Tuesday, October 12, 2010

After Disbarment, Clients Remain

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has disbarred an attorney convicted of the theft of escrowed settlement proceeds. The court also appointed an attorney to clean up the mess left behind:

The [Departmental Disciplinary] Committee advises that beginning in early 2009, after it sought respondent's interim suspension, and continuing through the fall of 2009, it has received a "steady stream of complaints" from respondent's clients alleging that, not only did he fail to disburse their settlement funds to them but that he completely stopped communicating with them. In March/April 2009, the Committee was contacted by Jordan Hecht, Esq., from whom respondent had subleased an office in the Hecht law firm's suite, reporting that respondent's clients were coming to the office to get their files but he could not release them because the files did not belong to him. By June 2009, Mr. Hecht informed the Committee that respondent had removed his files from the office but left no instructions for contacting him.

During this same time period (March 2009), the District Attorney's Office endeavored to assist the complainants in obtaining their files so they could prove respondent's thefts, and aided them in filing claims with the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection. According to an affidavit of ADA Keith, in September 2009, Judge Carruthers ordered respondent to produce all client files to the District Attorney's Office for return to his former clients, but respondent produced only 15 files. On March 19, 2010, Judge Carruthers ordered respondent to produce an inventory of his files by March 30, 2010, but he has not yet complied. ADA Keith further states that Archive Systems, Inc., has a storage facility in New Jersey at which respondent has placed dozens of boxes of files, yet respondent has not paid for the storage space and Archive's collection department is seeking payment. Based upon her conversation with the representative at Archive, ADA Keith states that "it seems clear that it will take a court appointed receiver or some other mechanism of the courts to get access to the client files locked in the New Jersey storage facility." In addition, respondent's attorney in the criminal proceeding informed ADA Keith that respondent handed over to a successor law firm the few cases and client files he considered viable, ongoing matters and it is unclear if the affected clients were given notice of such transfer. Ms. Keith hopes that a receiver may be able to obtain the proper return of the complainants' property (their files) which they need for a restitution hearing.

The Committee adds that respondent's files in the storage facility are in danger of being destroyed and respondent's conduct has, in effect, obstructed the remaining clients from accessing their own files. Staff counsel notes that it is in respondent's own interest not to return said files so that his clients cannot prove their losses, thereby reducing the amount of restitution ordered by the court as well as the reimbursement he will owe to the Lawyers' Fund.

Accordingly, the Committee's petition to appoint an attorney pursuant 22 NYCRR 603.13(g) to inventory the client files of respondent...and to take such action as seems indicated to protect the interests of his clients should be granted.

(Mike Frisch)


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