Legal Ethics

Lawyer Sanctioned for Katrina Suit

A testy federal judge has ordered a New York City lawyer to pay $24,000 in a fine and attorney fees for filing a frivolous suit on behalf of a Hurricane Katrina victim who was evicted by Catholic Charities.

The Albany judge said the suit against the Catholic church by lawyer John Aretakis has “no legitimate factual or legal basis,” the New York Law Journal reports. Judge Gary Sharpe said Aretakis, who has filed several clergy abuse lawsuits, filed the Katrina suit because of his “personal agenda.”

Sharpe ordered Aretakis to pay a $10,000 fine and $14,000 in his opponent’s legal fees. He said he may also require the lawyer to pay the U.S. Attorney’s office almost $2,400 for the time it spent on the case.

Aretakis’ suit contended Catholic Charities defrauded his client when it offered her housing following Hurricane Katrina and then sold the building where she lived and evicted her. The church says the housing was intended to be temporary.

The suit also claimed the church may have conspired with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to collect inflated housing allowances for shelterering Katrina victims.

Sharpe imposed the sanction in a Sept. 6 hearing. “I give you about 60 seconds to explain to me what the basis of any case against the United States and FEMA is in this complaint before I issue the order to show cause to impose sanctions,” he said.

Aretakis responded that it is “general public knowledge” that FEMA has “wasted a lot of money” in Katrina’s aftermath.

Sharpe replied, “Congratulations. Why don’t you run for the Senate or president of the United States and do something about it?”

Later the judge said Aretakis’ argument did not persuade him. “You’ve exhausted your 60 seconds,” Sharpe said. “Thank you. You failed completely to answer my question.”

Aretakis says he will appeal. “I honestly think that this judge went so far to tar and feather me that it is actually going to help my ability to appeal it,” he told the legal newspaper. “He wants to teach me a lesson and put me out of business.”

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