Legal Ethics

Lawyer ethics violations in New York are punished too slowly and inconsistently handled, study finds

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A study of lawyer discipline cases in New York has found that punishment is slow and sanctions for similar conduct are inconsistent.

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers studied lawyer discipline cases dating to 1982 and read 577 court opinions imposing sanctions in the last six years. He found several instances of unacceptable delays and disparity in punishment in courts in different parts of the state, the New York Times reports in an op-ed.

In upstate New York, appeals courts rarely explain decisions on sanctions, and often they don’t follow earlier precedents, the story says.

“Perhaps most troubling,” the Times says, “is the overall lack of transparency that pervades the system. Unlike 40 other states, New York does not inform the public of pending charges against lawyers. It is also unnecessarily difficult to learn when a lawyer has been officially sanctioned.”

The Times includes some examples of problematic cases. One lawyer accused of stealing client funds was allowed to continue practicing for three years before he was disbarred. In another case, a lawyer received a two-and-a-half year suspension for filing false documents, making false statements and improperly notarizing a client’s signature. But a different lawyer accused of similar conduct received only a formal rebuke.

Giller’s study will be published in May in NYU’s Journal of Legislation and Public Policy.

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