March 21, 2008
Form Over Substance
A former name partner of Milberg Weiss was disbarred yesterday by order of the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department. The attorney had been convicted of a federal felony. His contention that the felony had no parallel in New York state law was rejected as "form over substance." The court found:
"According to the Second Superceding Information, Milberg Weiss constituted an enterprise specializing in representing plaintiffs in class actions and shareholder derivative actions. Respondent admitted in his plea allocution and plea agreement, read in conjunction with the Information, that from approximately 2003 through at least 2005, while respondent was a partner at Milberg Weiss, there was an agreement among two or more other Milberg Weiss attorneys to conduct Milberg Weiss's affairs through a 'pattern of racketeering activity.' This involved giving secret, illegal kickbacks to individual class action plaintiffs who were essentially on call to act as lead plaintiffs. This arrangement allowed Milberg Weiss to file lawsuits faster and to gain the position as lead counsel to receive higher fees.
Specifically, respondent admitted that he participated in negotiating with Howard J. Vogel (Vogel) the amounts Milberg Weiss paid to Vogel pursuant to this secret payment arrangement. Respondent also admitted working with Vogel to prepare and file numerous class actions in which Vogel, his relatives and entities Vogel controlled served as named plaintiffs for Milberg Weiss. Respondent also caused Milberg Weiss to issue checks to others, (generally law firms), serving as intermediaries for Vogel with the understanding and intent that these intermediaries would distribute these funds to Vogel. Respondent also knew that transmittal letters falsely described these checks as the 'share' of attorneys' fees Milberg Weiss owed for the intermediaries' work on the class actions."
Where a federal felony conviction equates to a New York state felony, disbarment is automatic and the convicted attorney is struck from the rolls. (Mike Frisch)
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