Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, November 11, 2005

"The Man" hits back - at himself

Coffey’s admission is no small loss

Posted by David Baker, Jan. 30, 2007

The Notice of Judgment from Albany Small Claim Court says that the law firm of O’Connell and Aronowitz – Steve Coffey’s firm – must pay the $300 that was incurred as a result of the firm’s failure to inform three other law firms that it was reviewing the case of the estate of Lisa Baker Vs. Samaritan Hospital.

The money – $100 to each of the three firms – was part of the cost to the firms of preparing motions to dismiss the two lawsuits that allege the defendants’ caused Lisa’s death because of their medical malpractice in 2003. The motions were denied back in November, but the court awarded costs to the three firms and it was paid to them in the last week of December.

At the Small Claims Court hearing, no one appeared on first call behalf of Steve Coffey’s firm. The procedure then is to delay the case for a second “calendar call” an hour later. If a defendant does not appear for the second call, judgment can then go to the plaintiff by default.

At the second call, still no one answered for O’Connell and Aronowitz. But then a man in a suit who had been sitting in the court room stood and told Jjudge Helena Heath-Roland that he was with another law firm – Tobin and Demph – and that he had taken it upon himself to contact Steve Coffey’s office and tell them that a case against them was proceeding without them.

Despite an objection, the judge decided to wait for a call from Coffey’s office. A short time later, the judge resumed the case and told the court she had just received a letter faxed from O’Connell and Aronowitz, and that based on the letter, judgment would be awarded against the firm.

The letter was dated that day and signed by Coffey himself. It says:

RE: David Baker v. O’Connell & Aronowitz.
“Dear Clerk: I am informed that Mr. Baker has been required to pay costs of $100 to three separate local law firms in relation to the above reference matter. This office will pay the $300 to the firms, or, in the alternative hold Mr. Baker harmless for the debt. As such, I will not be appearing this morning in Court. Very truly yours, Stephen R. Coffey”

Not explained is why the people at the firm were apparently unaware of the Small Claims Court summons until a bystander took it upon himself to call them. Or why it took a summons to get them to admit responsibility for the costs, even though they were first asked for the money back in early December.

Could it be that they handle cases against themselves just as badly as they handled their review of Lisa Baker’s case? The events of January 29th certainly don’t make them look too competent.

In an unrelated story this week, the Albany Times Union referred to Coffey as a “high powered attorney.” But Monday morning probably was the first time the famous lawyer has been recorded as having made an appearance in a case in Small Claims Court.

Attorney’s angry response can only help

Posted by David Baker, January 14, 2007

The open letter to attorney Stephen Coffey that appears in full on this page has drawn an amazing response from The Man himself. In a letter to me dated January 8, Coffey lashes out at what he calls "...your reckless and unwarranted assaults upon me and my office," and threatens legal action against me. But then, referring to the $100 that the court ordered me to pay to each of the three law firms representing Samaritan Hospital and the other defendants, he goes on to say that his office is "…in the process of either paying the $300 or getting the acknowledgment from the Defense that such money would not be due and owing. Under no circumstances would you be liable for that charge."

In other words, he admits that his firm was negligent when it failed to comply with the judge’s directive to make a written request to the court for an extension of the stay, and that a copy of the request be sent to each of the defense lawyers.

Because no such letter was sent until after the existing stay had expired (even though Coffey’s office had told me in writing that it had been), all three defense firms filed motions to have the case thrown out of court. It was the cost of preparing these unnecessary motions that I was ordered to pay by the end of December (which I did).
I also made a written request to Coffey back on December 19 that he reimburse me the money. When there was no response, I filed a claim against Coffey’s firm in Small Claims Court. That claim is scheduled to go before a judge on Jan. 29.

As well as wanting the $300 back, I also was looking for either a ruling from a judge that Coffey’s firm was liable for the costs – and therefore had been negligent – or, if Coffey did not oppose my claim, in effect an acknowledgment from the firm of its negligence.

Now I have something even better: A written admission from Coffey himself that he failed to handle the matter properly.

And as I have stated previously (and will allege in court papers), I don’t think it was just negligence. I believe the facts will show that Coffey and his associate, Brendan Tully, were trying to destroy my case.

Their only defense now is to plead either stunning incompetence or a total indifference to the interests of a potential client.

And Coffey is threatening to sue me?