Friday, August 28, 2009

Neglect Draws Two-Year Suspension

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department affirmed findings of neglect of five client matters but rejected a proposed six-month suspension and imposed a suspension of two years. Departmental Disciplinary Counsel had argued for the greater sanction. The court found pervasive neglect of the matters, which came to light when a client complained to the law firm:

Respondent's firm only became aware of his neglect in August 2006 after being contacted by a client, after which respondent was informed that the firm would review all of his assigned cases on August 28, 2006. Respondent admitted his misconduct in all five matters on that date, and the firm subsequently terminated his employment and filed a complaint with the Disciplinary Committee. Its letter to the Committee noted that during the nine years he worked for the firm, respondent "had shown himself to be a dedicated, thoughtful attorney who performed most of his work in exemplary fashion," concluding that the instances of client neglect "appear to be an aberration rather than the rule." A subsequent letter to the Committee noted respondent's efforts to rectify the consequences of his misconduct prior to his departure from the firm.

As to sanction: 

This Court has consistently held that a persistent pattern of neglect warrants a substantial suspension from the practice of law (see Matter of O'Shea, 25 AD3d 203 [2005] [two-year suspension for neglect of four client matters, misrepresentations to the clients, good reputation, outstanding record of community service, some psychological problems, with one prior admonition]; Matter of Leavitt, 291 AD2d 37 [2002] [18-month suspension for neglect of three matters, misrepresentations to clients, initial misleading answers to Committee and two prior admonitions, one of which was for similar misconduct]; Matter of Gill, 225 AD2d 170 [1996] [three-year suspension for neglect of single matter, repeated misrepresentations to client regarding status of case and creation of fictitious litigation papers]). A substantial period of suspension has been imposed even where the respondent had no prior disciplinary history (e.g. Matter of Furtzaig, 305 AD2d 7 [2003]; Matter of Gill, 225 AD2d 170 [1996], supra). Moreover, respondent herein has no attendant psychological condition or personal circumstances that warrant mitigation of the sanction (cf. Matter of Rosenkrantz, 305 AD2d 13 [2003]; Matter of Siegel, 193 AD2d 181 [1993]). Finally, the adverse impact on legal employment is inherent in any suspension of significant length (see Matter of Leavitt, 291 AD2d at 39; Matter of Racer, 56 AD3d 125, 129 [2008]).

(Mike Frisch)

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