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In re Thalasinos

Supreme Court of New York, First Department

March 13, 2014

In the Matter of Jonathan N. Thalasinos, an attorney and counselor-at-law: Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department, Petitioner, Jonathan N. Thalasinos, Respondent.

Disciplinary proceedings instituted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. Respondent, Jonathan N. Thalasinos, was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York at a Term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the Second Judicial Department on February 25, 1987.

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

O'Connell and Aronowitz (Richard S. Harrow, of counsel), for respondent.

Luis A. Gonzalez, Presiding Justice, Peter Tom David B. Saxe Sallie Manzanet-Daniels Judith J. Gische, Justices.

PER CURIAM

Respondent Jonathan N. Thalasinos was admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York by the Second Judicial Department on February 25, 1987. At all times relevant to this proceeding, respondent maintained a registered address within the First Department.

In 2012, the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (DDC) brought four charges against respondent: aiding a suspended attorney in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility DR 3-101(a) (22 NYCRR 1200.16[a]) and Rule 5.5(b) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0); making an intentional misrepresentation to the Committee in violation of Rule 8.4(c)(conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation) (22 NYCRR 1200.0) and Rule 8.4(d)(conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice); and, based on the aforementioned misconduct, engaging in conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness as a lawyer in violation of DR 1-102(a)(7) (22 NYCRR 1200.3[a][7]) and Rule 8.4(h). [1]

By way of background, respondent graduated law school in 1978 and has been a non-practicing attorney for most of his career. An unrelated incident in 1998 led to a forced but honorable discharge from the Army. That incident also resulted in an admonition in 1999. From 2007 through 2010, while employed at the EPA, respondent performed per diem work, in immigration law, for a suspended attorney (SA). The present charges stem from respondent's association with SA. Although respondent was aware of the suspension from 2007, he claimed that he did not see the actual Appellate Division decision until he was deposed by the DDC in January 2012.

Respondent's relationship with SA developed as a result of his employment of SA's wife as a nanny for his young daughter. Respondent explained that he and his then wife (who suffered from a serious chronic illness) were both employed full time and that SA's wife provided reliable childcare. Respondent became aware that SA and his wife were experiencing financial difficulty and respondent felt that by assisting SA in immigration matters he could help alleviate the couples' financial strain. This would, in turn, maintain stability in his own family by SA's wife continuing as his nanny. In addition, respondent was anticipating retiring from federal service in the near future and thought that by working for SA he could learn immigration law (an area in which he had no experience) and then develop his own immigration practice.

Respondent did not initially believe that assisting SA in immigration matters constituted aiding the unauthorized practice of law, and only became aware of this after he became the subject of a DDC investigation. SA was ineligible to practice before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the Immigration Court because he was required to be an attorney in good standing "of the bar of the highest court of any State...and is not under any order suspending...or otherwise restricting him in the practice of law" (8 CFR 1001.1[f]; 1292.1[a][1]).

Respondent assisted SA's office in Astoria, Queens. The office and all client files belonged to SA. Respondent was paid $400-500 per day for immigration-related appearances. Respondent would meet with SA the day prior to (or, in some cases, the day of) a proceeding and SA would instruct him as to what he must do at the proceeding. Respondent would not meet with the client until the actual day of the proceeding. Due to his lack of experience in immigration law, respondent allowed SA to make all legal (and non legal) decisions with respect to the cases. In addition, all letters and documents were prepared by SA. Respondent never executed retainer agreements with the clients, nor did he ever receive any payments from the clients. Respondent estimated that he appeared at 10-12 immigration hearings (before the USCIS) for SA during the three years.

The investigation which led to the charges against respondent was initiated following two complaints: a 2004 complaint based on the manner in which an employment petition was handled, and, a 2009 complaint about the manner in which a visa renewal application was handled. Respondent never met with these clients nor spoke with them. Rather, they retained SA who then used respondent's name on the paperwork. Respondent signed an answer to the 2009 complaint, which was prepared by SA, and which contained the following misrepresentation:

"[a]ny question that would arise or could be asked concerning legal matter, was evaluated by me."

Respondent knew that the statement was false at the time he signed his answer. However, by a subsequent stipulation, respondent admitted the material facts and all charges. He ceased working for SA in 2010 and is currently unemployed. On November 20, 2012, a hearing was held before a Referee and ...


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