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In re Stein

November 5, 1984

IN THE MATTER OF HILTON L. STEIN, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

ORDER

The Disciplinary Review Board having filed a report with the Supreme Court recommending that HILTON L. STEIN of MONROE, NEW YORK be suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months, and good cause appearing;

It is ORDERED that the report of the Disciplinary Review Board is hereby adopted and that HILTON L. STEIN is suspended

from the practice of law for a period of six months, effective immediately; and it is further

Ordered that, prior to restoration, respondent shall demonstrate satisfactory proof of his medical and psychiatric capability to practice law; and it is further

Ordered that HILTON L. STEIN be and hereby is restrained and enjoined from practicing law during the period of his suspension; and it is further

Ordered that HILTON L. STEIN reimburse the Office of Attorney Ethics for appropriate administrative costs; and it is further

Ordered that respondent comply with Administrative Guideline No. 23 of the Office of Attorney Ethics dealing with suspended, disbarred or resigned attorneys.

WITNESS, the Honorable Robert N. Wilentz, Chief Justice, at Trenton, this 5th day of November, 1984.

APPENDIX

This matter is before the Board based upon three presentments filed by the District X Ethics Committee and one recommendation for private reprimand filed by the District XII Ethics Ethics Committee which were consolidated for hearing before the Board.

The presentments charge Respondent with a pattern of neglect in representing various clients and improper withdrawal of trust funds. Respondent was additionally charged with failing to inform a municipal court judge of a civil settlement during a request to withdraw criminal charges. These charges of misconduct are summarized as follows.

1. ESSING COMPLAINT

Raymond Essing first consulted with Respondent in April 1979 about a codicil to his wife's will and certain corporate documents pertaining to distribution of shares in the family

business. When Essing's stepdaughter demanded that he vacate the business premises after his wife died in late May 1979, Essing again consulted Respondent. Essing was concerned about his rights to business assets and potential problems with his share of his wife's estate.

Essing was unable to pay an hourly rate for legal services to be performed by Respondent. Consequently, they entered into a retainer agreement whereby $2,500 was advanced to Respondent and a contingent fee of 25 per cent of any net recovery from the estate and/or his wife's progeny was to be paid to Respondent's firm.

On Essing's behalf, Respondent filed a verified complaint, an order to show cause and supporting documents. Respondent assigned the estate matter, including an inventory of various assets, to John A. Paparazzo, Esq., an associate in his office who had been admitted to the Bar in 1977. Paparazzo, at the time, did not specialize in any aspect of law; he performed work Respondent assigned to him.

Essing frequently visited Respondent's office to deliver documents or to learn the status of the proceedings. However, as the litigation progressed through the balance of 1979 and 1980, Respondent was less and less frequently in his office during normal business hours. His absences were attributable to physical maladies aggravated by drug addiction to amphetamines and cocaine.

Paparazzo and another associate in the office began to handle more tasks in the Essing litigation. Respondent attended depositions, but associates handled settlement negotiations. Respondent did endeavor to keep informed concerning the status of this file and worked with Paparazzo on the litigation matter. When Essing learned of Paparazzo's substantial involvement on the case, he unequivocally told Respondent, both before and after settlement negotiations began, that he had retained Respondent and not someone else in the office to handle the file.

Respondent, nevertheless, continued to have Paparazzo work on the file.

Respondent's associates reached a settlement figure of $8,500 with counsel for defendants and the case was marked settled before the court. The case was marked dismissed in March 1981. Respondent was not certain if he knew of the settlement at that time but regularly checked with Paparazzo as to the status of the case. Essing, on the other hand, had not been informed of the settlement terms or the effect the settlement would have on his financial condition. The $8,500 settlement amount was unacceptable to him. He complained to the Respondent when he learned that the case had been marked settled and dismissed. A motion to vacate the dismissal and restore the matter to the trial calendar filed by Respondent was denied in late July 1981. After Essing was informed of this by Respondent, Essing sought new counsel. The new counsel then filed an appeal of the dismissal which was unsuccessful. Respondent did not submit to Essing a statement accounting for legal services rendered, nor did he return any part of the retainer he had received.

The panel concluded that Respondent failed to keep Essing reasonably informed of material developments in the case and thus violated DR 7-101(A). The disclaimer by Respondent that he was not directly involved in the settlement negotiations did not diminish his responsibility. Respondent knew that Essing wanted him to control the efforts made on his behalf. The panel found that Respondent either should have been involved in the settlement negotiations himself, or should have established an office procedure, under his supervision, to inform the client promptly of the status of the case.

The panel further found that Respondent's problems with drug addiction during this period significantly impaired the operation and efficiency of his office. While the panel was sensitive to Respondent's maladies and obvious mental distress, it held that his physical and mental condition made his conduct

no less professional, warranting public discipline. Finding the same failure to account in this case as it had in the Blois matter, infra, the panel recommended the identical sanction ...


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