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Columbian Lawyers discuss grievance process at CLE seminar

October 8, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
From left: Hon. Arthur M. Schack, Hon. Mark Partnow, Hon. David B. Vaughan, Hon. Carl Landicino, Hon. Pamela L. Fisher and Hon. Lawrence Knipel. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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The Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn held a Continuing Legal Education seminar with Carolyn Genovesi called “The Grievance Process” during its monthly meeting at the Rex Manor in Dyker Heights on Tuesday.

Genovesi is an assistant counsel at the Grievance Committee for the 10th Judicial District, Appellate Division, Second Judicial District.

“Carolyn is a dynamic personality who is now working with the 10th department of the Grievance Committee,” said President RoseAnn C. Branda. “She’s a very smart, articulate woman who was the former law secretary to the Hon. Robert Miller. She’s an expert on grievance committee complaints [and] how attorneys should handle the process if they’re served with a complaint.”

The Grievance Committee governs the conduct of attorneys. Members of the committees are appointed by the Appellate Divisions of the state Supreme Court and are made up of both attorneys and non-attorneys, working with a court-appointed staff.

“It’s a very scary moment for any attorney [to receive a grievance],” Branda said. “Just because an attorney receives a grievance doesn’t mean it’s warranted, so sometimes you have to fight for yourself. The people who sit on the Grievance Committee are usually smart enough to understand that there are disgruntled litigants who might not have been successful on their merits and then might have brought an unwarranted grievance.”

The first thing that Genovesi did was warn lawyers to be aware of the rules that can get them into trouble. To show how complicated they are, she held up a four-inch thick copy of “Simon’s New York Rules of Professional Conduct Annotated.”

“It’s a very interesting place in the law. It’s not clean, it’s not direct, you can’t research it, I’ve done a lot of CLE lectures and I bring something demonstrative,” Genovesi said holding the tome. “Every lawyer in the room should have a copy of this in their desk and probably every judge. It’s the only place to research the issues the Grievance Committee is involved with.”

While Genovesi admitted that it is a scary moment for a lawyer to receive a grievance, she said that it is important for lawyers to respond to them. “The Grievance Committee is your safety net,” she said. “If there is an issue, they will understand it.”

Genovesi estimated that one out of every three lawyers do not respond to their initial grievance and added that the Grievance Committee doesn’t open cases for 53 percent of complaints and said that only 4 percent go to court.

There are a lot of reasons that lawyers can receive a grievance. The most common are issues tied to substance abuse, money problems, family problems or mental issues. Genovesi added that the majority of lawyers who are disbarred have had a problem with escrow accounts.

“A lot of very good attorneys make bad mistakes, but very few are criminals,” Genovesi said. “We call it the ‘Good Guy Syndrome.’ A good rule of thumb is that if you have a mistake you should immediately report it to your malpractice carrier or the Grievance Committee. It’s OK to make mistakes. You should always be forthright. The best thing you can do is say what you did wrong.”

The next meeting of the Columbian Lawyers of Brooklyn will be held on Nov. 4, when Justice Miriam Cyrulnik will speak.

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