Stuart A. Schlesinger invested half a century constructing a track record and a practice as an accident lawyer in New York, representing customers in claims and negotiating settlements on their behalf. However, when he appeared just recently before a federal judge in Manhattan, he discovered himself in an unknown position for a lawyer: He was the offender.
Mr. Schlesinger, 76, had been jailed on a fraud charge in one of the more brazen plans in the record of New York law: He settled claims on behalf of customers, in some cases for $1 million or more, then simply kept much of the money for himself.
When his customers grumbled that they had actually not gotten the profits of their settlements, Mr. Schlesinger responded with a litany of reasons. Our phones and computer systems were down, Mr. Schlesinger composed in another email to Mr. Lawler.
Mr. Lawler, 63, stated that now, 4 years after the settlement was reached, he had actually not yet gotten a cent. It’s a betrayal, he said.
That day in Federal District Court in Manhattan two weeks ago, Mr. Schlesinger admitted to the judge, William H. Pauley III, that he had actually poorly kept money from settlements since 2008 and had actually utilized it for his personal advantage.
When the judge asked how much money he had taken, he responded, Approximately $5 million.
Several former customers enjoyed quietly in the courtroom as Mr. Schlesinger pleaded guilty to the fraud charge, which carries an optimum prison sentence of 20 years.
Mr. Schlesinger has never discussed what happened to his clients’ money, and his lawyer, Murray Richman, declined to let him be talked to. Mr. Richman said Mr. Schlesinger had actually chosen to plead guilty because he desired to see his previous clients repaid.
One possession he has agreed to forfeit is an eight-bedroom house on five and a half acres in Quogue, on Long Island, which is listed for sale at $11.5 million and is advertised as having a pool and a Jacuzzi neglecting the ocean.
Mr. Schlesinger is also no more practicing law. Last year, after a lawyer disciplinary committee moved for his instant suspension, he consented to surrender his law license and was disbarred. But his case has put a harsh spotlight on the procedure of discipline for lawyers in New York, which is conducted in overall secrecy till a public sanction, like a suspension or disbarment, is enforced.
In Mr. Schlesinger’s case, that process took a full year, throughout which he continued to represent clients, even filing at least one medical malpractice match.
It could not be learned when the disciplinary authorities started getting problems versus Mr. Schlesinger. A number of months prior to the committee opened its examination in September 2014, for instance, it got but did not pursue a problem from a Queens homeowner. New York city court officials, mentioning privacy laws governing investigations into misbehavior by attorneys, declined to say when the committee had actually received its very first grievance versus Mr. Schlesinger, how many complaints were filed or exactly what they alleged.
David Bookstaver, interactions director for the state court system, stated, it would need legislative action to alter the law as it relates to secrecy or transparency in lawyer corrective proceedings.
Lots of questions remain about Mr. Schlesinger s fall, but there is little doubt about the causal sequence beyond his clients. His longtime law practice, Julien & Schlesinger, closed, and a little collection of partners and partners, consisting of a minimum of among his kids, needed to discover work in other places.
Mr. Schlesinger earned his law degree from Fordham University in 1964 and signed up with a little law firm, where he ultimately became a partner with a prominent houston injury lawyer, Alfred Julien. Their firm continued to bear both of their names after Mr. Julien s death in 1989. Lawyers who had actually worked at the firm either declined to be interviewed for this short article or did not react to messages looking for remark.
Joseph L. Forstadt, a retired partner at the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan who is a long time good friend of Mr. Schlesinger’s, stated that he had actually sometimes referred personal injury cases to him which Mr. Schlesinger had an excellent track record for being able to win positive settlements for clients. Stuart was known as the person who could sit down with insurance coverage services and get the best deal possible, Mr. Forstadt stated.
Mr. Schlesinger likewise taught as an adjunct teacher at New York Law School, and for a time he composed a column for The New York Law Journal.
When Mr. Schlesinger was detained in December, he was launched on a $1 million bond, which was secured by the Quogue property. His spouse, Linda Schlesinger, a property agent, and a first cousin, Stephen Lefkowitz, a Manhattan property lawyer, signed the bond as guarantors.
I got a call from his better half saying he was in this hard scenario and would I help, Mr. Lefkowitz remembered. And of course I did.
Mr. Lefkowitz, 78, stated that although he had actually known Mr. Schlesinger since youth and their families were close, he knew little about his cousin’s legal practice and had been amazed at the news of his arrest.
The lawyer corrective committee, one of a number of such panels run by the state court system, has stated that Mr. Schlesinger’s misconduct pertained to the committee s attention through complaints from 2 customers that showed up on Sept. 2, 2014, according to a personal legal movement later on submitted by the committee seeking his immediate suspension. (The movement was launched last year after he was disbarred.) The 2 clients complained that Mr. Schlesinger owed them an overall of $66,000 in settlement money, and an investigation occurred immediately, the motion said.
But the committee had in fact got an earlier problem, including a larger unsettled settlement, which it decided not to pursue. In June 2014, Albin F. Luczak of Queens grumbled to the committee that Mr. Schlesinger had actually not paid him his share of a $1.5 million dental malpractice settlement.
Mr. Luczak said in an interview that he had been the victim of medical neglect during a root canal that had actually needed him to go through several surgical procedures, including the elimination of muscle in his neck. Mr. Schlesinger took legal action against on his behalf and settled the case in fall 2013.
Under a retainer contract, Mr. Luczak was owed about $1.1 million after Mr. Schlesinger took his legal cost.
However, despite repeated demands, Mr. Luczak stated, Mr. Schlesinger did not send him his share. Mr. Luczak remembered that when he and his partner checked out Mr. Schlesinger s office, the lawyer said: Please trust me, please trust me. I’m alleviating you like member of the family.
In March 2014, Mr. Luczak maintained a new lawyer, Dustin Bowman of Kew Gardens, Queens. After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the problem through telephone call and e-mails, Mr. Bowman sued Mr. Schlesinger on Mr. Luczak s behalf and helped him file a formal complaint with the disciplinary committee.
I am composing to complain about a really major matter, Mr. Luczak composed to the committee on June 13, 2014. He attached copies of the retainer agreement and his claim versus Mr. Schlesinger.
2 months later on, Mr. Luczak received a letter from Jorge Dopico, the committee’s primary counsel, informing him that because of Mr. Luczak’s pending lawsuit, the committee would postpone additional investigation at this time.
According to the committee’s site, it does not investigate attorneys in cases in which a suit is pending on a comparable concern.
Mr. Bowman said he was surprised that the committee did not pursue the matter, given the amount of money Mr. Luczak was owed and what Mr. Bowman saw as an easily provable accusation.
On Aug. 22, 2014, Mr. Bowman wrote straight to the committee, stating that Mr. Luczak was experiencing really major ethical infractions worrying the mishandling of client money and was urging you to keep the docket open and inquire into this matter.
Mr. Bowman said he heard nothing from the committee for nine months. Then in May 2015, he received a call from a committee lawyer. Mr. Bowman stated he revealed surprise to the lawyer that the committee had not followed up on Mr. Luczak’s grievance which it had taken so long to respond to his own letter.
According to Mr. Bowman, the lawyer did not provide a satisfying description, except to recommend that the committee was understaffed and had a large stockpile.
Mr. Luczak stated that he and his other half had concluded at the time that exactly what Mr. Schlesinger had done to them, he had also rather likely done to others. In early 2015, Mr. Luczak said, he contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and within a week, a unique agent, James H. Hilliard Jr., came to his house to interview him and to gather copies of his papers. Within a day, Mr. Luczak said, the F.B.I. called him to say it would open an examination obviously the questions that resulted in Mr. Schlesinger’s arrest.
Mr. Luczak, 56, stated recently that he had yet to receive any part of his settlement, more than 2 years after it was finished. Absolutely nothing absolutely no, he said.
In November 2014, two months after the corrective committee started its investigation, Hal R. Lieberman, a lawyer representing Mr. Schlesinger in the misconduct questions, composed to the committee and asked that his customer not be penalized.
Mr. Lieberman explained Mr. Schlesinger as a recognized lawyer who had practiced without a blemish for 49 years, adding that, but for his remarkable efforts, there would be no settlement funds to begin with.
On March 10, 2015, Mr. Schlesinger provided a deposition to the committee where he revealed remorse for his actions. I 100 percent acknowledge what I did, he said. I did incorrect.
Less than 2 weeks after making that declaration, Mr. Schlesinger submitted a new lawsuit, a medical malpractice case, on behalf of Zdzislaw Oleszkiewicz of Queens, to whom he currently owed $33,000 from the settlement of an earlier claim.
I never imagined I might be so made the most of, Mr. Oleszkiewicz said through an interpreter.
In May 2015, the committee filed its movement seeking Mr. Schlesinger s instant suspension, citing proof and his admissions that he had misappropriated settlement money from a minimum of 16 clients.
Victims of Mr. Schlesinger s plan stated they doubted as to whether they would ever recuperate their lost money, through Mr. Schlesinger’s restitution or other means. Cheryl Parisi, a Staten Island homeowner who said she was still owed about $60,000 from a medical malpractice settlement, recalled that a person of Mr. Schlesinger’s checks had actually bounced.
Mr. Lawler, who is still owed his share of the 2012 settlement from the lawsuit originating from the death of his 32-year-old son, Scott, said Mr. Schlesinger’s actions had actually left him aghast.
Scott Lawler, who had worked as a software designer at Barclays Bank in Manhattan, died after stomach surgical treatment at a New Jersey health center, the claim said.
Mr. Schlesinger s former customers might seek payment from a special customer security fund that compensates people whose lawyers have stolen their money, but the awards are capped at $400,000 per customer, meaning that individuals like Mr. Luczak and Mr. Lawler would not totally cover their losses. Others have followed Mr. Luczak’s course and have actually taken legal action against Mr. Schlesinger. Dolores Nordone of South Salem, N.Y., is owed more than $300,000 from her share of an $850,000 car-crash settlement reached 6 years back, according to her suit.
Ms. Nordone, 73, a previous accountant, said that the mishap had actually led to perpetual lower neck and back pain, requiring three surgical treatments, which she might not work. Words can’t really describe how I feel, she stated. You put your trust in someone who you think is going to help you, and it’s amazing.
Her lawyer, Arnold N. Kriss, who went to the courtroom to see Mr. Schlesinger plead guilty this month, said, I felt ashamed as a lawyer to sit there.