In the Matter of Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP, et al., attorneys and counselors-at-law. Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District, petitioner; Law Firm of Cohen and Slamowitz, LLP, et al., respondents. (Attorney Registration No. 1661263)
DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING instituted by the Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District. By decision and order on application of this Court dated January 15, 2009, the Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District was authorized to institute and prosecute a disciplinary proceeding against the law firm of Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP, and David A. Cohen, a principal of the law firm of Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP, based upon the acts of professional misconduct set forth in a petition dated November 3, 2008, and the issues were referred to the Honorable Charles F. Cacciabaudo, as Special Referee, to hear and report. By decision and order on motion dated July 9, 2009, the Honorable Charles F. Cacciabaudo was relieved, and the issues were referred to the Honorable Joseph A. Esquirol, Jr., as Special Referee, to hear and report. By further decision and order on motion dated March 12, 2010, the Honorable Joseph A. Esquirol, Jr., was relieved, and the issues were referred to the Honorable Kenneth A. Davis, as Special Referee, to hear and report. The respondent David A. Cohen was admitted to the Bar at a term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department on February 20, 1980.
Robert A. Green, Hauppauge, N.Y. (Leslie B. Anderson of counsel), for petitioner.
McDonough & McDonough, Garden City, N.Y. (Chris McDonough of counsel), for respondents.
RANDALL T. ENG, P.J., WILLIAM F. MASTRO, REINALDO E. RIVERA, PETER B. SKELOS, CHERYL E. CHAMBERS, JJ.
OPINION & ORDER
The Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District served the respondents with a petition dated November 3, 2008, containing four charges of professional misconduct involving multiple client matters. The respondents served an answer, dated February 10, 2009. On June 30, 2011, the parties entered into a stipulation, which addressed, inter alia, the facts alleged in the petition. One client matter was withdrawn. After a hearing on June 30, 2011, the Special Referee sustained charge two, based on one client matter (Durand). With respect to charge one, the Special Referee sustained the factual allegations of two of the underlying client matters (Quader and Kerschhagel), but did not find a pattern and practice of misconduct necessary to sustain the charge as a whole. Charges three and four, which are derivatives of charge one, were also not sustained by the Special Referee. The respondents now move to confirm in part, and disaffirm in part, the Special Referee's report. The Grievance Committee cross-moves to confirm in part, and disaffirm in part, the report of the Special Referee.
The charges are predicated upon a common set of facts, as amended by the stipulation entered into by the parties on June 30, 2011, as follows:
Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP (hereinafter C & S), is a law firm engaged in the practice of law with offices at 199 Crossways Park Drive, P.O. Box 9004, Woodbury, New York 11797-9004. David A. Cohen (hereinafter the individual respondent) is the senior partner of C & S. As senior partner, the individual respondent oversaw the legal activities of C & S's collection practice during the relevant period of time, and indirectly supervised approximately three hundred employees, including attorneys, paralegals, collection staff, and support staff. In April 2002, the individual respondent had an informal discussion with Grievance Committee counsel, and was advised to "exercise caution, try to be careful and supervise [his] staff adequately, make sure [he had] appropriate and reasonable procedures in place, and that [he monitored those] procedures." The individual respondent also was advised that he, his partner Mitchell G. Slamowitz, and the attorneys employed by C & S were responsible for the conduct of their staff. Complaint of Frank A. Mandriota, Sr.
In or about March 2003, the individual respondent and C & S (hereinafter together the respondents) were retained to collect a debt of approximately $1, 800 from a debtor identified as "Frank Mandriota." The respondents undertook collection efforts against Frank A. Mandriota (hereinafter Mandriota Senior), a 73-year-old man residing in Plainview, New York. The respondents were provided with an address, in Huntington, New York, as well as the social security number for the actual debtor, Frank G. Mandriota (hereinafter Mandriota Junior), the 53-year-old son of Mandriota Senior. Despite being provided with the foregoing, the respondents caused a summons and complaint in the name of "Frank Mandriota" to be served at a property in Farmingdale, New York, owned by Mandriota Senior. Thereafter, the respondents obtained a judgment in the District Court, Nassau County, which was entered in or about December 2003, and became a lien on Mandriota Senior's property.
Complaint of Adrian K. Hyde
In or about February 2005, the respondents were retained to collect a debt of approximately $2, 474.20 from a debtor identified as "Adrian Hyde." Between February 28, 2005, and March 16, 2005, the respondents undertook collection of the debt against "Adrian K. Hyde, " who resided at an address on Broadway in New York, New York. The respondents were advised that "Adrian K. Hyde" at that address on Broadway in New York, New York, was not the actual debtor. Despite this advice, the respondents attempted, on or about July 11, 2005, to have a summons and complaint served on "Adrian K. Hyde" at that address on Broadway in New York, New York. Complaint of Dr. Gholam Mujtaba
In or about January 2005, the respondents initiated an action to collect a debt from a debtor identified as "Ghulam Mujtaba" of Flushing, New York. In pursuing collection of the debt, the respondents erroneously pursued the matter against "Dr. Gholam Mujtaba" of Corona, New York. In or about August 2005, the respondents discontinued collection efforts against Dr. Mujtaba.
On or about January 31, 2006, the respondents were retained to collect an unrelated debt from a debtor identified as "Ghulam Mujtaba." Once again, the respondents undertook to collect the debt from Dr. Gholam Mujtaba. During their collection efforts, the respondents were notified that Dr. Mujtaba was not the actual debtor. Despite being so advised, the respondents caused a summons and ...