Monday, April 21, 2014

Not That Paul Weiss

An Illinois Hearing Board has issued its long awaited report in a matter involving an attorney (not the firm) named Paul Weiss.

The hearing has proposed a 30-month suspension for a series of sexually harrassing acts against female employees,  a neighbor and a stranger.

For example, this account of an employee was deemed credible

B. testified within the first week of her employment, Respondent took her to see the firm's new office space. When he stood close to her and told her he wanted to kiss her, she took a step back and was uncomfortable and confused. Respondent did not kiss her.

During B.'s employment, Respondent made comments to her regarding her appearance, the possibility of kissing her or having sex with her, and his sex life. He also asked questions of a sexual nature about B.'s relationship with her male roommate. When B. obtained a loan from the firm to pay her cell phone bill, Respondent told her she could pay him back "in the flesh."

B. recalled that Respondent often followed her into the elevator or to the washroom and touched her in a sexual manner by rubbing his hand over her body, including her breasts and buttocks. When she asked him to stop, he laughed. Although she tried to avoid riding the elevator alone, she felt she had to comply with Respondent's errand requests. Respondent's comments and the sexual touching, which occurred on more than fifty occasions, caused B. to feel fearful and very uncomfortable.

B. testified she attended an evening Bulls game with Respondent, Eric Freed and John Flaum. As Respondent was driving her to the train station after the game, he stopped the car, unzipped his pants, and "grabbed for [her] to touch him." When she pulled her hand away, he said "come on, just kiss it." B. refused, and exited the car. The car door was unlocked and Respondent did not try to restrain her or keep her in the car. B. testified she felt uncomfortable, a little shaken and afraid, but did not tell anyone about the incident because she was afraid, ashamed, and did not want to lose her job. 

B. acknowledged that Respondent raised issues regarding her work performance. In June 2002 he complained that she was not properly maintaining files, and noted she was spending too much time on the phone and internet.

B. arranged for her younger sister, K. W., to work at Freed & Weiss during the summer of 2002. Prior to W.'s employment, B. did not tell her about the incidents with Respondent because she was not comfortable discussing it and she did not think Respondent would bother her sister. She later told W. about Respondent's conduct and, in retrospect, feels upset and disgusted that her sister took a job with the firm.

Throughout B.'s employment she received numerous telephone calls from Respondent to her cellular or work phone. Some of the calls were work-related or requests for errands but others were sexual in nature, as when Respondent told her he was masturbating or thinking of her when he had sex with his wife, or asked her to "talk dirty" to him. She estimated those calls occurred more than fifty times, and possibly more than 100 times, and lasted less than one minute. B. felt disgusted, violated and afraid, and always hung up on Respondent. She believed she had to answer the phone in case the call was work-related.

And from a firm associate

 In the fall of 2002 [associate] S. began feeling sexually harassed by Respondent. On one occasion she was in the copying room with Respondent when he asked if she had a boyfriend and mentioned sex between friends. When he asked if he could touch her leg, she did not respond. He then touched her calf and told her she had become more attractive in the past year. S. stated she felt paralyzed and powerless at the time, which was unusual for her. She did not recall making any comments about Respondent's legs.

 A short time after the copying room incident, S. was sitting next to Respondent as they were reviewing her work. Respondent reached over and placed his hand on her calf for about one second. Although S. did not want Respondent to touch her and was afraid, she focused on work and said nothing. 

 On another occasion Respondent suggested to S. that she start wearing low-cut clothing because "sex sells." S. then asked "why would I want to sell it here?" After that incident, S. felt she had regained her voice. She called a meeting with Respondent and Freed to ask that the harassment stop and, at the same time, she mentioned that her salary was too low. In response, they raised the issue of her billable hours. No more incidents occurred after the meeting.

 S. did not report Respondent's conduct to Jamie Weiss because Jamie was Respondent's wife, or to the part-time office manager Suzanne Kendryna. She did not go to the police because she did not feel that a crime had been committed.

 On December 26, 2002 while S. was vacationing in Florida, she received a voice message from Freed informing her that her employment had been terminated because her work performance and hours were not up to task. S. had no warning and had not been concerned that her job was in jeopardy. She received a termination letter from the firm, but had no further conversations with Respondent or Freed.

There's more

S. N. [now B.] stands five feet two and one-half inches tall and weighs 104 pounds. She worked for Respondent for between 1999 and 2001, when she was approximately 27 years old. Respondent and Jamie Weiss, who worked at the firm but was present in the office only occasionally, were her supervisors. N.'s primary responsibility was organizing the files but she also performed other tasks. N. recalled a casual office atmosphere where Respondent and his partner argued loudly. 

After N. began working at the firm, Respondent called her at home "more than a couple" and "maybe five" times and asked her what she was wearing. Although N. did not think the questions were appropriate, she initially viewed them as a joke and brushed them off by telling Respondent "shut the fuck up" and hanging up the phone. N. told Respondent to stop calling, and eventually he did.

N. recalled Respondent made sexually suggestive comments to her at the office, including telling her he wanted to sleep with her. N. thought the comments were inappropriate, but they went "in one ear and out the other" and she continued on with her day. She described herself as having a thick skin, and was not distraught by his comments. On many occasions while she was sitting on the couch in Respondent's office, he removed his casual pants and changed into dress pants in preparation for court. He always had on boxer shorts, and sometimes the door was open. N. also recalled when she was in Respondent's office he would rub his genitals, over his pants, in a sexual manner.

N. recalled being reprimanded by Respondent and Jamie for having a poor attitude, and being criticized for her work. She acknowledged she was not the best paralegal, and that she had "a bit of a mouth." She did not recall giving Respondent a ride home or inviting him to her parents' home, but may have sent him a balloon bouquet when he had surgery.

Toward the end of N.'s employment, she was in the firm's lunchroom with Respondent when he placed his hand under her clothing and grabbed her breast. She pulled his hand out, screamed at him and left the office. She was upset and nauseated by Respondent's disgusting and inappropriate conduct. At that point she had been looking for a new job for several months, but could not afford to quit without obtaining other employment.

N. testified that her parents and boyfriend knew of Respondent's conduct. She talked to them about filing a sexual harassment charge, but decided it was best to leave her job and move on. She did not report Respondent's action to the police.

Not long after the lunchroom incident, N. told Respondent she was quitting. She did not recall asking Respondent to match an offer she received from another firm. During an argument about whether she should receive pay for unused vacation time, N. told Respondent he owed her the money and he had behaved inappropriately. Respondent asked if she were threatening him with a lawsuit, and then told her she could receive payment if she signed a document stating she would not sue him.

On or about May 31, 2001, N. received a termination agreement from Respondent which stated, among other things, that the firm was providing a severance payment of $434.84 in exchange for her agreement not to sue and to release the firm and its partners from any and all claims related to her employment. N. took the agreement to a lawyer before signing it. She had no recollection of receiving an e-mail from Respondent telling her that, in light of her comment that she intended to sue him if she did not receive payment for her vacation days, she should pack her belongings and leave.

Outside the office

We find that M. K. was a credible witness and we accept her conclusions and impressions with respect to Respondent's behavior. K. testified she frequently tossed Respondent's newspaper to him as she was leaving her apartment building in the morning and, after several such occasions, she came to the realization that he was intentionally exposing himself. Respondent's pattern of requests gave K. ample opportunity to observe his conduct and form a judgment regarding his behavior. Her testimony that she eventually told Respondent to stop, at which point he opened his door all the way and fully exposed himself, was unequivocal and convincing.

And

R. C. testified Respondent approached her in his car as she was walking on a sidewalk. As she stood next to his car to answer his questions and obtain his contact information, she saw that his penis was out of his zipper. When Respondent began speaking aggressively to her and told her to get in his car, she walked away feeling nervous and frightened. J. S. and J. K., both of whom saw C. shortly after the incident, confirmed C.' distress.

Respondent admitted he approached C. in his car, initiated a conversation with her, provided his first name and telephone number, and offered her a ride. He further admitted that his penis possibly could have been visible out of his gym shorts, but denied that any exposure was intentional. He was charged with an ordinance violation, stipulated to what the evidence would be, and was found guilty of disorderly conduct.

C. and her employers were credible witnesses and we had no reason to doubt their testimony. We do not believe C. misinterpreted what she saw and, as a total stranger to Respondent, she had no reason to invent any accusations. We find that Respondent exposed himself to her as she stood next to his car and, based on her description and reaction of alarm, we conclude the exposure was purposeful. We reject Respondent's claim that any impropriety was purely accidental.

And another associate (an excerpt)

On Friday, December 10, 2010 Respondent was making sexual comments to A. throughout the day. When he asked her to remove her shirt for money, she recalled telling him she would make more money as his stripper than as his employee. Around 3:00 Respondent and some non-employee friends opened the office bar and A. made a drink for herself. By 5:30, everyone had left except for Respondent, A. and one other person. A., who had intended to stay at the office until she left to catch a 6:40 train to Indiana, did not want to be alone with Respondent and decided to leave. Respondent followed her onto the elevator where he pushed up against her and asked "am I scaring you?" On the walk to the train station, Respondent made vulgar and suggestive sexual comments and asked her "would you be offended if I put my cock in you?" As they walked through an area away from the main sidewalk, Respondent grabbed her, bent her over backwards, and used his right hand to feel her breasts over her winter coat. A., who was shocked by Respondent's aggression, pushed him away and told him not to touch her. Respondent then proceeded to call her a "cunt" and a "bitch," and accused her of wearing provocative clothing to the office. A. did not run or otherwise try to get away from Respondent, and continued walking to the train station. When they reached the train area, Respondent suddenly became nicer and asked if she wanted to have dinner. A. refused and kept walking.

As to sanction

As we previously indicated, our decision regarding discipline rests most heavily on Respondent's acts toward B. and N., as his conduct toward those vulnerable young women was highly aggressive and involved intimate physical contact. In contrast, his actions toward K. and C., although very offensive, did not involve any touching or use of force. As for A., we viewed her as less vulnerable than the other employees and Respondent's actions toward her as less predatory.

After reviewing the relevant case law and the mitigating and aggravating factors, we conclude that the sanction in this case must be significant and certainly more severe than the one year suspension imposed in the Fishman case, which involved conduct toward only one woman. We do not believe, however, that it should be quite as harsh as the three-year suspension imposed in Rinella, which involved coerced sexual intercourse with clients, as well as use of a client confidence and perjury. While a degree of uniformity in the application of attorney discipline is desirable, each case must still be determined on its own merits.

We recommend that Respondent be suspended for thirty months. His misconduct was offensive and pervasive (affecting his office staff, his neighbor and a citizen on a public street) and we found that it reflects adversely on his fitness as a lawyer. A suspension of this length is necessary, therefore, to maintain the integrity of the profession, to deter others from similar acts, and to protect those who would come into contact with him in a law office setting.

I suspect this will end in a disbarment.

I have used initials rather than the names of the victims and have removed the citations to the record. (Mike Frisch)

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