Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Friday, December 12, 2008

Closing argument

The case against Steve Coffey

“Ladies and Gentlemen:

“You have heard the facts in this case of alleged misconduct against Stephen Coffey, Esq., Brendan Tully, Esq. and the law firm of O’Connell & Aronowitz.

“The case in question is a medical malpractice/wrongful death action against Samaritan Hospital of Troy and other defendants. This lawsuit is currently active in state Supreme Court in Saratoga County. It's about the treatment given to my wife, Lisa, who suffered from insulin-dependent diabetes and who died three weeks after she was found in her hospital bed near death and – according to Samaritan’s own records – with a blood sugar level at almost zero.

“ I am now conducting the case without legal representation.

“You have heard how in August 2006, Mr. Coffey of O’Connell & Aronowitz contacted me and offered to review the case – which had been abandoned by another attorney – but that in fact, as I allege, his intention was to get it dismissed for failure to prosecute.

“As is demonstrated in the documents presented to you, the Court had given me a limited time to find another attorney or proceed on my own. After asking for and being paid $1,500 for an expert’s assessment of the medical file, Mr. Coffey informed me in writing that he had complied with a verbal directive from the Court that he formally request an extension of the stay and that he inform the defendants in writing of his request.

“However, as you saw, he later admitted in writing that at the time he sent that letter he had not made any written request to the Court or contacted the defendants’ attorneys.

"Mr. Coffey also said he would need to examine my former attorney's file on the case.

"He didn't do that either.

“Between getting the money for the expert review and the expiration of the stay, Mr. Tully ignored repeated and increasingly urgent e-mails and phone message from me. It is clear the two of them were trying to run out the clock.

“When the stay expired, the defendants’ attorneys filed a motion for dismissal. This was denied after I served an affidavit in opposition, an affidavit Mr. Tully, just before the deadline, tried to dissuade me from filing.

“The Court, in its decision extending the stay, ordered me to pay $300 costs to the defendants’ attorneys for the unnecessary motion.

“I paid the money to the attorneys. Mr. Coffey said he would reimburse me but he did not do so until after I sued him in Small Claims Court, went to a trial and then threatened to enforce the judgment I obtained from the Court.

“And Mr. Coffey later admitted in a response to a discovery demand that no expert's review was done in the three months the medical records were in his possession .

“That was the initial complaint. But it didn’t end there. There is also the evidence that O’Connell & Aronowitz and Mr. Coffey himself had an clear conflict of interest that would have precluded the firm from even considering taking my case.

“ I direct your attention to a press release distributed by O’Connell & Aronowitz in October 2007 that announces the formation of a unit within the firm to represent hospitals in matters related to Medicare and Medicaid.

“Based on statements made on a local radio station by Mr. Coffey and other members of O’Connell & Aronowitz, it is clear that the firm’s plans for this new unit were in place before Mr. Coffey contacted me in August 2006 and offered to review my case against Samaritan Hospital.

“This, of course, would be a serious violation of ethical standards and further evidence that the intention of Mr. Coffey and Mr. Tully was to have my claims against Samaritan Hospital dismissed.

“As you have seen, on the Web site the firm lists the Healthcare Association of New York as a client. This association represents more than five hundred healthcare facilities in the state, including Northeast Health, Inc., the company that owns Samaritan Hospital.

“Further, a search of online court records in Albany and Rensselaer counties has produced no indication that O’Connell & Aronowitz has represented any party in any action against Northeast Health, Inc. or the entities it owns.

“Instead the evidence shows that the firm is in fact representing the interests of the defendants in my action and was planning to do so at the time Mr. Coffey contacted me, ostensibly to review my case.

“I ask that you, the members of this panel, impose upon Mr. Coffey, Mr. Tully and the law firm of O’Connell & Aronowitz a penalty appropriate for the outrageous and unethical conduct alleged in this complaint.

“Thank you.”

(Last month, the Committee on Professional Standards, after a six-month "inquiry" said in a one-sentence letter that there was "no basis for a finding of misconduct" against the lawyers. This determination is apparently standard in 97 percent of complaints filed with this committee. And if the attorney is prominent or well connected, the chance of disciplinary action is zero.

Stephen Coffey is, of course, very well known. He is also vice chairman of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which disciplines judges.