Problems with lawyers: Stuart Schlesinger

Source: A Manhattan Lawyer’s Slip and Fall – The New York Times

Stuart A. Schlesinger, a former personal injury lawyer, won millions for his clients. Then he kept the money.

An excerpt from Benjamin Weiser’s illuminating article:

When his clients complained that they had not received the proceeds of their settlements, Mr. Schlesinger responded with a litany of excuses. “We are short-staffed,” he said in an email to one client, Kenneth Lawler, a British man who was owed more than $900,000 from the settlement of a medical malpractice lawsuit stemming from the death of his son in a New Jersey hospital. “Our phones and computer systems were down,” Mr. Schlesinger wrote in another email to Mr. Lawler. “Sorry for the delay,” he said in a third email, adding strangely, “Waiting for our golf game.”

Mr. Lawler, 63, said that now, four years after the settlement was reached, he had not yet received a penny. “It’s a betrayal,” he said.

For me, it raises the eternal question: Why? Why would person who is demonstrably successful in his profession behave so sociopathically–and, ultimately, so self-destructively?

I don’t have an answer.

I hope the new disciplinary/ethics rules written by the New York State court system give suspicious clients easier and speedier access to complaints than the current system does. Although what I’ve read about the new rules does not leave me breathless: they seem to be dedicated more toward lawyers than facilitating clients’ grievances.

Here’s how the old system worked–actually didn’t work–in the case of Mr. Schlesinger:

It could not be learned when the disciplinary authorities began receiving complaints against Mr. Schlesinger. Several months before the committee opened its investigation in September 2014, for example, it received — but did not pursue — a complaint from a Queens resident. New York court officials, citing confidentiality laws governing investigations into misconduct by lawyers, declined to say when the committee had received its first complaint against Mr. Schlesinger, how many complaints were filed or what they alleged.

And why can’t we learn this fairly important information? For both good and bad reasons:

David Bookstaver, communications director for the state court system, said, “It would require legislative action to change the law as it pertains to secrecy or transparency in attorney disciplinary proceedings.”

Good reason: protecting good lawyers from unverified, even defamatory Yelp rants.

Bad reason: protecting bad lawyers by cloaking their court-verified badness from potential clients.

For the current system, search Sidebar for my series, “Filing a grievance,” which begins with a post about determining whether your grievance is valid or not, and continues through at least thirteen specific posts about how I filed a grievance against a lawyer. That is, I know whereof I speak when I hope that the complaint system is made easier and speedier.

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