Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


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.