December 9, 2011
False Claim Of Anti-Semitic Slur Draws Suspension
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has imposed a six-month suspension of an attorney for false claims against an officer who had stopped him for speeding:
This disciplinary proceeding arises out of a traffic stop which occurred in New Jersey on July 5, 2007. Respondent, who is an orthodox Jew, was stopped for speeding by a New Jersey State Trooper and given a summons for going 84 mph in a 55 mph zone. Unbeknownst to respondent and his wife, who was in the passenger seat, the stop was videotaped from a camera in the trooper's car. Further, a microphone on the trooper's uniform recorded everything that the trooper said, although it did not capture respondent's statements.
Six days later, the attorney wrote a letter to the traffic court on the stationary of the firm where he was employed as an associate. The letter denied he was speeding and asserted that the officer had called him a "jew kike."
A police investigation exonerated the officer. The attorney later admitted that he had lied.
As to sanction:
The Referee found that while writing the letter was a single aberrational act, it was exacerbated by respondent's statements, required to be truthful, in his telephonic interview with [the officer investigating his claims] and by his perpetration of the theme of anti-Semitic behavior in his answer to the complaint. He further stated that he believed that respondent lacked the intent to harm the trooper, and credited respondent's psychiatrist's testimony that his accusation was an "impulsive" action even though six days had elapsed since he had received the ticket.
The Referee further stated that he believed that respondent was sincerely remorseful for the incident and that his apology to the trooper was genuine. The Referee accepted respondent's psychiatrist's opinion that respondent's personality disorders were legion and strong, and was persuaded that respondent's writing the charge that the trooper used an ethnic slur was impulsive. The Referee further asserted that, while perhaps not technically the "cause" of respondent's misconduct, his many personality disorders, exacerbated by the stress of his job, his marital problems and especially the problems of his oldest child, had a severe impact on his behavior. The Referee credited respondent for his devotion to therapy and continued attendance at therapy sessions, which appeared to be having a positive impact. The Referee observed that the trooper was not directly harmed by respondent's behavior, insofar as he was not disciplined, suspended, docked pay or benefits or even forced to hire a lawyer. On the other hand, he noted that the officer had nine months of emotional stress while the Internal Affairs investigation was ongoing and, though the disparate treatment claim against him was determined to be unfounded, the incident would be documented in his personnel file forever, which could affect or at least delay future consideration of a request for transfer or a promotion. Recognizing the financial hardship which a suspension would cause respondent, the Referee nevertheless recommended a six-month suspension.
Here, respondent cavalierly attributed anti-Semitic slurs to an innocent person in a manner which could have had devastating consequences to that person's career. This act alone warrants a harsh sanction, not to mention that it was done to gain an advantage in an administrative proceeding. Notwithstanding the mitigating evidence and respondent's apparently sincere remorse, his behavior was reckless and reflects poorly on the bar. Under the circumstances, censure or admonition is simply too lenient a penalty.
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