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Legal Ethics

Neighbor stuck with lawyer’s old files seeks columnist’s advice

Posted Feb 21, 2014 7:49 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A neighbor whose garage is filled with unwanted lawyer files has written a real-estate columnist for advice.

The neighbor, who signed the letter “Morristown, N.J.,” has about 300 boxes of legal files in his garage, according to the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. The neighbor allowed the lawyer to store the boxes there because the lawyer was selling his house and moving. The understanding, according to the neighbor, was that the lawyer would come back and move the files when he had a place to store them.

Nine months later, the neighbor is still waiting for the lawyer to retrieve the files. He has sent two certified letters to the lawyer and spoken with him on the phone. The lawyer has made many promises but taken no action. In the meantime, the neighbor can’t park his cars in the garage and has to clear snow from them before driving.

“What are my legal options?” the neighbor asks. “I would just like to remove them but am afraid of being sued by him or his former clients.”

The real estate columnist spoke with New Jersey lawyer Joseph Bottitta, who said the neighbor could be sued if he hauls the boxes out to the curb. The files, he explained, could contain sensitive information like client Social Security numbers.

Another New Jersey lawyer, Michael Oliveira, says the neighbor should send one last certified letter telling the lawyer the boxes will be shipped to him, at his expense, if they aren’t picked up in 30 days. Include a shipping estimate, if possible, and copy the Morris County Bar Association and the Office of Attorney Ethics, Oliveira says.

The neighbor may lose the shipping costs, but at least he’ll have his garage back, the columnist says.

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