Friday, April 4, 2008

Less Than Disbarment

The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department granted a motion to reargue an order of disbarment and imposed a five-year suspension in a matter involving conversion of client funds on multiple occasions, failure to maintain required records, a pattern of excessive fees and lack of candor in the disciplinary process. The attorney contended that there was no admissible evidence of misconduct and that Grievance Counsel had "misled him and coerced his 'limited admissions.' " The court found the latter contention "totally unsubstantiated." The attorney pressed for leniency on the following grounds:

"The respondent asks this Court to consider the numerous character letters submitted by satisfied clients, as well as those submitted by religious and business leaders with whom he regularly comes in contact. He emphasizes the remedial and preventative measures he has put in place and insists that there is no admission or proof of knowing and willful misconduct. The respondent further asks this Court to note that no law school courses ever taught him the rules of ethics which he is now alleged to have violated. He claims that as a private practitioner, he has had no role models to follow. He asks this Court to consider the devastating effect that the loss of his law license would have upon his wife and children, who rely on him for ongoing support."

The court had some sympathy:

"Notwithstanding the mitigation advanced and the respondent's claimed lack of venality, the respondent is guilty of serious professional misconduct and his arguments evinced a fundamental ignorance of the disciplinary rules regarding proper maintenance of an escrow account. Throughout his testimony, the respondent claimed confusion and a faulty memory with respect to dates. This led the Special Referee to conclude that the respondent had a persistent lack of candor when confronted by the Grievance Committee.

However, based upon the respondent's expressed remorse and acceptance of responsibility for his misconduct, and the comprehensive remedial measures that he has undertaken since the commencement of the disciplinary proceeding to insure that his escrow violations were not repeated, we conclude that the respondent's misconduct warrants his five year suspension from the practice of law." (Mike Frisch)

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