Daily News Story on "Bad Lawyer"

This Article from Kim at the Daily News:

"Rotten lawyers face raft of raps in ripoffs

Sunday, April 29th 2007, 4:00 AM

Meet some of New York's lousiest lawyers.

One spent $131,000 of his clients' money on vacations, jewelry, lingerie and home improvement.

Another charged 76 clients $11,500 each for filing a simple application that should have cost no more than $700.

And a third deceived an elderly couple into investing their life savings - $222,000 - in a suspect real estate deal.

All three lawyers are among the scores of attorneys cited for misconduct last year by judges of the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. None has been disbarred.

Individual client losses range from as little as $500 to more than $6 million, according to cases ruled on last year.

"The elderly and immigrants are among those preyed upon by some attorneys, but there are plenty of wealthy victims and businessmen as well," said Thomas Cahill, chief counsel for the Disciplinary Committee of the division's 1st Department, which covers Manhattan and the Bronx.

The public record of the court's discipline begins with censure, a reprimand that goes on the lawyer's record but does not prohibit the lawyer from practicing.

One attorney censured last year was Ronald Sims, of Hackettstown, N.J., who was cited for "repeatedly touching and pinching his secretary's buttocks, attempting to kiss her, and grabbing her hand and hip," according to court documents.

Sims declined to return telephone calls.

"Some of the lawyers we come across are in a state of denial," said Cahill, who is the chief prosecutor of attorney misconduct in Manhattan and the Bronx.

"We hear all kinds of excuses for their actions. Pre-traumatic stress syndrome was one. Of course that's impossible, but I'm not kidding. Another lawyer said, 'I got depressed because I found out I was adopted late in life,' and he had a therapist come in and testify that he was severely depressed," said Cahill.

But invariably, Cahill said, greed, gambling or substance abuse are the major causes of severe misconduct by lawyers.

"I have heard the 'Park Ave.' or 'Great Neck' defense, where they say they needed the money to maintain a certain lifestyle," said Cahill.

His office, which polices the 76,777 lawyers in Manhattan and the Bronx, has a staff that includes 20 full-time attorneys, many of whom are former prosecutors, investigators, an accountant and paralegals.

It handles about 3,500 matters a year in a complex process that begins with screening of complaints.

Out of that total, however, only a small number result in penalties for attorneys, not because the office is lax, but rather because many consumer complaints fall outside its mandate.

The Daily News reviewed the records of some 300 disciplinary proceedings.

Most ripoffs by attorneys involve theft from escrow accounts and trusts and estates or billing for work that wasn't done, according to an analysis by the state Lawyers Fund for Client Protection.

"In a real estate practice you have large pools of money in your accounts at various times, and some lawyers dip their hands in," said Steven Krane, a former president of the state Bar Association.

Here are some of the lousiest of the lousy:

Pizza shop owners say lawyer took a big slice

Chase Caro, 48, of White Plains, who practices in Manhattan and Westchester County, represented Frank and Francesca Salvi when they sold their restaurant, Francesca Pizza and Pasta, in Shrub Oak. The price was $354,900, but the Salvis didn't get the money. Instead, Caro deposited $319,000 of the funds into his business account, according to a Disciplinary Committee investigation. Another check for the remaining $35,900, is still being traced.

The probe, which led to Caro's suspension, also found he deposited $470,143.05 into his business account from the sale of a Peekskill home owned by Herbert Newkirk, 70.

Newkirk received a worthless check.

"It bounced," said Newkirk, a widower. "Insufficient funds. Caro didn't do anything but swindle me."

"One third of my practice is pro bono," Caro said. "I'm sure when I get my chance to put my side of the story out, I'll be exonerated."

Money mess

Frank DeGrasse, 46, of North Salem, with offices in Westchester County and the Bronx, is accused of mishandling a divorce matter, mishandling escrow money, commingling funds, negligence in real estate matters, and failure to pay taxes.

Investigators found DeGrasse also improperly deposited clients' escrow money in his personal account, and spent $131,000 at gas stations, Circuit City, The Athlete's Foot, restaurants, gym clubs, Home Depot, Frederick's of Hollywood and Bailey Banks & Biddle, a jewelry store.

"I went to him for an uncontested divorce. I paid him $500," said Tawanna Arnold, of Newburgh, Orange County. "He didn't follow through. Then I went to his office, sat there and waited for him. I called him a lot of times, but he never showed up and never returned the calls."

DeGrasse has not responded to phone calls, letters or subpoenas from the Disciplinary Committee. On Nov. 9, he was suspended from practice.

Last month, in a separate matter, DeGrasse pleaded guilty in Suffolk County Supreme Court to participating in a $750,000 mortgage scam.

'Shocking disregard'

Barry Spiegler, 67, of New City, Rockland County, was suspended from practice on Aug. 3 pending further disciplinary proceedings. He allegedly misappropriated $27,000 in estate funds in one case and did no work for a $10,000 fee in another.

Spiegler has a "shocking disregard for the judicial system" and "threatens the public interest," the Appellate Court judges wrote. He still hasn't responded to the Disciplinary Committee nor did he return phone calls from The News.

Corner of conflict

Over a four-year period, Suzanne Drysdale, 40, of Flatbush Ave., Brooklyn, represented approximately 200 clients buying real estate. In what the Appellate Court judges called "an impermissible conflict of interest," she had her clients buy title services at a company next door that she also owned. Drysdale declined comment.

Jewel of the guile

Lawrence Newman, 60, with offices on Third Ave., in Manhattan, specialized in recovering money on claims filed with insurance companies. He had many clients in the Diamond District, including Rakesh Barmecha, who complained to the Disciplinary Committee that Newman owed him $127,000, part of an insurance claim payment in escrow for gems that were stolen.

A committee audit of a relevant 10 months' activity in Newman's escrow account showed "disbursements totalling more than $1.3 million, the majority of which ($1 million) were checks issued by respondent to himself." But apparently there was no money for Barmecha.

In the end, investigators found "uncontested evidence of misappropriation of $320,000." On Oct. 10, Newman was suspended pending further action by the court.

Newman declined comment. Meanwhile, Barmecha said eventually he got his $127,000 in a complicated arrangement. "But it cost me $25,000 to get what was owed me. Believe me, it was a learning experience," he said.

Clients left high and dry

Linda Stanch, 53, formerly of Manhattan, now living somewhere in the Midwest, worked as an attorney for the city Corporation Counsel's office and then opened her own practice. In 2003, she ran unsuccessfully for Manhattan Civil Court judge in the Democratic primary.

On Oct. 17, Stanch was suspended from practice after telling the Disciplinary Committee she abandoned six clients because she was "the victim of stalking and harassment by an ex-boyfriend whom she feared could still harm her," according to court documents.

She also said that she had been "diagnosed with depression and anxiety."

For months - even while she still lived in Manhattan - she had ignored the committee's phone calls, letters and subpoenas. Finally, she wrote the committee that her mother had bought her a plane ticket so she could leave town with her children. "

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