Trials & Litigation

BigLaw associate handling his own divorce is sanctioned $10K for 'maelstrom of misconduct'

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Corrected and updated: A BigLaw associate representing himself in a divorce case has been sanctioned $10,000 by a judge who said he was using his law license to bully and harass other lawyers, a medical expert and even judges, reports the New York Law Journal (sub. req.)

Anthony Zappin, a 30-year-old patent lawyer, was hit with the fine for a “maelstrom of misconduct” that continued despite repeated warnings to cease. Zappin did “everything in his power to undermine the legal process and use his law license as a tool to threaten, bully and intimidate, seriously calling into question his fitness to practice law,” wrote Justice Matthew Cooper of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County in Manhattan.

Zappin, a 2010 graduate of Columbia University School of Law, was referenced in the news articles as an associate with Mintz Levin. However, Zappin’s bio on the firm’s website was taken down on Tuesday. The ABA Journal called Mintz Levin and was told by a receptionist that Zappin is no longer employed there. Mintz Levin’s communications director later confirmed this by email.

His wife, Claire Comfort, who finished law school at Columbia a year earlier, is an associate and patent lawyer with the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges. The litigation surrounding their divorce began in November 2013.

Justice Cooper’s sanction order details various behavior by Zappin, including insults to judges. Cooper quoted a transcript of Zappin telling Justice Deborah Kaplan, “I am tired of these lies coming from you on the record. It’s lie after lie that comes out of your mouth.” In another incident, Cooper said, Zappin apparently attached a hand-written note to a judge stating, “You’re pathetic! (Judicial Complaint forthcoming).”

Cooper added that Zappin had made other “frankly outrageous” verbal attacks on Justice Kaplan in a March 2015 hearing that “can only be described as words not said in civil discourse, let alone ones that should ever be uttered by an attorney to a judge in the context of a court proceeding.”

Zappin pushed back most strongly against attorney Harriet Cohen, chosen by the court to represent the interest of the couple’s 2-year-old son. Cohen, a partner at Cohen Rabin Stine Schumann, had recommended that Zappin be given only supervised visitation with the boy.

Justice Cooper challenged Zappin’s refusal to pay half of Cohen’s fees and expenses, and Zappin’s claim it would render him “indigent.” That, the judge wrote, was “not even remotely possible” given Zappin’s $230,000 annual salary.

Zappin “actively campaigned to impugn” Cohen’s reputation, Cooper said. Zappin created a website in Cohen’s name. Posts on the site accused Cohen of misconduct and called her “a very sick and greedy woman.” When Cohen filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, the posts were removed.

Justice Cooper also noted that Zappin had made “numerous forays into other courts.” He recently sued his wife in New York County Family Court; sued his wife, her family and her lawyers in federal district courts in the Southern District of New York and the District of Columbia; and in the Appellate Division brought Article 78 proceedings against judges in his case.

Zappin also filed a complaint with the state Office of Professional Medical Conduct against the psychiatrist Cohen hired to evaluate the child—Judge Cooper called that “reckless and dishonest.”

Zappin, in an email statement to the New York Law Journal, said that he plans to appeal. “Justice Cooper has indefensibly turned this matter involving a small boy into tabloid fodder. His ruling is little more than a press release masquerading as a ‘judicial decision.’”

The story indeed was taken up by the New York Post and the New York Daily News.

The judge ordered that half the $10,000 sanction go to Cohen, and the other half to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection.

The custody trial is scheduled to take place in November.

Update: Zappin filed a motion on Oct. 28 seeking Cooper’s recusal and asking to vacate the decision.

In an interview with the ABA Journal, Zappin said Cooper’s opinion has “potentially destroyed” his earning power, an allegation repeated in his court documents.

“He’s very catchy with his alliteration,” Zappin said, “but I engaged in no misconduct in this case.”

Updated at 5:43 p.m. to change the reference to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County. Corrected on Sept. 28 to state that Cooper said Zappin apparently wrote the note calling a judge pathetic. Updated on Oct. 29 to report that Zappin has filed a motion for the judge’s recusal.

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