Legal Ethics

$50K in car service rides leads to suspension for former Sidley partner

A former partner at Sidley Austin has been suspended for a year for improperly charging clients for $50,000 in car services rides taken by himself and his family.

Ralph Lerner was accused of improperly billing clients for 448 car rides over a 10-year period, according to the Oct. 29 opinion by New York state’s Appellate Division. He is a well-known art lawyer in New York who was listed as of counsel at his current firm, Withers Bergman, the Am Law Daily reports.

Lerner joined Withers Bergman after Sidley confronted him about the car rides in 2008 and he resigned. Sidley reimbursed the clients and charged the cost of the rides to Lerner’s capital account, the opinion says. Lerner reported himself to the ethics committee.

A hearing panel had recommended a six-month suspension, but the appeals court said the longer one-year suspension was warranted.

Lerner has also been in the news for his dealings with a foundation board. A Delaware lawsuit accuses him of charging inflated legal fees to the foundation of the late artist Cy Twombly, the Am Law Daily says. According to a New York Times story on the suit, Lerner, who is also a foundation director, was accused of charging unauthorized legal fees and hiding the bills from board members.

Lerner’s lawyer says the allegations are “completely unfounded” and he is seeking to dismiss the suit. Lerner’s law office said in a statement to the Times that legal fees were disclosed in regular financial statements.

Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog.

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