Legal Ethics

'Perk of Partnership' at N.Y. Law Firm: Public Pension for No-Show Job

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For some lawyers at one Albany, N.Y., area law firm, getting a public pension for a no-show school district job was a standard “perk of partnership,” a state prosecutor said at a news conference today.

“Ellen Biben, special deputy attorney general for public integrity, said a number of lawyers of the Girvin & Ferlazzo firm cut deals with administrators at one upstate Board of Cooperative Educational Services to place partners on its payroll ‘regardless of whether that lawyer was doing any work,’ ” Newsday reported.

The news conference was called to announce the first two settlements in an ongoing probe by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo of statewide pension fraud and other questionable government employment practices involving lawyers and other professionals.

In one settlement, former partner Maureen Harris, who is a sister of the chief counsel for a former state governor, agreed to pay $50,000 to the state. Her lawyer, Mike Keonig, says Harris participated in a “long-standing and accepted arrangement at her firm” for one year, in 2005, and that this had nothing to do with her other government work.

Cuomo said Harris was paid $30,000 for a one-year no-show school district job. She apparently was never paid a pension, and agreed separately with the state comptroller’s office to forfeit her one year of state pension credit from that job.

In another settlement, a Buffalo law firm, Hodgson Russ, also agreed to pay the state $50,000. It reportedly permitted five different school districts to put 25 attorneys on the payroll improperly so the school districts could get extra state aid. The Buffalo lawyers, however, didn’t get any pension or health benefits, according to Newsday.

The Long Island newspaper’s calls to Girvin & Ferlazzo were not returned.

Other state and federal agencies are also investigating the situation.

“This issue is chronic, it’s widespread and it’s pervasive,” Cuomo said.

Related coverage:

Capital News 9: “Cuomo announces settlements in attorney pension abuse investigation”

Albany Times Union-McClatchy-Tribune Information Services: “State adds names to list: Pension crackdown continues as more lawyers lose benefits” “Accused of Padding Timesheets, N.Y. Lawyer Quits Part-Time Job & Law Firm” “New York AG Pension Probe Focuses on 12 Attorneys from 1 Law Firm”

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