Attorney Misconduct

The Democratic primary for the new New York Attorney General is on Tuesday. Earlier this week, I broke down the candidates and liveblogged the debate between the five Democratics that want to follow in the footsteps of Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo.

I wasn’t particularly impressed with the frontrunner, Nassau County DA Kathleen Rice. But I’ve got nothing on retired Brooklyn criminal judge, Amy Herz Juviler. Judge Juviler is definitely not going to vote for Rice. And she doesn’t want her friends to vote for her either. Freed from the bench, she’s been emailing her friends encouraging them to avoid Rice like the plague.

In the email, Judge Juviler gets right to the point:

Friends —
In considering who to vote for in the Democratic Primary, eliminate from your consideration Kathleen Rice.

Bang! Politico has the full email, let’s take a look…

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Please note: people get Academy Awards for acting like they can talk to dead people.

Full disclosure: I belong to the South Park school of thought, which says that claiming you can speak to dead people makes you a candidate for Biggest Douche in the Universe. Even my priest, who believes that the will of an omniscient and all-powerful being can be easily flummoxed by a thin film of latex, doesn’t believe that he has a direct line of communication with the dead.

One would think that telling a client you are “channeling” his dead wife would violate multiple rules of legal ethics. But not so in Arizona. Nope, in Arizona you can get away with this, reports the ABA Journal:

[Lawyer Charna Johnson] began representing the client during his divorce proceedings in 1999. The client’s wife committed suicide the following year, and Johnson later co-represented him in probate proceedings.

Johnson and the client both testified that they genuinely believed the client’s wife was within Johnson. Two witnesses agreed. The client felt his wife had come back to heal some of the damage from her prescription drug use.

Yeah, that’s perfectly cool in ‘Zona. Remember, this is the state where Bryan Cave lawyers conducted an exorcism. Obviously they’re down with the supernatural in Arizona, so long as the spirits are American-born.

But still, having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a client is a no-no. Luckily for Charna Johnson, the client’s dead wife apparently no longer wanted to have sex with the client. Whew. Johnson really dodged a bullet there…

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Ed. note: This post is by “The Gobbler,” one of the two writers under consideration to join Morning Dockette as a Morning Docket writer. As always, we welcome your thoughts in the comments.

Lawyers tend to define their careers by numbers (school rank, class rank, firm rank) – at least when the numbers are to their liking. Unfortunately for Larry Joe Davis, he does not have a good number (a 3.7 out of 10). He is angry about it and, like any good American, expressed his anger in the form of a lawsuit. Larry Joe’s rambling 21-page complaint, which he of course filed pro se, makes him the latest of several plaintiffs to take a shot at Avvo, the Zagat-esque rating website for the legal industry. I haven’t read the other complaints, but I’m still sure his is the worst of the group.

It reads like a Jack Kerouac novel, jumping around and running together, making it harder to follow than a screenplay-style blog post. The two main points seem to be that Avvo has a “routine business practice of publishing false and misleading information regarding attorneys” and that it coerces attorney participation via a “join-us-and-fix-it-or-else strategy” that “approaches actionable blackmail.” In other words, Larry Joe doesn’t like what’s on his profile and can’t figure out how to change it. His Internet ineptitude seems far-fetched at first, but given his statement in the complaint that web searching is a “new field,” maybe he really can’t figure it out.

So what “misleading information” is making Mr. Davis one of the mad ones?

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Lawsuit of the Day: Why is This Guy So Angry with Avvo?”

Back in June, we bestowed Lawyer of the Day honors upon two of the nation’s top litigators: Ted Wells and Martin Flumenbaum, the co-chair and former chair, respectively, of the renowned litigation department at Paul Weiss. Given the sterling reputations of the two lawyers and their firm, it was a surprising development.

We recognized Messrs. Wells and Flumenbaum after a New Jersey judge sanctioned Paul Weiss and its co-counsel — Lowenstein Sandler, one of the Garden State’s leading law firms, and Wells’s former home (before he jumped across the Hudson) — for pursuing a “frivolous” and “ridiculous” legal claim on behalf of billionaire Ronald Perelman against his ex-father-in-law, Robert Cohen.

In June, Judge Ellen Koblitz ordered Paul Weiss and Lowenstein Sandler to pay Cohen’s fees and costs for opposing the claim; she scheduled a hearing to determine the amount. The hearing took place last month, and now we know the amount.

It’s nothing to sneeze at, even for firms as well-heeled as Paul Weiss and Lowenstein. And to add insult to (financial) injury, Judge Koblitz got super-snarky in the opinion setting forth her reasoning….

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The alleged foot tapper

A pair of motions are bouncing around email inboxes this week, thanks to the “foot-tapping lawyer.” (This has nothing to do with Larry Craig, so read on without fear.)

It all started in July, when Florida law firm Rasco Klock sent a paralegal to Wilmington for a deposition. The firm is representing a plaintiff suing an insurance company, but one of their lead attorneys, Juan Carlos Antorcha, had to remain in Miami and conduct the deposition by video, with the paralegal handling the exhibits in person.

During the deposition of a witness for the defense, a strange noise caught the attention of the Perceptive Paralegal. After hearing clicking, he peeked beneath the table and saw a defense attorney’s foot tapping the foot of the deponent. He snapped a photo with his smartphone and sent it to Antorcha, who confronted the defense and halted the deposition. Rasco Klock then filed a very angry motion for sanctions, accusing the defense attorney of coaching the witness through foot tapping.

From the motion:

Before accusing a lawyer of acting in an unethical and unprofessional fashion, a fellow lawyer must think long and hard. Was the breach intentional? What were the circumstances? Was there any sense of contrition? Could the offending lawyer believe that his conduct had been appropriate?

The lawyer accused of foot-tapping is Brown Sims shareholder Kenneth Engerrand. On every single page of the 13-page motion for sanctions against him is the incriminating footsie photo…

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Victims of what anti-law-school bloggers have dubbed “the law school scam” might argue that working for a law school, or at least the kind of law school that saddles students with debt and can’t get them jobs, is closer to a crime than community service. There is certainly an argument that law professors who aren’t part of the solution are part of the problem.

But the notorious William Lerach, the securities plaintiffs’ lawyer turned convicted felon, believes that law teaching is a noble calling — and wants the community service credit to show for it….

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Stephan Addison (left) and Benjamin Butler (right)

We like to provide updates on lawyers we’ve covered in the past, just to close the loop and keep readers informed. For example, if a lawyer is accused of wrongdoing, we cover the allegations, and then the charges are dropped, we’d like to write about the clearing of that person’s name. (If you’re aware of such a situation, please email us.)

Sometimes attorneys are punished rather than exonerated, however. Today we bring you news about the Illinois bar’s disciplining of Stephan Addison and Benjamin Butler, both 2004 graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School, whom we first wrote about back in 2007. The two were once associates at large law firms — Addison at Seyfarth Shaw, and Butler at Schiff Hardin. They left their firms after being accused of sexual assault, after a drunken three-way hook-up that went very, very wrong.

So what are they up to now?

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Where Are They Now?”

As an officer of the court, I must bluntly state that you appear to have serious mental issues involving extreme narcissism and illusions of grandiosity which effectively interferes with your ability to act as a Judge.

– Illinois lawyer Melvin Hoffman in a letter to Judge Patrick Murphy, earning him a recommended six-month suspension.

(Gavel bang: Legal Profession Blog via the ABA Journal.)

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

The Washington Post reports:

Three years into his own scheme of dipping into clients’ funds, Maryland malpractice lawyer Bradley Schwartz received an e-mail from a man claiming to represent a manufacturing company in Singapore, offering him legal work…

What happened next, according to Montgomery County prosecutors, is that the scammer got scammed.

Schwartz pleaded guilty and now awaits sentencing. Oh, it is sweet when a thief gets his just reward…

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Our typical Lawyer of the Day is an attorney you’ve never heard of, from a firm you’ve never heard of. It’s highly unusual for LOTD honors to go to a pair of legal titans, two of the nation’s leading litigators: Ted Wells (pictured) and Marty Flumenbaum, the co-chair and former chair, respectively, of the celebrated litigation department at Paul Weiss.

It appears, however, that the honors are deserved. The New York Law Journal reports:

A New Jersey judge has sanctioned two firms, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and Lowenstein Sandler, for pursuing a “frivolous” and “ridiculous” legal claim on behalf of billionaire Ronald Perelman against his 85-year-old ex-father-in-law [Robert Cohen]….

Superior Court Judge Ellen L. Koblitz ruled that Perelman’s attorneys should have known that the claim was unsupportable. “No competent attorney could have missed the frivolous nature of this promise claim once the unhelpful testamentary documents were received,” Koblitz said in ordering the sanctions last Wednesday. “There was no legal or factual basis for the plaintiffs to proceed with their amended complaint given the evidence they had and the state of the law in New Jersey.”

Ouch — quite the stinging benchslap. The Garden State hasn’t seen such a slugging since the first season of Jersey Shore.

And other marquee names got dragged into this mess — a pair of high-powered lady lawyers, in fact….

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