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In re Getreu

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

December 10, 2013

In the Matter of Joel L. Getreu, (admitted as Joel Lawrence Getreu), an attorney and counselor-at-law: Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department, Petitioner, Joel L. Getreu, Respondent.

Disciplinary proceedings instituted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. Respondent, Joel L. Getreu, 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 April 17, 1989.

Jorge Dopico, Chief Counsel, Departmental Disciplinary Committee, New York (Kathy Wu, of counsel), for petitioner.

Howard Benjamin, for respondent.

Peter Tom, Justice Presiding, Richard T. Andrias, David Friedman, Helen E. Freedman, Darcel D. Clark, Justices.

PER CURIAM

Respondent Joel L. Getreu was admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York by the First Judicial Department on April 17, 1989, under the name Joel Lawrence Getreu. At all times relevant to this proceeding, respondent maintained an office for the practice of law within the First Department.

The Departmental Disciplinary Committee seeks an order pursuant to the Rules of the Appellate Division, First Department (22 NYCRR) § 603.4(e)(1)(I), (ii) and (iii), immediately suspending respondent from the practice of law until further order of this Court based upon his failure to cooperate with the Committee's investigation of three complaints, and uncontested evidence that respondent repeatedly misappropriated or converted client funds, commingled personal and client funds, and failed to keep required IOLA account records. Respondent opposes the Committee's motion.

Between July 2011 and March 2013, the Committee received seven complaints against respondent alleging, inter alia, failure to remit client settlements in a timely manner. The Committee issued a subpoena duces tecum for respondent to appear for a deposition with case files relating to three complaints.

While respondent delayed in producing all of the documents requested by DDC, the documents were ultimately furnished so that the part of DDC's motion that is based on willful failure to cooperate (22 NYCRR 603.4[e][1][i]) is denied.

However, the part of the motion based on respondent's misappropriation/conversion of client funds, commingling, and failure to keep records based on admissions made during his deposition (22 NYCRR 603.4[e][1][ii]) and bank records (22 NYCRR 603.4[e][1][iii]), warrants discipline. Respondent admitted that he failed to maintain the records required by rule 1.15(d)(1) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0) detailing the sources of all funds deposited and the purpose and payees of all disbursements.

Records show that in May 2011, respondent deposited a $60, 000 settlement check on behalf of his client Jackie B. (B) into his IOLA account. B did not receive her share of the settlement, $39, 311.09, until September 2011. The balance in respondent's IOLA account repeatedly fell below $39, 311.09 before B was paid. In August 2011, respondent transferred $90, 000 from his business account into his IOLA account which allowed him to pay B. Respondent admitted that his account balance should have remained at least $39, 311 until B received her funds in September 2011 and that he did not have B's permission to withdraw any part of her money.

In May 2011, respondent issued a $50, 000 IOLA check as a partial settlement to his client Gregory R. (R) and in October 2011, respondent issued two more checks to R totaling $133, 333, but respondent's account records show no underlying deposit on behalf of R. In August 2011, respondent's IOLA account balance was only $17, 911. On October 19, 2011, immediately prior to paying R his $133, 333, respondent transferred $80, 000 from his business account to his IOLA account. Respondent admitted that he never received R's permission to draw against his settlement funds.

Respondent also acknowledged that in October and November 2011 he withdrew $10, 000 from his escrow account to settle a legal malpractice claim with a client.

In connection with another matter, respondent received $14, 500 in settlement funds in July 2012. Respondent held back $8, 000 pending resolution of a purported medicare lien which he later determined did not exist. However, prior to disbursing the balance of funds to that client in ...


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