Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fee Split Draws Suspension With Fitness

In New York, fee sharing with nonlawyers is not only unethical, it's a crime.

An attorney convicted of misdemeanor fee-splitting has been suspended for two years and until further order by the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

The misconduct involved fee-splitting with a disbarred attorney:

During his plea allocution...the respondent admitted that during 2007 he was the named attorney for either the borrower or seller in more than a dozen real estate closings involving the law firm John Weber and Associates. Each of these real estate closings was referred to the respondent by Alan Morris, an employee of John Weber and Associates, whom the respondent knew was a disbarred attorney at the time of the referrals. The respondent entered into an agreement with Morris whereby Morris would handle all of the legal work prior to the closings, and the respondent would only be required to be present at the closings themselves. Pursuant to the agreement, all of the documentation for the closings, including the HUD-1 statements, would indicate that the respondent had received $1,800 as an attorney's fee. Morris, as settlement agent, would then write a disbursement check payable to the respondent in the amount of $1,800, and the respondent would thereafter provide Morris with a check for $850 from his IOLA account; in so doing, the respondent split a portion of his legal fee with Morris, a disbarred attorney.

The attorney was remorseful for the misconduct:

The respondent argues in mitigation that he testified at the hearing that he felt "sorrow" and that he showed a "high degree of remorse." He further contends that the mitigation evidence presented at the hearing, including his charitable and pro bono activities, demonstrated that he does, indeed, possess moral and ethical fiber. Notwithstanding the respondent's expressions of remorse, his many charitable and pro bono activities, and his general reputation as an upstanding member in his community, the respondent acted with venality. He not only shared legal fees with a nonlawyer, but he allowed a disbarred attorney to practice law under the cover of his name. Moreover, he admitted that during the investigation into the real estate closings, he provided conflicting and false information to representatives of the Queens County District Attorney.

He was not given credit for time served under the court's earlier order of interim suspension. (Mike Frisch)

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