Friday, September 24, 2021

Good Deeds, Voluntary Cessation Of Practice Mitigates Sanction

A nine month suspension has been imposed by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department

We turn first to the stipulated facts of respondent's misconduct. Shortly after her admission to the bar, respondent established a not-for-profit organization to work with New York City youth. While respondent was the organization's sole employee during its first years, the organization grew to have over 15 employees and a $2,000,000 operating budget. From the organization's founding until 2018, respondent served as executive director.

Between 2016 and 2018, respondent's principal role as executive director was administrative and involved overall office management and fundraising. Respondent was authorized to set the salary of other staff members. Her salary, however, was set by the organization's board of directors.

Between 2016 and 2018, respondent, who oversaw the organization's finances, increased her compensation without board approval. Respondent did this by distributing organization funds to herself without authorization.

In 2018, representatives of the organization questioned respondent following a review of the organization's financial records. Respondent admitted that she made unauthorized distributions to herself. She agreed to repay $51,984, the full amount that the organization sought. Respondent stepped down as executive director on March 1, 2019. The organization's programming was not prejudiced by respondent's conduct.

Respondent repaid the organization a total of $11,984, and the organization's insurance covered the remaining $40,000 balance. Respondent has signed an agreement with the insurer and is currently in repayment.

Mitigation

In mitigation, the parties note that respondent has devoted her career to public service. Before attending law school, respondent worked at a not-for-profit organization serving a vulnerable population primarily from South America. In 2004, while employed by another not-for-profit organization, respondent established a youth program. This experience led to her founding the organization for which she would serve as executive director.

Between 2016 and 2018, respondent and her family experienced significant financial distress stemming from debt incurred, in part, because of her husband's disability. Respondent borrowed fully against her retirement account, was unable to obtain a bank loan, and risked being evicted from her apartment.

Respondent has expressed remorse, immediately accepted responsibility, and has fully cooperated with the Committee's investigation. She left all of her positions in the legal profession to avoid embarrassing others.

In February 2021, respondent voluntarily ceased the practice of law. Until that time, she was engaged in a small amount of pro bono work in immigration matters. Respondent has never engaged in the private practice of law; her only work as an attorney has been with non-paying, low-income clients.

Sanction

As to the appropriate sanction, the parties request that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for nine months. We agree that a nine-month suspension is appropriate, since it adequately balances respondent's misappropriation of her organization's funds over a three-year period with the factors in mitigation and is consistent with our prior decisions (see Matter of Lerner, 112 AD3d 144 [1st Dept 2013]; Matter of Vasquez, 1 AD3d 16 [1st Dept 2003]).

(Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2021/09/a-nine-month-suspension-has-been-imposed-by-the-new-york-appellate-division-for-the-first-judicial-department-we-turn-first.html

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