Lawyer blamed for reversed verdict feels vindicated by appellate ruling that judge abused discretion
A New York judge erred by reversing a jury’s defense verdict based on claimed misbehavior by a lawyer not directly involved in the case, a state appeals court has ruled.
Saying that there was no way to determine from the record whether a lawyer attending a dental malpractice trial as an observer, on behalf of an insurance company, had in fact intimidated the jury as an opinion by the judge claimed, the Appellate Division, 4th Department on Friday sent the case back to the trial court for a new hearing on the plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the verdict.
The appellate panel found multiple errors by Onondaga Supreme Court Justice Deborah Karalunas concerning the limited, in-chambers investigation she conducted before deciding in 2013 to set aside the jury verdict for the defense in the dental malpractice case:
“We agree with defendants that the court abused its discretion in conducting an in camera interview of the complaining juror without notifying counsel, without seeking counsels’ consent to that procedure … and without providing counsel with an opportunity to be heard or to participate, even in some restricted manner, in the interview of the juror,” wrote the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in its Friday opinion (PDF).
Additionally, “the court limited its investigation to one juror, and we conclude that the court abused its discretion in failing to conduct a more expanded investigation, including, at a minimum, conducting an interview of all of the jurors,” the opinion continues.
The appellate ruling also holds that “the court abused its discretion in prohibiting counsel from contacting any jurors until after plaintiff’s motion to set aside the verdict was decided. This unnecessary prohibition essentially precluded defendants from obtaining and submitting any meaningful opposition to plaintiff’s motion, the practical result being that the granting of plaintiff’s motion was a foregone conclusion.”
The ruling sends the case back to Karalunas for a new hearing on the plaintiff’s motion to set aside the defense verdict; however, attorney Scott Greenspan, the lawyer whose conduct was at issue in the motion, tells the ABA Journal that he is hopeful the judge will now recuse herself.
Although he is not identified by name in the appellate ruling, Greenspan acknowledges his role in the case, which he says resulted in losing his job as a then-partner at Sedgwick, even though he did nothing wrong.
Greenspan says he feels vindicated by the appellate ruling, as well as an earlier decision by a legal ethics panel not to pursue an attorney disciplinary case against him.
The 2013 ruling by Karalunas “took away everything from me,” he said, and he wants a public apology from the judge.
While he left Sedgwick voluntarily and is now counsel to the Amato Law Group in Garden City, New York, where he hopes to revive his national insurance coverage practice, Greenspan says the Karalunas opinion resulted in a period of unemployment in between the two jobs. That led to the loss of his home in Manhattan, he told the ABA Journal, and he says his reputation was harmed by the allegations the opinion made against him.
“I hope that the result of this is that she will never be able to do to another lawyer what she did to me,” he told Syracuse.com.
The judge was unavailable for comment Monday, the newspaper says, noting that judges ordinarily do not comment on their pending cases.
Hat tip: Above the Law
ABAJournal.com: “Judge axes defense jury verdict in malpractice case due to conduct of insurer lawyer watching trial”
ABAJournal.com: “Once described as ‘creepy’ in judge’s opinion, former Sedgwick partner says he’s been vindicated”
New York Law Journal (sub. req.): “Lawyer Accused of Intimidation Won’t Face Discipline”
Syracuse.com: “Syracuse-area families sue Small Smiles dental clinic for mistreatment of children”