Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.
SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISIONFirst Judicial Department Luis A. Gonzalez, Presiding Justice, David B. Saxe Sheila Abdus-Salaam Sallie Manzanet-Daniels Nelson S. Roman, Justices.
Disciplinary proceedings instituted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. Respondent, Sean Serpe, was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York at a Term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the First Judicial Department on June 11, 2001.
IN THE MATTER OF SEAN SERPE, AN ATTORNEY
Respondent Sean Serpe was admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York by the First Judicial Department on June 11, 2001. At all times relevant to the events which underlie this proceeding, he maintained an office for the practice of law within the First Judicial Department.
Respondent is 35 years old. Following his admission to the bar in 2001, he joined a firm where for five years he practiced bankruptcy and litigation. Subsequently, after a brief association with other attorneys, respondent opened his own solo practice where he specialized in bankruptcy and mortgage/refinance cases.
In September 2010, the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (Committee) received complaints from several of respondent's legal clients alleging that he neglected their bankruptcy and/or mortgage financing matters, failed to return unearned legal fees, and failed to pay a default judgment and arbitration award related to unearned legal fees. The Committee then commenced an investigation into the complaints and asked respondent to provide written answers. In November 2010, within his answer to one of the complaints asserted against him, respondent attributed the neglect alleged by his client to, inter alia, a medical problem resulting in the reduction of his work schedule.
In March 2011, in furtherance of the Committee's investigation, respondent was deposed by the Committee and testified as follows: In 2008, respondent's depression, with which he had been afflicted since the age of 22, was greatly exacerbated by the traumatic death of two individuals, - his life partner, who died after his car careened off a mountain in October 2008, and his niece, who died after she hit a tree while skiing in March 2009. Despite the aforementioned deaths, respondent took no time away from his practice to grieve because at the time the number of loan modification cases which he was retained to handle significantly increased. Moreover, shortly after the death of his life partner, respondent began to consume large quantities of alcohol, becoming an alcoholic. Although respondent joined Alcoholics Anonymous in March 2009, shortly after his niece's death, and began therapy for his depression in November 2009, he nevertheless found it difficult to both manage his law practice and focus on recovering from his depression and alcoholism. Lastly, in 2009, respondent's paralegal, who was critical to respondent's practice, quit. Accordingly, with respect to the circumstances giving rise to the client complaints against him, respondent attributed any deficiencies in the handling of his client's cases to the sudden growth of his practice at a time when, due to worsening depression, alcohol addiction and the loss of a valued employee, he was ill-equipped to manage it properly.
While at the time of his deposition, respondent had been sober and in recovery, was seeing a therapist for his depression, was on 10mg per day of Lexapro, a depression medication, and was still running his practice, he nevertheless testified that running his practice was very challenging. Specifically, respondent testified that he was "at a point in [his] practice where [he was] actively trying to downsize and perhaps take a break." After his deposition, by his own account, respondent's depression worsened and hefound it increasingly difficult to practice law. In September 2011, respondent sent aletter to the Committee informing itthat he was closing his practice because his health had worsened and he wanted to continue his recovery. In November 2011, whenrespondent was again deposed by the Committee he reiteratedthat since his depression had worsened and he couldn't both run a law practice and effectively treat his depression and alcoholism, he had stopped ...