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In re Bhukta

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

August 2, 2017

In the Matter of Arnab Bhukta, a suspended attorney. Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District, petitioner; Arnab Bhukta, respondent. Attorney Registration No. 4659470

         D53016 O/htr

         DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDING instituted by the Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District. By decision and order on motion of this Court dated April 6, 2016, the respondent was immediately suspended from the practice of law pursuant to former 22 NYCRR 691.4and (iii) based upon his failure to cooperate with the Grievance Committee, and other uncontroverted evidence of professional misconduct, the Grievance Committee was authorized to institute and prosecute a disciplinary proceeding against the respondent, and the issues raised were referred to the Hon. Arthur J. Cooperman, as Special Referee to hear and report. The respondent was admitted to the Bar at a term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Second Judicial Department on May 6, 2009.

          Faith Lorenzo, Hauppauge, NY (Elizabeth A. Grabowski of counsel), for petitioner.

          RANDALL T. ENG, P.J. WILLIAM F. MASTRO REINALDO E. RIVERA MARK C. DILLON JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, JJ.

          OPINION & ORDER

          PER CURIAM.

         The Grievance Committee for the Tenth Judicial District (hereinafter the petitioner) served the respondent with a verified petition dated December 7, 2015, which contains 12 charges of professional misconduct. The respondent submitted an answer dated May 27, 2016, in which he largely admitted the factual specifications underlying the charges in the petition. After a prehearing conference on July 14, 2016, and a hearing on September 28, 2016, the Special Referee issued a report, which sustained all charges. The petitioner now moves to confirm the Special Referee's report and for the imposition of such discipline upon the respondent as the Court deems just and proper. After the petitioner filed the motion to confirm, the respondent's counsel moved for leave to withdraw as counsel of record. By decision and order on motion dated March 23, 2017, this Court granted counsel's motion for leave to withdraw as respondent's counsel and stayed the disciplinary proceeding until the expiration of 30 days after service upon the respondent of a copy of the Court's decision and order was effectuated. The respondent was served on April 26, 2017, by his former counsel. More than 30 days have elapsed since the respondent was served with this Court's decision and order on motion dated March 23, 2017, and the respondent has not filed any papers in response to the instant motion.

         Charge one alleges that the respondent misappropriated funds entrusted to him as a fiduciary, incident to his practice of law, in violation of rule 1.15(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0), as follows:

         At all relevant times herein, the respondent maintained an escrow account at JP Morgan Chase Bank, account number ending 3639 (hereinafter the escrow account), incident to his law practice.

         In or about February 2009, the respondent was retained by Carla Calabrese (hereinafter Calabrese) to represent her in a personal injury lawsuit against Associated Plastic Surgeons & Consultants (hereinafter Associated) on a contingency fee basis. The respondent settled the Calabrese case for $8, 000. On or about October 14, 2014, the respondent deposited an $8, 000 check into his escrow account, which he received from the insurance carrier for Associated. Thereafter, the respondent failed to promptly remit settlement proceeds to Calabrese. Instead, he advised Calabrese that there was a lien against the settlement proceeds and that she would not receive her funds until January 2015.

         The respondent made no further deposits into the escrow account between October 14, 2014, and October 31, 2014. During that period, the respondent disbursed the Calabrese settlement funds from the escrow account as follows:

Date

Transaction

Amount

Payee

10/14/14

Check#1031

$1, 000

Respondent

10/15/14

Cash Withdrawal

$2, 500

10/15/14

Cash Withdrawal

$2, 400

10/17/14

Check# 1021

$ 800

Respondent

10/17/14

Check# 1032

$ 660

Respondent

10/21/14

Check# 1033

$ 210

Suffolk County Clerk-Meraes Index

10/31/14

Check# 1027

$ 400

Respondent

         When the respondent made the foregoing disbursements, he did not have Calabrese's authorization to utilize her funds.

         Charge two alleges that the respondent engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, in violation of rule 8.4(d) of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0), by failing to cooperate with the petitioner in its investigation of a complaint, as follows:

The factual specifications of charge one are repeated and re-alleged as if more fully set forth herein. In or about November 2014, the respondent received a notice from the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (hereinafter LFCP), dated November 7, 2014, which reflected that his escrow check no. 1031, in the sum of $1, 000, had been dishonored on October 14, 2014, due to insufficient funds. In response, by letter dated November 19, 2014, the respondent advised the petitioner that the notice from the LFCP was issued in error, as there were sufficient available funds on deposit in the escrow account on October 14, 2014, when check no. 1031 was ...

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