May 25th, 2017

Some Advice for Trump’s New Lawyer

Marc Kasowitz

As the rapidly burgeoning #TrumpRussia scandal moves forward, with evidence piling up that Trump is trying to obstruct congressional investigations into collusion between his campaign and Russia, Donal Trump has picked some personal counsel.

Trump, of course, has picked many attorneys before, he being involved in over 3,500 lawsuits. And today’s “winner” of the competition for the job is Marc Kasowitz, of Kasowitz Benson Torres.

This is the same firm that employs former Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was rumored to be in line to be FBI chief. Whether it was an obvious conflict of interest to keep considering Lieberman, or Lieberman thought the 10-year gig might not actually provide the job security it once did, nobody has (yet) leaked.

But rather than go down that rabbit hole, I wanted to focus on this tidbit from one of Trump’s former  lawyers, Patrick “Paddy” McGahn. Mcgann had represented Trump many,  many times, and testified when Trump’s Taj Mahal casino went belly-up.

If the McGahn name sounds familiar, it’s because his nephew Donald McGahn is now White House Counsel. That’s another Trumpian rabbit hole I’ll try to avoid.

No, the place I’m going is this little piece of deposition testimony from Paddy McGahn over the Taj bankruptcy proceedings: It seems that the lawyers decided they could never meet with Trump one-on-one. The rule was that there always had to be a second lawyer in the room.

Why a second lawyer? To run up the bills? Hell no, to protect themselves.

Trump, Paddy McGahn testified, always had a practice of having two lawyers present when meeting with Trump to avoid problems with his lying. He and another attorney would meet together with Trump because “Donald says certain things and then has a lack of memory.”

So the lesson for Kasowitz is this: Make damn sure there are no one-on-one meetings with Trump. Record anything that can be recorded and have someone take explicit notes while it happens.

This is the only way to protect yourself when making representations about Trump, as he has a penchant for tweeting or saying something completely opposite later on. It’s a a habit.

#ProtectYourReputation

 

 

May 22nd, 2017

New York’s Grieving Families

Once upon a time — like in 1847 — New York was a progressive state. We had, I believe, the first ever wrongful death statute for the benefit of families whose bread-winner was killed due the negligence of others.

And back then that was progressive.

The problem is that we have stagnated. This first-ever law has never been updated.

Essentially, if a family’s non-breadwinner is killed by the negligence of others, that person’s life — in the eyes of New York’s law — is worthless. Because there is no “economic loss” associated with the death. Mostly this means a child or retiree. Neither an infant, nor college student nor retired parent is likely to be providing an “economic” benefit in New York.

The grief of family members is, in New York, completely non-compensable.

Just as I addressed Lavern’s Law last week — the proposed legislation that measures the medical malpractice statute of limitations from the time the malpractice could reasonably have been discovered instead of when it happened — I address different legislation today.

If I can do my little part to help push New York into the 21st century I’ll be happy.

There is really no justification for telling families of the deceased that the court house doors are closed to them for their grief. Many of our sister states have such legislation. When out out-of-state lawyers call me to discuss potential wrongful death matters in New York, they are stunned to hear of the antiquated state of our civil justice system.

For many people, the courts are the only outlet for justice. We don’t encourage vigilantism, by any means, and a working, viable justice system is part of what makes a society function in a semi-civil fashion.  And having this outlet oft-times provides a small means of holding people or companies accountable so that the same thing doesn’t happen to someone else’s kid, or parent.

In the Assembly the bill is A. 1386. (Updated: and the bill has moved out of the Judiciary committee into the Codes committee last week.)

In the Senate the bill is S. 411. (Updated: the bill is stalled here).

The legislature is in session now and considering the bill.

If you don’t know your legislators, you can find them here by simply popping in your address. (Updated: Contacting your Senator is most important, since that is where the bill is stalled.)

Give a call to voice your support. It takes only a few moments.

 

 

May 17th, 2017

It’s Time to Pass Lavern’s Law

There is little that can be more infuriating on the civil side of the law than people losing their rights before they even knew you had them.

But such is the state of the law in New York, where the statute of limitations in medical malpractice matters is calculated from the time the incident occurs — not from the time the person found out about the conduct.

‘Scuse me while I put on my advocacy hat for a moment. This won’t take long.

New York is in a deep minority of just six states that measures the time to sue from the date of the malpractice, and this hits people particularly hard if they have undiagnosed cancers.

Lavern Wilkinson, for whom the law is named, went to Kings County Hospital on February 2, 2010 with chest pain. A radiologist saw a suspicious mass on the x-ray. But Wilkinson wasn’t told.

When it was found again two years later when her complaints worsened, the 15-month statute of limitations — you read that right, people sometimes have a paltry 15 months to discover the malpractice, hire a lawyer and bring suit — had expired. As per the Daily News summary of the incident:

A chest X-ray found the cancer had spread to both lungs, her liver, brain and spine. The disease was now terminal.

She left behind family including an autistic daughter.

That 15-month statute of limitations, by the way, is for city hospitals. For others, it is 2 ½ years.

But you know what? The problem still exists. Think about this: Pap smears are done every 3 years. A misread abnormal Pap that isn’t picked up until the next one? So sorry, you’re out of luck.

The curious thing about this bill, currently pending before the New York legislature, is that it enjoys wide bi-partisan support. There is no conceivable reason why the substantial burdens of medical negligence should fall to the patient and the patient’s family. None. Zero. Nada.

And you know what else? If the hospital was private, and continues to get immunity for its conduct, it is you the taxpayer that picks up part of those costs. You. Not the hospital that was negligent.

But the bill has never been brought to the floor for a vote.

Want to do something constructive today? Contact your New York Senator or Assemblyperson and let them know that this bill should be brought to the floor for a vote.

In the Assembly, the bill is A. 3339. (Updated: The bill was reported from the Assembly Codes Committee to the floor.)

In the Senate, the bill S. 4080. (Updated: The bill is stalled in the Senate — so if you make one call, it should go to your Senator.)

And yeah, the next victim could be you. Or me. And we may not even know it.

 

 

May 11th, 2017

Cellino and Barnes Collapses (Updated)

Cellino and Barnes, perhaps New York’s largest personal injury firm, collapsed yesterday. Ross M. Cellino Jr. brought an Order to Show Cause asking why the firm should not be dissolved. The Buffalo based firm –  fueled  by a massive multi-million dollar advertising and marketing budget — expanded in recent years to open offices around New York and now in California.

Cellino’s partner, Stephen Barnes, is scheduled to respond in court on May 19th to the petition for dissolution of the firm. Details of the reason for the collapse will most surely come out in the lawsuit, along with accusations of some kind as between the two.

At stake in the suit are potentially thousands (tens of thousands?) of injured clients, whose cases now face the prospects of chaos, delay and disarray. It could be years before the entanglements of the two are sorted out, as issues involving its very expensive phone number (all 8s), marketing campaign (and jingle) and leases are sorted out while the lawyers jockey over how to manage the clients.

(Not all of its advertising revolved around its hokey jingle.)

The dissolution will also have to deal with potential future business — notwithstanding the disarray — and that such business was generated by the years-long marketing campaign.

Most assuredly, lawyers at the firm are now contacting high-value individual clients in efforts to persuade them to stay at one of the new firms bound to be birthed from the tumult and pandemonium that is likely taking place.

The firm currently has 70+ lawyers listed on its website — not large by BigLaw firms but ginormous in the personal injury field where firms of 1-5 attorneys are most common.

But it isn’t as if those lawyers can simply divvy up the clients — for it is the clients that get to choose the lawyers. If clients do not believe they’ve been treated well with personal attention in the past, they may flee the firm altogether.

Both Cellino and Barnes have a checkered history, notwithstanding their success in building their mega-firm. In 2005 Cellino was suspended from the practice of law for six months while Barnes was censured. (In re Cellino)

The two of them had, in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct, advanced loans to numerous clients. Part of this was having a relative set up a high interest funding company for clients, and then directing clients to that funding company without informing them of the relationship.

Barnes was also cited for ambulance chasing (“Barnes sent a letter to a hospitalized surgical patient and concluded that such conduct was an impermissible solicitation of legal employment in violation of Code of Professional Responsibility.”)

My speculation: There are two main reasons for a law firm to dissolve — money and ego. So the leading contenders are that there are financial problems of some kind lurking in the background, or that Cellino (or Barnes) feels he deserves a bigger piece of the pie for some reason. Time will tell.

This story is one to follow given the inevitable problems that will result in the dissolution of a firm with thousands of clients.
——————-

Update (5/12/17)As per the Buffalo News, the dissolution issues started when Cillino wanted to hire his daughter, a recent SUNY Buffalo law grad, and Barnes said no:

Cellino went to Stephen E. Barnes in 2015, asking that the law firm hire his daughter, Jeanna Cellino, a cum laude graduate of the University at Buffalo School of Law, one of the sources said.

“Steve said absolutely not,” the source said, adding that the disagreement became a major bone of contention between the firm’s two founders.

In addition, there are apparently issues over finances (no great surprise):

Some disputes over finances in the law firm also are part of the disagreement that prompted Cellino to file a lawsuit against his own law firm this week, seeking to dissolve the Cellino & Barnes law firm, the legal sources said.

There’s also a short quote from me in the story coming off of this blog.

And from the NY Post comes a confirmation of sorts from the comments about Barnes wanting the California business and Cellino wanting New York:

Barnes wants to focus on the California end of the business, Cellino wants the East Coast, and the partners simply want a judge to referee the complicated split, [Cellino’s father]  said.

But the scuttlebutt around the Buffalo personal-injury and defense pubs is that Cellino Jr. — a minority partner in the firm’s San Francisco and Los Angeles offices — is feuding over money with Barnes, who has already moved to the West Coast.

This, of course, doesn’t explain why the split isn’t amicable.

 

May 10th, 2017

TrumpRussia, the Watergate Sketches, and You

Jurors listen to the Watergate tapes. Sketch by John Hart.

The sketches hang in my office as souvenirs from a trial long ago. I represented the estate of the courtroom sketch artist in a medical malpractice trial, and a grateful widow sold them to me when the trial was over.

Watergate. The scandal by which all others are measured, as the ubiquitous -gate suffix was tagged to anything and everything that it could be tagged to.

The scandal stood for, above all else, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. As everyone knows (or should know) it wasn’t the “third-rate burglary” that sent Nixon packing. It was the cover-up.

I look at the sketches every day.

H.R. Haldeman, White House Chief of Staff, on the witness stand. Judge John Sirica behind him. Sketch by John Hart.

And now, with FBI Director James Comey being fired amidst an investigation he was conducting into the TrumpRussia scandal — no need for the -gate suffix here — Watergate is on everyone’s mind.

For it was Nixon that gave the order to ax special prosecutor Archibald Cox who was doing the investigation. And when the attorney general and deputy attorney general both refused, and resigned in what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, the job fell to future judge Robert Bork.

No one in the Trump White House, it seems, could foresee that a president firing the guy that was investigating his own administration regarding Russia’s meddling in our election, and possible collusion, might be a problem.

But while Trump can fire Comey, and Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, and Preet Bharara, all of whom were investigating him — he can’t fire everyone. Because not everyone works for him.

Prosecutor James Neal talking to the jury. Judge John Sirica in the background. Sketch by John Hart.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is investigating Trump. And Schneiderman is beyond Trump’s reach.

The tell for if/when Schneiderman is getting close to something will be when Trump starts tweeting about him.

Ultimately, however, the Constitution charges we the people with the task of removal. And if not by an unwilling Congress, then by a change of the Congress the next election day.

One way or another the republic will survive this. We can only hope that there are no improvident actions in the interim that cost people lives.