Hello and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Indictment of a New York paralegal for allegedly creating more than 100 false judicial orders and forging signatures of 76 judges in structured settlement matters. The case is New York v. Thomas Rubino and the Indictment is online here: http://nylawyer.nylj.com/adgifs/decisions15/091715indictment.pdf
According to the Indictment filed by New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr.’s office on September 16, 2015 and a press release issued on the same day, Thomas Rubino, a former paralegal at a personal injury law firm, allegedly forged the signatures of 76 state Supreme Court justices to create more than 100 false judicial orders in structured settlement matters.
The District Attorney’s press release states as follows:
“According to the indictment and documents filed in court, from July 2010 to October 2013, RUBINO was employed as a paralegal for Paris & Chaikin a law firm located on West 34th Street in Manhattan. Paris & Chaikin represents structured settlement companies in the purchasing of structured settlement rights – money owed to an individual from an insurance claim settlement, such as a personal injury matter, generally paid in installments over the course of several years. Structured settlement companies purchase an individual’s settlement rights in return for a lump sum payment. This practice is regulated in New York State and each transaction requires the approval of a Justice of the New York State Supreme Court to ensure that each transfer is in the best interest of the individual.
Beginning in December 2010, RUBINO served as the law firm’s primary employee handling structured settlement acquisitions. In this role, the clients would email him directly with a transaction that required approval. RUBINO was supposed to draft the required court documents and file them in the court in the appropriate county in New York State.
Between approximately late June 2011 and October 2013, RUBINO forged the signature of 76 justices on 117 documents that purported to be judicial orders approving the transfer of structured settlements. The defendant used a pair of scissors to cut a judge’s signature from a legitimate document, and then taped that signature onto the fake order that he created. After RUBINO transmitted the forged judicial orders to the clients, the clients released the funds to the individuals and sold the annuities to third parties.
In late 2013, the legitimacy of at least two transfers processed by RUBINO was called into question. Fearing detection, the defendant told the law firm that he had a family emergency and needed to leave immediately. He never returned.
The District Attorney’s press release is here: http://manhattanda.org/press-release/da-vance-former-paralegal-charged-forging-signatures-76-state-supreme-court-justices
According to media reports, including the New York Law Journal, Rubino pleaded not guilty during an arraignment on the criminal charges on September 16, 2015. The charges are D felonies, which carry statutory maximum terms of 2 1/3 to 7 years. The judge set bail at $25,000.00 and is quoted as stating that it was a “very bizarre case” and “where are the lawyers on this?”
According to the documents filed by the District Attorney’s office, after leaving the law firm, Rubino met with prosecutors four times and he “fully confessed” to the crimes. The documents also included a voluntary disclosure form containing four statements made by Rubino to the prosecutors: “I couldn’t keep up with the work, and I felt like I couldn’t leave so I created the forged orders”, Rubino also stated he received a letter from a judge asking the firm to appear because the local clerk’s office could not locate the order; however, he hid the letter in his desk and did not tell anyone. He said “I knew I had been caught” and that he left the firm soon afterward. Rubino also said the law firm’s principal lawyers were not aware of his conduct. The Voluntary Disclosure form is here: http://nylawyer.nylj.com/adgifs/decisions15/091715disclosure.pdf
The District Attorney’s office has also indicated that there are no other criminal charges in the case. According to media reports, the law firm’s counsel said that, since discovering Rubino’s fraud, “(the law firm) has remained absolutely committed to diligently, ethically and aggressively addressing this matter.” He also said the firm immediately reported the fraud, “and upon discovering other acts of misconduct, the firm has continued reporting Rubino’s acts of fraud to various New York courts and law enforcement. We are confident that (the law firm’s) cooperation with law enforcement, including the New York State Inspector General’s office and the district attorney’s office, will result in Rubino being brought to justice.”
Bottom line: This is a very scary example of an apparently poorly or unsupervised non-lawyer/paralegal engaging in egregious misconduct without the knowledge of the supervising lawyers/partners; however, there would presumably be potential liability for violations of New York disciplinary rules related to the failure to properly supervise the paralegal. Lawyers must always closely monitor the activities of non-lawyer employees and properly supervise them, which is required under the Bar disciplinary rules in every jurisdiction. Florida Bar Rule 4-5.3 sets forth the responsibilities of partners and supervisory lawyers regarding non-lawyer assistants and is online here: http://www.floridabar.org/divexe/rrtfb.nsf/FV/8C9B4524008595E485256BBC0052DD7B
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