Legal Ethics

Lawyer suspended for hiring disbarred lawyer who used assumed name in client meetings

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A solo practitioner in New York state has been suspended for two years because he hired a disbarred lawyer, an old law school friend, as a paralegal and then gave the friend great autonomy.

Dean Gary Weber of Westbury, New York, was suspended for two years for assisting a nonlawyer in the practice of law, the New York Law Journal reports. The Legal Profession Blog quoted from the Jan. 28 opinion imposing the suspension by the New York Appellate Division, Second Department.

The disbarred lawyer, Craig Heller, used the assumed name Craig Miller when speaking with clients. Weber told the New York Law Journal the assumed name was intended to allay suspicion that Heller was working as a lawyer, rather than a paralegal.

Weber asserted that Heller didn’t appear in court, didn’t attend real estate closings and worked only as a paralegal. “I gave him a job so he could make some money working as a paralegal,” Weber told the New York Law Journal. “I didn’t see anything wrong with that.”

But the appeals court agreed with a special referee who found that Weber relied on Heller’s expertise, allowed Heller great autonomy in his work and gave him the authority to act as the principal contact with clients. “The special referee found, and we agree, that Heller was continuing to practice law,” the appeals court said.

The appeals court also noted that Weber allowed Heller to use an assumed name partly to conceal Heller’s status as a disbarred lawyer. The court also cited evidence that Weber allowed Heller to improperly solicit clients on behalf of the law firm.

Legal ethics practitioner Michael Ross told the New York Law Journal that it’s unclear what kind of law-firm work a disbarred or suspended lawyer can perform in New York. Ross told the publication that any law firm hiring a suspended or disbarred lawyer would “have to have a very large appetite for risk.”

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