Legal Ethics

What Would Superman Do? Judge Gives Heroic Examples in Ruling Against Lawyer

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A judge blasted a Staten Island, N.Y., lawyer in a small claims court ruling ordering him to pay a client an arbitration award that was more than a year overdue.

Client Nanette Spina paid Michael J. DeFilippo $6,500 to complete estate planning, asset protection and a living will on behalf of her 88-year-old mother, who died two months after she hired DeFilippo, Staten Island Advance reported. Spina demanded a refund. DeFilippo offered $3,018 based on the amount of work he had done, but the client refused it and took him to small claims court, which awarded her $3,790 in February 2009.

DeFilippo didn’t pay, and Spina had a city marshal place restraints on his personal bank account and New York Police Department pension fund, Staten Island Advance reported. DeFilippo then sought a court order to stop this, saying Spina had contracted with the now-defunct Law Offices of Michael J. DeFilippo in the Richmond Valley neighborhood of Staten Island, and not DeFilippo individually. DeFilippo now practices under the name of DeFilippo & Associates in Staten Island’s New Dorp neighborhood, the paper reported.

But Judge Philip S. Straniere wasn’t having it. “The court would like to point out to [DeFilippo]: YOU ARE A LAWYER!!!! and not some ‘fly-by-night’ business incorporating to limit its liability,” he wrote in the small claims court ruling.

He also wrote that DeFilippo “must be reminded that Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega), The Shadow (Lamont Cranston) and Superman (Clark Kent) each had an alter-ego but was, in fact, only one person who understood the difference between right and wrong and, unlike the defendant, never sought to disavow responsibility for their own actions.”

DeFilippo told the Staten Island Advance he would follow the order, although he disagreed with it, saying the ruling “adversely impacts all professionals who thought they had established a professional corporation to protect their personal assets.”

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