Friday, March 9, 2018

Outrageous Misconduct

 The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department has imposed disbarment for an attorney's acts of domestic violence and other serious misconduct in his domestic and bar matters.

Supreme Court's 100-page decision and order had granted respondent's wife sole custody of the couple's then two-year-old son and found that respondent, a pro se litigant: had repeatedly perpetrated acts of domestic violence against his wife; had testified falsely at a custody trial; had knowingly introduced falsified evidence during the proceedings in the form of altered text messages; had presented misleading testimony through his expert witnesses; had, beginning in April 2014, engaged in acts that repeatedly demonstrated disrespect for the court and counsel, by, inter alia, flouting the judicial directives of three judges (a judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court, the original matrimonial judge and the matrimonial judge who made these findings [matrimonial judge]), setting up a fake website about the attorney for the child by registering her name as a domain name and posting derogatory messages about her on it, and baselessly filing a disciplinary complaint against a court-appointed psychiatric expert witness. Additionally, Supreme Court found that respondent had sent text messages to his wife, an attorney, threatening her with loss of her license to practice law and professional ruin; had made grossly offensive remarks during cell phone conversations with his then three-month-old son in which he baselessly accused his father-in-law of being a child sexual abuser who could harm the child; had engaged in frivolous and abusive litigation against his wife, her parents, and her attorneys; and had attempted to publicly defame the attorney for the child. Based on Supreme Court's decision, applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel, this Court found that respondent had violated New York Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0) rule 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); rule 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); rule 3.1 (frivolous litigation); rule 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal); rule 3.3(a)(3) (knowingly use or offer false evidence); rule 3.3(f)(2) (undignified or discourteous conduct before a tribunal); and rule 8.4(h) (other conduct adversely reflecting on fitness as a lawyer), and directed that a sanction hearing be held.

The referee considered the evidence

Before the Referee, the Committee read into the record a February 19, 2016 deposition it conducted of respondent in which he admitted that in January 2014 he filed a report with the D.C. police accusing his former wife of perpetrating acts of domestic violence against him, which accusations Justice Cooper found to be entirely unfounded. As mitigation evidence, respondent introduced a limited portion of his deposition testimony in which he made reference to the fact that he was in counseling during his senior year in college and again sporadically while in law school, that he took antidepressants while in college, and in high school, he volunteered with the homeless. He also introduced a letter from his therapist, in which she stated that she had sporadically treated respondent over the course of two years but starting in April 2016 he consistently attended therapy on a biweekly basis. He also introduced four letters from character witnesses, and maintained that any misconduct on his part occurred solely in the context of his custody dispute.

The Referee rejected respondent's mitigation evidence, finding incredible respondent's accusations of domestic violence by his then-former wife, noting their rejection by both the D.C. police and the courts in D.C. and New York; that respondent's deposition testimony as to the sporadic counseling he received in law school and his occasionally taking antidepressants while in college did not constitute mitigation; that his charitable work was insignificant; and that his therapist's letter and the similarly worded letters of four character witnesses provided no basis for mitigation. The Referee opined that while respondent's good conduct during the sanction hearing supported his contention that his disruptive courtroom behavior was confined to the custody litigation, nonetheless, such good behavior is required of lawyers at all times and, thus, did not mitigate his prior misconduct.

The court on sanction

This record in this case is replete with numerous egregious and outrageous acts of misconduct perpetrated by respondent over the course of a four-year period, including his repeated acts of domestic violence toward his wife; his false testimony at the custody trial; his introduction of falsified evidence in the form of altered text messages; his presentation of misleading testimony through his expert witnesses; his flouting the directives of three judges; his setting up of a fake website about the attorney for the child in the custody action and posting derogatory messages about her on it; his baseless filing of a disciplinary complaint against a court-appointed psychiatric expert; his threatening text messages directed to his wife; his cell phone calls to his then three-month-old son baselessly accusing his father-in-law of being a child sexual abuser who could harm him; his engagement in frivolous litigation against his wife, her parents, and her attorneys; his attempted defamation of the attorney for the child; and his filing of a police report falsely accusing his wife of committing acts of domestic violence. Notwithstanding the repeated acts of egregious misconduct respondent has committed over the course of several years, he has neither demonstrated any remorse nor any acceptance of responsibility for his intolerable actions. This long list of aggravating factors, and the lack of mitigating factors weighing in respondent's favor, fully support the Referee's recommendation that respondent be disbarred.

Law360 reported that he is a former Mintz Levin attorney and that he falsely accused a judge of spitting on him.

JD Journal also reported on the divorce case. 

Zappin graduated from Columbia Law School in 2010 before he landed a job at New York’s Latham & Watkins, a Manhattan mega firm. Then he moved on to Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, another mega firm. He was known as a legal pit bull for his aggressive nature in getting cases done.

But while a certain amount of ruthlessness will get you far in the legal world, Zappin’s aggression proved to be too much. He was fired by Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and then he allegedly created an account on the spousal cheating website, Ashley Madison, in his boss’ name to embarrass him.

Adding more to his monster-like behavior, Zappin allegedly beat his pregnant wife, Claire Comfort, a lawyer with Weil, Gotshal & Manges.The court shrink testified that Comfort said Zappin slapped her, hit her glasses, hit her head, and hit her stomach with car keys when he was angry.

Comfort said she was abused until she left him when their son was eight weeks old. Zappin countered that he was not abusive and in fact, she was the crazy one. As proof, he read a text that he sent to her where he said that she “bit my dick.”

Because the two accused each other of being crazy, Ravitz ordered psych evaluations on both parties. He found that the two of them were in a classic abusive relationship dynamic. Zappin was “narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive and histrionic” and Comfort had “an automatic need to obey others who assert authority” and low self-esteem.

Comfort is fighting for custody of their son, who is now two. She and Zappin both attended Columbia.

ABA Journal had the story of sanctions imposed in the divorce litigation and his departure from Mintz Levin. (Mike Frisch)

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