Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Sunday, March 22, 2009

Coffey's admission

Confidential letter reveals
attorney's real intentions

By David Baker
Posted Sunday, March 22, 2009

Attorney Steve Coffey decided that he probably would not take over Lisa’s wrongful-death lawsuit soon after he asked for the file and received $1,500 for a medical review that he never had done and almost three months before he returned the file and the money with a rejection letter, according to a written statement he sent to the Committee on Professional Standards in response to a complaint that he had attempted to get the case pending against Samaritan Hospital dismissed while pretending to consider taking it.

Coffey’s letter was sent in June of last year, and was apparently written with an assurance of confidentiality; The Committee did not allow access to it and other correspondence from the lawyer until last month, following the sudden death of a committee staff member who had evidently been handling the complaint. And even then the letters could only be reviewed; no copies could leave the committee’s office.

The Committee on Professional Standard is part of the state’s court system. Its stated role is to deal with complaints against lawyers. Serious misconduct can be referred to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, which is able to suspend or permanently revoke a license to practice law. Less serious matters would not go before the court but can result in a confidential letter being placed letter in the lawyer’s file or a verbal caution.

As was reported here earlier this month, it was in one of his letters to the committee that Coffey stated that his firm, O’Connell & Aronowitz, “…did not and we do not represent Samaritan Hospital.”

The day after the letter was written – Feb. 19 of this year – the firm filed a lawsuit against the state Department of Health. One of the plaintiffs is Samaritan Hospital.

Coffey’s statement that he had decided that he probably would not take over the lawsuit was made to explain why he didn’t respond to two separate written requests for a meeting to address concerns about the way his “evaluation” of the case was being handled.

Despite his early decision that he would likely not take the lawsuit, and an approaching deadline after which the claim could be dismissed, it wasn’t until three months after receiving the medical records that Coffey sent them back with a letter in which he said he didn’t want the case. The letter was written three days after the firm was notified that a judge had denied a motion by the defendants to throw the entire case out of court.

Six weeks earlier, an associate in Coffey’s office, Brendan Tully, had said in a letter that the firm had complied with the judge’s instruction to write to the court formally requesting an extension of a stay of the proceeding. But repeated and increasingly urgent requests to both Coffey and Tully for a copy of the letter produced no response.

Coffey later admitted in writing that no such letter had been sent. The firm also admitted that no review was done of the medical records.

Following the review of Coffey’s letters to the standards committee a written demand was made to O’Connell & Aronowitz for copies of them. It was pointed out that if the firm would not provide the letters it would be assumed that it was not prepared to stand by Coffey’s statements, statements on which the committee initially decided that the complaint was baseless.

There has been no response from the law firm.