Attorney licensed in NY and California forms a partnership with a non-attorney to represent home owners under water across the country.  Around 2011 the attorney goes to Hawaii to change his name from Sean Alan Rutledge to Alan Frank.  During this period of time his legal practice in California is unraveling.

"Respondent’s disciplinary proceedings in California arose from his operation of United Law Group (ULG), through which he represented homeowners in California and other states who were in default on mortgage payments or in foreclosure proceedings. In July 2009, the Office of the Chief Trial Counsel of the State Bar of California (OCTC) served respondent with a Notice of Disciplinary Charges alleging seven violations of the California Rules of Professional Conduct, in connection with his representation of a particular client. Specifically, respondent was charged with, inter alia, intentionally, recklessly, or repeatedly failing to perform legal services with competence; settling a client’s claim or potential claim for malpractice without informing the client in writing that he may seek the advice of independent counsel and without giving the client a reasonable opportunity to do so; failing to refund unearned fees; and forming a partnership involving the practice of law with a nonlawyer. Respondent, through counsel, submitted an answer denying all charges.

On November 6, 2009, after a hearing in which respondent was represented by counsel, the State Bar Court issued a lengthy decision and order granting an application by the OCTC to have respondent involuntarily declared an inactive member of the bar. The State Bar Court found that there was clear and convincing evidence that respondent’s conduct posed a substantial threat of harm to his clients or the public and, absent the court’s intervention, respondent would continue to harm present and future clients. Additionally, the court determined it was likely that the State Bar would prevail on additional counts of misconduct raised by other clients’ complaints.

Shortly thereafter, respondent submitted his "Resignation With Charges Pending" on November 25, 2009, and according to the Committee, "fled" California and could not be located. The State Bar Court stayed the disciplinary matter pending a ruling on respondent’s resignation by the Supreme Court of California. By order of July 13, 2011, the Supreme Court of California [*3]accepted respondent’s resignation.

The Committee assumed this matter from the Appellate Division, Third Department’s Committee on Professional Standards, perhaps because the Committee has been investigating numerous complaints — many of which are similar in nature to those made in California — filed against respondent since 2009. The Third Department, noting that placement of respondent on involuntary inactive status was a "regulatory procedure" and not "discipline" under California law, denied its committee’s 2010 motion for reciprocal discipline without prejudice to the re-filing of charges. Nevertheless, we agree with the Committee that this Court is not bound by the Third Department’s prior order because it pre-dated the California Supreme Court’s order accepting respondent’s resignation.

Respondent was served with the Committee’s petition for reciprocal discipline at his registered address in California (by first-class and certified mail, return receipt requested), yet he has not submitted a response.

We find that reciprocal discipline is warranted in this case and, therefore, respondent should be disbarred. There are only three defenses to reciprocal discipline, enumerated at 22 NYCRR 603.3(c): (1) a lack of notice and opportunity to be heard in the foreign jurisdiction; (2) an infirmity of proof establishing the misconduct; and (3) that the misconduct at issue in the foreign jurisdiction would not constitute misconduct in New York. Notwithstanding respondent’s failure to raise any of these defenses, none are available here.

Respondent received notice of the allegations against him in the charges filed by the OCTC, and he was afforded the opportunity to be heard. Represented by counsel, he answered the charges, unsuccessfully contested the OCTC’s application to have him declared involuntarily inactive, and then voluntarily submitted his resignation in California. Furthermore, there was no infirmity of proof establishing respondent’s misconduct. Indeed, the State Bar Court’s order placing him on involuntary inactive status was amply supported by documentary evidence.

In addition, the charges under which respondent resigned in California would likewise constitute misconduct under both New York’s former Code of Professional Responsibility and the current Rules of Professional Conduct (rules) (22 NYCRR 1200.0) (see DR 6-101(a)(2) (22 NYCRR 1200.30[a][2]) [inadequate preparation] and rule 1.1 (a) [failure to provide competent representation]; DR 6-101(a)(3) (22 NYCRR 1200.30[a][3]) and rule 1.3(b) [neglect]; rule 1.3(a) [failure to act with reasonable diligence and promptness]; DR 6-102(a) (22 NYCRR 1200.31[a]) and rule 1.8(h) [improper agreement to settle a client claim, or potential claim, for legal malpractice]; DR 2-106(a) (22 NYCRR 1200.11[a]), DR 2-110(a)(3) (22 NYCRR 1200.15[a][3]), rule 1.5(a) and rule 1.16(e) [failure to promptly refund unearned fees]; DR 3-102(a) (22 NYCRR 1200.17[a]) and rule 5.4(b) [improper partnership with a nonlawyer]).[FN2]

Thus, the only remaining issue is the appropriate sanction to be imposed. "
 

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

 

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.