Friday, January 2, 2009
Attorney Sanctioned For Web Site Post
The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department imposed a five year suspension of an attorney found to have committed a laundry list of ethics violations in two matters. One involved misuse of funds entrusted to the attorney in connection with his representation of a not-for-profit tenants housing resource center; the other involved representations to and about a court in a domestic relations case where custody had been transferred from his client to her ex-husband:
The respondent represented Yevgenia Shockome, the mother in the child custody matter, and in a divorce action in the Supreme Court. The respondent wrote an article entitled, "A Call for Genia's Law by Barry L. Goldstein, Stop Family Violence," which was posted on a web site for the Battered Mothers' Custody Conference as part of a campaign to free the respondent's client, who had been imprisoned after being held in contempt by Judge Amodeo. One or more of the following excerpts from that article were dishonest, false, or misleading:
i. "Without an evidentiary hearing or any written explanation, Judge Amodeo took the children from the mother who has raised them and sent them to the abuser."
ii. "Judge Amodeo got around this in his decision by constructing a bizarre conclusion that he, the Judge, had caused the mother's PTSD."
iii. "At one point it was discovered that the court had erased two of the transcripts[,] further delaying the appeal."
iv. "The decision demanded that the mother stop therapy with her present therapist and instead use someone selected by the court."
v. "I had to make a motion to withdraw from the case in front of Judge Amodeo for medical reasons... The law requires that when a party loses an attorney for medical reasons, that she is entitled to at least a 30-day stay to obtain another attorney. Instead, Amodeo continued to make her come to court unrepresented, to face more abuse. After the 30 days has passed (with no stay) he decided that she had enough time to find an attorney."
vi. "The police were called and they found that the supervisor had attacked the mother and child."
viii. "Judge Amodeo called numerous conferences to attack and berate the mother for interfering with the phone calls and the father's relationship with the children."
The court rejected the following contentions:
In determining the appropriate measure of discipline to impose, the respondent asks the Court to consider, with respect to the escrow violations, that they were "technical errors," that "he was just an honest attorney attempting to help others," and that he has since corrected his ways. The respondent's witnesses testified to his reputation for cooperation, honesty, and sincerity.
While the respondent contends, with regard to the charges relating to the Shockome matter, that these disciplinary proceedings were brought by the Grievance Committee in retaliation and as a penalty for his criticism of Judge Amodeo and the courts, we find no basis for such a contention. To the contrary, we find the respondent's utter failure to appreciate the fact that his conduct exceeded the bounds of propriety as a courtroom advocate, his complete lack of remorse, and the pervasive nature of his deceptive conduct to be aggravating factors. Irrespective of the respondent's sincerity in his beliefs, his overzealous behavior which took the form of disparaging remarks on the court, false accusations about Judge Amodeo disseminated in a public forum as part of a campaign to pressure the court into changing its rulings, and noncompliance with multiple court orders, truly constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The attorney had no record of prior discipline.(Mike Frisch)
This is a very troubling case.
“[T]he respondent contend[ed], with regard to the charges relating to the Shockome matter, that these disciplinary proceedings were brought by the Grievance Committee in retaliation and as a penalty for his criticism of Judge Amodeo and the courts”. The court claimed that it found no basis for such a contention but also failed to state why. In fact, the opinion makes it quite apparent that the opposite is true. The New York courts have allowed themselves to become embroiled in a pissing match with the respondent. This is the conduct which is most “prejudicial to the administration of justice”.
The court lists many, many charges yet fails to deal with the facts on almost any of them. There is no disclosure of the timeline so it is not clear whether the trust account investigation was a product of the respondent’s public criticism. Notably, all of respondent’s claims relating to the Stockome matter are presumed to be wrong without any discussion. The only consideration of the facts is contained in the sentence “Based on the respondent's admissions and the evidence adduced at the hearing, we find that all charges are sustained, with the exception of Charge 10 (Statement No. vii), Charge 11 (Statement No. vii), and Charge 23.” Yet the veracity, or lack of veracity, of these statements is the central issue. The fact that the courts themselves were the object of the criticism makes it even more critical that they deal with the facts in detail. In fact, much of the opinion is argumentative attempting to counter the criticism levelled publicly by the respondent. The court clearly does not like what he has to say.
Not once does the court address the first amendment issue which is clearly central to this case. Judges of the courts are obviously public figures as are other government officials. If the subject is a public figure, the First Amendment affords a safe haven provided the libel is not published either knowingly or with a reckless lack of investigation. New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 270-285 (1964). This would almost invariably prevent any other government official from punishing the respondent for his speech. Yet here, the judges are using their disciplinary power to achieve what, as a matter of public policy, they are precluded from achieving in other ways.
Respondent’s “words were directed at public officials and their conduct in office.” Gentile v. State Bar of Nevada, 501 U.S. 1030, 1034 (1991) (Kennedy, J.). Speech “relating to alleged governmental misconduct … has traditionally been recognized as lying at the core of the First Amendment.” Butterworth v. Smith, 494 U.S. 624, 632 (1990).
>>> The judicial system, and in particular our criminal justice courts, play a vital part in a democratic state, and the public has a legitimate interest in their operations. See, e.g., Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829, 838-839 (1978). “[I]t would be difficult to single out any aspect of government of higher concern and importance to the people than the manner in which criminal trials are conducted.” Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 575 (1980). Public vigilance serves us well, for “[t]he knowledge that every criminal trial is subject to contemporaneous review in the forum of public opinion is an effective restraint on possible abuse of judicial power.... Without publicity, all other checks are insufficient: in comparison of publicity, all other checks are of small account.” In re Oliver, 333 U.S. [at] 270-271. <<<
Gentile, 501 U.S. at 1035 (Kennedy, J.).
Judges must accept that they are public figures and that they will, on occasion, face criticism and that that criticism may, at times, be unfair. If a judge cannot tolerate this then he has no business being a judge.
Posted by: FixedWing | Jan 2, 2009 11:03:40 AM
No defending the attorney from other ethical violations, of course, this is a troubling comment by the NY court.
I think this highlights the problem with ethics rules that cross the line and begin to tamper with an attorney's right to speak freely. We are currently fighting such rules in Louisiana (http://www.protectspeech.com).
We posted about this particular case (and this blog entry) over there on our site. Here is the link:
Posted by: Scott Wolfe | Jan 3, 2009 1:16:21 PM
I find it interesting there are apologist lawyers defending Goldsein's right to be unethical. The Shockhome case was full of lies and deceit by Shockhome herself and if Goldstein encouraged it, as it appears he has, then such is the state of the profession of courtroom family lawyers. Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom to invent falsehoods or call someone an abuser when, in fact, the abuser was Goldstein's client.
Posted by: Mike Murphy | Jan 6, 2009 7:03:00 AM
This is hiughly disturbing. Mr. Goldstein is a tireless advocate for battered mothers and the chidlren those mothers are trying to protect. And the fringe father's rights movement are cheering over this decision? Why you may ask? Simply because this will mean one less person to speak for the silenced victims - the mothers abused by heartless and cruel men and the children they love.
This is eerily similar to the witch hunt suffered by Ducote in his travels to advocate for battered mothers. I am just dumbfounded that this could actually happen.
Posted by: Jennifer | Jan 6, 2009 7:03:44 AM
Shelby, there is zealous, and there is downright over the top. Here is an excellent analysis of the Shockome case.
Posted by: Kelly M. Bray | Jan 6, 2009 7:04:15 AM
that lawyer should have been banned for life. He lied and twisted facts and has championed a cause that brings harm to children.
Posted by: burke | Jan 6, 2009 7:18:36 AM
Genia Shockome was neither a liar nor an abuser. She was a battered mother in a corrupt system. The fact that any vocal advocate for victims of abuse can be blocked from practicing simply because a judge didn't like what he had to say ought to be a bellweather for anyone who cares about freedom of speech, and any individual's right to speak the truth. This is a horrendous and prejudicial ruling.
Posted by: Truth Defender | Jan 6, 2009 9:56:14 AM
Truth Defender and Jennifer are telling flat out lies, since the finding goes into detail about the false claims made by the respondent and his client. A lawyer owes a client a "zealous representation", but the rules of the court are clear that telling LIES for your client, and in many filings, is NOT ethical, to say the least.
PAS is real, and it's mostly done by mothers and their mouthpieces. Its past time to hold such UN-ethical mouthpieces liable for their real misconduct and abuse of the law, the courts, and the children and fathers.
Glenn Sacks tells the truthful story of this shyster and abusive mother. Shame and consequence on both of them.
Posted by: Andre Lieven | Jan 6, 2009 12:51:33 PM
As a single father who went through - and won - a 4 year, 3 state custody battle that featured horrific parental alientation by the mother, I am delighted to see a lawyer like Goldstein taken to task. Keep him out of family court for the rest of his life. Next, let's start finally prosecuting mothers who make false allegations against fathers.
Posted by: joe seldner | Jan 6, 2009 12:52:04 PM
This is a good thing to see maybe other family court lawyers will stop cheating in order to win a case.saw behavior by the opposing attorney last march in calhoun county alabama, that was an ethical violation and allowed by the judge.this attorney for the ex wife was allowed in and out of judges chambers before the trial, every recess, brought the judge homemade cookies for lunch,the judge was also an opposing lawyer on this same case in 04.of course the ex wife won again with no evidence to back up or prove her case against massive evidence from the defendant. It does my heart good to see a judge do the right thing by sanctioning that lawyer.Thank You, New York Appellate court.
Posted by: linda endfinger | Jan 6, 2009 2:39:44 PM
I'm not lying. I have no reason to lie and nothing to hide. I'm quite familiar with the case and there is mountains of documentation proving there was domestic violence. You can't turn the truth into a lie simply by proclaiming me or others to be a liar. Truth is not silenced by the echo chamber of delusion.
Joe Seidner should be ashamed of himself for bragging about ripping children away from their mother just because he had a paranoid fantasy that SHE was somehow responsible for their ambivalence toward him. What child would trust a father who had so little regard for their own children that he would rip them out of their mother's arms. Disgusting.
Posted by: Truth Defender | Jan 6, 2009 2:40:21 PM
The syndrome is disputed, but PA is what my kids know. I don't know about Goldstein, Shockome, Ducote or elsewise. I do know about the company they keep. Truth, oaths, and laws seem to have no bearing on what they profess. And, while professing the best interests of the child, they protect the most lucrative interests of themselves. Check out IVAT 2009, Honolulu, HI; a nest of spiders all.
Posted by: Penumbrook | Jan 7, 2009 4:33:45 AM
Some of the posts here reflect the repeated lies by male supremacist groups about the Shockome case. The Newsweek reporter spent weeks confirming that Ms. Shockome's case was overwhelming. She spoke with myself and Ms. Shockome and with the abuser and his attorney. She spoke with national experts and male supremacist representatives. Most important she reviewed the actual evidence. The mother had 11 witnesses including five experts and neutral witnesses such as the school nurse, son's therapist and couple's counsellor, The abuser was his only witness. The evaluator admitted the father probably abused the mother physically, verbally and emotionally throughout the marriage and was probably witnessed by the children. She admitted the mother was a safe parent and there was no alienation. She said the mother's PTSD was probably caused by the father's abuse (the genuine experts were more certain). Nevertheless she couldn't use this information because she couldn't determine the father's abuse to a CERTAINTY. In other words she and the judge used a certainty standard against the mother and probability standard for the abusive father. The Court's own Committee on women in the Courts found gender bias is widespread and gave as an example giving women a higher standard of proof. You can't have a more obvious case of bias, but when I referred to Judge Amodeo as biased they called me a liar and that was one of the charges against me.
One of the posters was right that what they did was a very conclusionary statement with no evidence to support their findings and ignoring all the evidence that contradicted them. They also overturned many of the findings of the referee who heard the evidence and found I had a lot to contribute as a lawyer (although he didn't have the background to understand all of the false charges)
At the start of the process I warned the grievance committe that it has become standard abuser tactics to file frivolous professional complaints against anyone who dares help his victim. The custody system in NY is already broken and many other children are forced to live with abusers. This decision will make it harder for protective mothers to find attorneys who will speak up for them. As a result more women will stay with their abuser in order not to lose her children and some won't survive. In their desire to retaliate against me for exposing an abusive judge they have placed the lives of battered women in danger.
My warning proved prophetic as the male supremacists jumped all over the story and in fact most people first learned about it from them. Ironically they are using it to support their bogus PAS theory. This was one of the issues in the case. Even Judge Amodeo denied he was using PAS and acknowledged it is illegal in NY because it has no scientific basis.
Posted by: Barry Goldstein | Jan 7, 2009 7:30:52 AM
Much of the debate here is irrelevant to the disciplinary issue. But I do think that it underscores my initial point that the court should not have decided the factual issues in such a conclusory fashion when they were so central to the issue and when the court itself was the object of the criticism.
Mr. Goldstein, did you timely raise the first amendment issue? If not, then I would try to preserve that argument through a motion for re-argument. I would also raise the bias issue if you have not already done so. A court that is the object of criticism levelled against it clearly has an interest in the outcome of the proceeding. This should also be addressed in the motion to re-argue but I would also ask the court to recuse itself from considering the motion to re-argue and the motion for leave to appeal.
Posted by: FixedWing | Jan 7, 2009 12:08:24 PM
Not getting the desired ruling in a case is not necessarily bias. Nor should any attorney expect to go court shopping by levelling charges against a court not to their liking, and then asking the court to recuse itself.
This attorney did everything he could to get in the court's face. He practically dared them to do something to him. He is fortunate that he was not disbarred.
Posted by: Perry | Jan 7, 2009 12:44:49 PM
Perry, I agree completely. The issue of bias is a procedural issue and not outcome oriented. A party has a Fourteenth Amendment due process right to an unbiased court. If the court has an interest in the outcome of the case, then it has an actual bias and should ordinarily recuse itself. See Aetna Life Ins. Co. v. Lavoie, 475 U.S. 813, 821-22, 106 S.Ct. 1580, 1585-1586, 89 L.Ed.2d 823 (1986) and Tumey v. Ohio, 273 U.S. 510, 523, 47 S.Ct. 437, 441, 71 L.Ed. 749 (1927).
Posted by: FixedWing | Jan 7, 2009 8:44:53 PM
'Stephen' you are partially correct - this "is a troubling case". Perjury is a criminal offence. Why did your 'hero' get a pass from serving a lengthy prison sentence for multiple criminal offences ?
Posted by: Pat | Jan 8, 2009 6:56:38 AM
(There was an apparent computer glitch when I first posted this--if this is a duplicate, please delete)
Barry's assertions about the Shockome case are superficially appealing. Before I had examined Shockome, in my mind the case was 50-50 and could have gone either way.
From examining the Shockome case it quickly became clear that the courts acted correctly, and I think anybody looking at the case objectively (or even semi-objectively) would come to the same conclusion.
My findings on the case can be seen at http://glennsacks.com/blog/?p=3148.
Posted by: Glenn Sacks | Jan 8, 2009 10:32:40 AM
Pat, my complaints are procedural. What I am saying is that the court did not address the issues. Now, if the respondent had perjured himself, and if the court had considered that issue and found that he had, then I would entirely agree that tough discipline and even criminal sanction would be appropriate. My second complaint against this case is that it appears that Mr. Goldstein is being punished for words spoken in the public forum and outside of the courtroom and that the court in engaged in an end-run around our First Amendment in an attempt to silence him. And my third complaint in this case is that it appears to me that the New York judiciary has a vested interest in the outcome of this case and therefore is biased. My complaints are only against the New York courts and their disciplinary process. Please do not read these complaints as an endorsement of Mr. Goldstein or any other view expressed here on the underlying issues. Remember, this is a forum intended to address disciplinary issues and not a forum intended to address the underlying substantive issues.
Posted by: FixedWing | Jan 8, 2009 12:24:44 PM
She got a pass because attorneys have overwhelmingly tolerated false allegations of abuse as standard operating procedure in divorce cases... to the extent that some recruit clients with public seminars in which they instruct women to make such false claims. The New Jersey Law Journal reported on a seminar where, after being coached to make false claims of abuse, women who had already done so described how effective their own false claims had been. They were invariably supported and congratulated by the attorneys presenting the seminar.
Posted by: Richard | Jan 8, 2009 12:43:51 PM
This isn't about judges mistreating attorneys. This isn't about free speech. This is about the standards of integrity required of officers of the court, and the inevitable connection between the litigant's and the attorney's integrity when false allegations are put on the table. We have accepted this in the name of "zealous representation". But in a case involving a litigant making blatant, extreme and absurd false allegations, is it any wonder that her attorney resorted to similar tactics against the judge? Even in cases where false allegations aren't so extreme, they must not be tolerated by attorneys. This is about a system of family law that's been eroded to the point of degeneracy as the result of the inherent weaknesses in its design and the inculcated weaknesses in the character of many of its practitioners.
Have a look at how judges have contributed to this nightmare. At the following link is a an article from the New Jersey Law Journal describing a taped seminar in which senior judges openly and directly instructed new family law judges to ignore the constitution and grant every restraining order because such an approach avoids potentially negative publicity and because domestic violence has been declared "an evil in our society". The judge leading this training has since become a key player in the New Jersey Supreme Court system.
Posted by: Richard | Jan 8, 2009 1:56:41 PM
Posted by: Richard | Jan 8, 2009 2:47:08 PM
Well that's one way to stop an attorney from zealous representation. For more see www.FamilyLawcourts.com
Posted by: Shelby | Jan 2, 2009 11:03:00 AM