Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The standards are low

Ethics committee still struggling
with Coffey’s conflict of interest

By David Baker
Posted Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The committee that is supposed to keep lawyers in line is apparently still having a hard time taking action against Albany attorney Steve Coffey.

As has been reported here in numerous items, Coffey contacted me in August 2006 and offered to consider taking over my lawsuit against Samaritan Hospital and others. What he didn’t tell me was that his firm was representing the interests of the defendants in my case.

After asking for and receiving from me $1,500 for a an expert’s review of the medical records (which was never done), he then proceeded to stall his ‘evaluation’ for two months, until an existing stay on the proceeding ran out and the defendants could – and did – ask a judge to throw the case out of court. The only reason that didn’t happen is because against the urging of Brendan Tully, another lawyer at O'Connell & Aronowitz, I filed an affidavit opposing the dismissal.

But after a 6-month ‘investigation’, the committee said it saw nothing wrong with this conduct, and that it had closed its file.

It was only after I had written three letters to a judge on the Appellate Division – the court which rules on allegations of attorney wrongdoing – that the committee agreed to consider reconsidering my complaint.

That was in December. The members of the standards committee – who have acted more as if they were part of a errant lawyers’ defense organization – apparently just can’t bring themselves to deal with the deliberate and prolonged misconduct alleged in my complaint.

Coffey appears to be afflicted with the same delusion that we have seen elsewhere twice in the past week; a belief that he is so important that he is above the rules.

First it was Joe Bruno. The former state senator – who during his 16 years as majority leader has had his name put on buildings and parks all over the area – has just been named in an eight-count federal indictment that carries a possible 20-year prison term. A grand jury says he used his official position to get more than $3 million in fees for himself for ‘consulting’ work that was never actually done and for a racehorse that was worth almost nothing.

Bruno has responded by going on television and loudly insisting that he is entitled to make outside income, and that the indictment is part of a ‘get Joe Bruno’ vendetta. Legal experts say the 79-year-old Bruno is in serious trouble and is not helping himself by speaking out.

His tirade immediately reminded me of Coffey’s angry “… assaults on me and my office” letter.

Followers of this page will recall that I had dealings with Bruno’s office. It was back in 2005. I was trying to get a copy of a Health Department report on the care Lisa had received at Samaritan Hospital on the night she was found in her hospital bed with a blood glucose level near zero. I had obtained a summary of the report but in just two paragraphs an unidentified person claimed that a drug she was taking for high blood pressure had caused the sudden glucose drop.

I asked the state Health Department for a copy of the full report. They wouldn’t give it to me. I filed a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Law. They still wouldn’t provide it. Assembly Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, at my request, wrote to then-Health Commissioner Antonia Novello and asked for it. She wouldn’t give it to him.

So I contacted Joe Bruno’s office. My request was referred to Karen Crummy, a lawyer on his staff. Crummy said she had already seen this Web log and agreed that I should be able to get the report. She said she would contact Dennis Whalen, then executive deputy secretary of the Health Department (and now Gov. David Paterson’s director of state operations) about getting a copy.

I spoke to her several times over the following three months and she assured me she was still trying to help. But then in April of 2006 my call was returned, not by Crummy but by Kris Thomson, a short-tempered former reporter at The Record who by then was Bruno’s spokesman. Thomson was very guarded, saying only that a review might be done but that I would probably not be told the result.

He was right. I never heard another word from the office of Joe Bruno.

The second example of this self delusion is the aforementioned former health commissioner, Antonia Novello. Last week we learned that, despite being warned by the also aforementioned Dennis Whalen, Novello allegedly for years routinely used state employees on state time for personal services, such as driving her to shopping malls and airports and moving furniture at her home.

Now her conduct has been referred to the Albany County district attorney for possible criminal prosecution. No matter what happens her reputation, like Joe Bruno’s, is forever changed.

With their delusions of superiority and entitlement, the two have become members of a small but dubious club.

One that Stephen R. Coffey now appears eligible to join.


Thursday, January 01, 2009

Coffey's radio insult

LEAVING THE SCENE -- Attorneys Steve Coffey, left, and Thomas DiNovo walk to their cars at the Amtrak station in Rensselaer on Christmas Eve after taking part in a radio broadcast during which Coffey called syndicated talk-show host Mark Levin “a Nazi.” The comment drew a protest from a listener, who said that Levin is Jewish.

Photo: David Baker

Loose-cannon attorney’s insults

are not helping law firm’s image

By David Baker
Posted Thursday, January 1, 2009

The regular, hour-long appearances by attorney Steve Coffey on a local radio station are presumably meant to present a positive image of him and his law firm and generate business for it. But some of Coffey’s recent statements on the air might not be the way his colleagues would like their firm to be portrayed.

One such outburst came during a remote broadcast on the station, WGDJ-AM, from the Amtrak station in Rensselaer on Christmas Eve.

Coffey is a partner at the Albany law firm of O’Connell & Aronowitz. He appears on the air talking to station part-owner Paul Vandenburgh, either from the train station or during the radio station’s regular live broadcasts from the law firm’s offices on State Street in Albany, often doing both in the same week.

The law firm may be paying for this promotional air time, either directly or in a trade of services, or as an investor in the new station, which devotes most of its local programming to shamelessly plugging various businesses

During the Christmas Eve broadcast, the two men and Thomas DiNovo, another partner at the law firm, were talking about radio and TV personalities. During the discussion Coffey said that Rush Limburgh, whose show airs locally on WGY-AM, is “ offensive.”

But his strongest language was aimed at Mark Levin, whose nationally syndicated show is carried on WGDJ on weekday evenings.

Levin, Coffey said, is “a Nazi.”

The slur prompted a call from a listener, who said he listens to Levin, and that Levin is Jewish.

Coffey told the listener that if that was the case, he would apologize. But, he said, the man is still “ a hate-monger.”

Earlier in the program, a listener who said he is a former village judge asked for Coffey’s opinion on a lawyer who had failed to file a divorce agreement that had been amended to allow the caller’s ex-wife to take the pair’s children to Arizona. The caller said his lawyer’s failure to file the document has cost him $1,400 in legal fees, and that when he lodged a complaint with the Committee on Professional Standards, the committee had said it found no basis for a finding of misconduct.

As is reported elsewhere on this page, the committee may reopen its investigation of a complaint in which it is alleged that Coffey, while pretending to be considering taking a case pending against entities whose interests are represented by his law firm, instead tried to get the lawsuit thrown out of court.

Coffey did not acknowledge that part of the caller’s question. Instead, he defended the unnamed lawyer, saying the caller was partly responsible because it is a client’s duty to check that documents have been filed. He went on to suggest that the caller take the lawyer to Small Claims Court to recover the costs he incurred in the matter.

Coffey certainly is familiar with that remedy. As was also reported on this page at the time, in January 2007 an City of Albany Small Claims Court judge ordered him to pay $300 reimbursement of costs incurred by three other law firms as a result of his failure to comply with a state Supreme Court judge’s instructions to send a letter to the court formally requesting a stay.

The Committee on Professional Standards initially said that failure also was not a violation of the profession’s rules. That decision also may now be reconsidered.

But Coffey appears to be completely unaware of the irony of his comments, or of the arrogance they suggest.

The following week – New Year’s Eve – Vandenburgh said several times that Coffey would be on the program, but only DiNovo was on the air. Pressed by Vandenburgh, DiNovo twice said Coffey was “taking a day off.”

After the Christmas Eve broadcast, it seems likely that some of the people at O'Connell & Aronowitz would welcome that decision. They surely must be wondering about the judgment of one of the area's most most visible attorneys, and how much damage he might do to their firm.