basis for finding ethical violations and that the one year suspension was too severe.  The opinion upheld the hearing panel’s findings that the lawyer violated multiple ethical rules and the one year suspension.  “At every turn in these proceedings, faced with findings at every level that her conduct breached numerous ethical rules, Attorney Sallee has been doggedly unrepentant. Indeed, her consistent response has bordered on righteous indignation.”

The opinion further stated:  “Assuming arguendo that the hourly rate of $250 per hour is reasonable for Attorney Sallee’s experience and ability, it is important under the Rules that the lawyer ensure that the work for which he or she seeks to charge the client is ‘reasonable.’ For example, a lawyer who represents criminal clients may be interested in watching Perry Mason or Breaking Bad on television, and may even pick up a useful tidbit or two from doing so. The lawyer may not, however, equate that to research for which he or she may charge a client. In this case, the Panel did not err in considering the many hours Attorney Sallee sought to charge the Claimants for watching television shows such as 48 Hours.

“Attorney Sallee also objected to the trial court’s comment that she ‘watched TV and charged her client for it.’ She characterized this statement as ‘ridiculous,’ adding, ‘since when is television not a respectable avenue for research anyway.’ Attorney Sallee pointed to a particular time entry on her ‘billing statement’ as legitimate billable time because it was spent watching a five-hour documentary on the Peterson ‘Stair Case Murder’ in North Carolina. Her motion did not address a 12.5-hour time entry on September 25, 2010, for watching ‘48 Hours’ episodes on similar spousal homicides, a 4.0-hour time entry on October 19, 2010 for watching four ‘48 Hours’ episodes on asphyxia, or a 3.5-hour time entry on October 20, 2010 for watching these same ‘48 Hours’ episodes a second time. At Attorney Sallee’s regular hourly rate, this would amount to over $5,000 for watching episodes of ‘48 Hours.’”

Bottom line: This is an egregious example of a lawyer seriously abusing billable time and charging an excessive fee, including charging as many as 23 billable hours in one day and charging multiple billable hours watching crime TV shows.  To compound her problems, the lawyer refused to turn over the clients’ evidence and information after they had terminated her and apparently completely failed to grasp that she had committed any misconduct.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

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New York lawyer suspended for 3 months for, inter alia, making racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, insulting judge, and being disrupting

Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent New York Appellate Court disciplinary opinion suspending a lawyer who, inter alia, was found to have made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge, and being disruptive in a hearing room.  The disciplinary opinion is Matter of Teague 2015 NY Slip Op 06301, Appellate Division, First Department (July 28, 2015) and the opinion is online at justia.com here: http://law.justia.com/cases/new-york/appellate-division-first-department/2015/m-1137.html

According to the opinion, the lawyer was admitted in New York in 1993.  In 2012 and 2013, the New York Disciplinary Committee brought 13 charges against the lawyer.  After a hearing, the assigned referee recommended that the lawyer be found guilty of 6 of the charges, which were related to his “demeanor and actions”. The six charges were confirmed by the New York Hearing Panel in a report dated January 13, 2015 and other the seven charges were dismissed.

The lawyer was charged with having made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulting an administrative law judge in a public forum, and being disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importuning court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.

The evidence included testimony of three Administrative Law Judges: one judge received complaints of “disruptive or explosive conduct” by the lawyer and personally witnessed the behavior on several occasions; a second judge was called “a disgrace” by the lawyer in an open hearing room during or after a contentious hearing.  A third judge had admonished the lawyer for talking in the courtroom, and the lawyer responded by becoming “irate, rude, loud, and combative”.  Three attorneys who practiced traffic law in the same place as the lawyer (traffic court) testified that the lawyer had cursed and made “obscene, racist comments, and uttered profanities about ethnicity and homosexuality” “for years” in the public areas of the court.  The had also threatened one of the attorneys on more than one occasion.

The referee report recommended that the lawyer be “publicly sanctioned” and directed to attend an anger management program, based on the “vituperative and unseemly remarks” made to two Administrative Law Judges and the inappropriate language used with other attorneys. The referee also noted the unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace.”  The referee attributed respondent’s misbehavior to “poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”

The report further found that the lawyer admitted that he used inappropriate language, he intended to seek counseling, and he had never been convicted of any offense involving violence.  The lawyer is active in his church, does pro bono work related to traffic cases, and “seeks to be successful on behalf of his clients”.  The Hearing Panel rejected the referee’s recommendation of a “public sanction” and recommended a one month suspension.

After citing to relevant case law, the opinion states:

“Even assuming, as the Referee found, that it is true that inappropriate language by attorneys is commonplace at the (court), we fail to see how this constitutes mitigation or otherwise excuses respondent’s ongoing and public inappropriate behavior. Respondent has shown inexcusable disrespect in open court to two Administrative Law Judges. He has spewed racist, sexist, homophobic and offensive epithets against other attorneys that any reasonable person, let alone a reasonable attorney, would know are simply unacceptable in public discourse…Respondent’s conduct should not and will not be tolerated.  Furthermore, we find it of concern that he attempted to undermine the functioning of the (court) by his repeated requests of the clerks to recalendar cases, even after being informed by more than one clerk that what he was asking would violate (court) policy.

The opinion rejected the one month suspension and suspended the lawyer for three months and also required the lawyer to continue offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, anger management treatment for one year.

Bottom line:  The practice of law is extremely stressful and lawyers strive to keep the stress (and any improper impulses) under control.  This lawyer clearly failed to do this and made “patently offensive racial, ethnic, homophobic, sexist, and other derogatory remarks to attorneys”, insulted an administrative law judge in a public forum, was disruptive inside of and/or in the vicinity of hearing rooms; and “improperly importune(ed) court clerks to recalendar cases even when told it could not be done”.  Notwithstanding that there was an “unpleasant work atmosphere and that inappropriate language between the attorneys “appeared to be commonplace’ at the court, the opinion suspended the lawyer for 3 months” and cited his poor impulse control” and a “hair trigger response.”  This lawyer should be happy that the sanction was only a three (3) month suspension.

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.

2454 McMullen Booth Road, Suite 431

Clearwater, Florida 33759

Office (727) 799-1688

Fax     (727) 799-1670

jcorsmeier@jac-law.com

www.jac-law.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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