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PostPosted: Tue Jul 25, 2006 12:53 pm 
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Judge Denies Fee, Calls Legal Work 'Incompetent'

By Tom Perrotta
New York Law Journal
July 25, 2006

An attorney who resigned from the bar amid allegations of misconduct should not receive any fee for his work in settling a $2.4 million medical malpractice suit, a federal judge in Brooklyn has determined.

Eastern District Judge Edward R. Korman concluded that the attorney, Steven F. Goldman, had deliberately fabricated his application for fees and disbursements, which initially totaled $428,000.

The judge added that even if an appeals court determined there was no ethical misconduct in calculating the fee, Mr. Goldman should receive no more than $100,000 for his work because of the "grossly incompetent and inexplicable manner in which [he] conducted himself" after the settlement was reached.

Among Mr. Goldman's acts were "stonewalling" a special master appointed by Judge Korman; failing to properly assess the needs of his infant client, whose premature birth resulted in serious neurological problems; and failing to understand the importance of a Special Needs Trust and the placing of assets in proper accounts to ensure that the child's needs are met in the future.

"Over the last 21 years, I have overseen a fair number of infant's compromise cases, ranging from trip and fall cases to those involving serious brain damage with settlements reaching into the millions of dollars," Judge Korman, the chief judge of the Eastern District, wrote in D.F. v. Mt. Sinai-NYU Medical Center Health Systems, 04-CV-1507. "The lawyers in those cases earned their fees by the settlements they achieved and by post-settlement work that Mr. Goldman failed to provide. I am not going to allow him to be compensated in the same way as attorneys who do their job."

The decision will be published Friday.

The judge issued his memorandum several months after announcing his decision from the bench, in order to aid the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit during Mr. Goldman's appeal.

Mr. Goldman, who resigned in April 2005 for mishandling client funds, and after the settlement was reached, argued that the fee request was inflated by mistake. His attorney, Arnold E. DiJoseph, argued that $20,000 in disbursements was accidentally added to a proper fee of $388,000.

Mr. Goldman, however, rejected that argument, and at one point contended that he had simply used the wrong percentage to calculate the fee.

Judge Korman said that he did not catch the fee discrepancy himself.

But the judge was so disappointed by Mr. Goldman's application for an infant's compromise order, which he called "utterly inadequate," that he appointed Steven E. North, a leading malpractice attorney in New York, as special master to investigate further. (Mr. North served without compensation.)

Mr. North said Mr. Goldman's infant compromise papers were "the worst such papers that I have ever seen" and described them as an "embarrassment." Mr. North also discovered that Mr. Goldman's fee request was incorrect after checking it against the sliding scale percentage provided for by New York Judiciary Law §148(a).

Judge Korman rejected contentions that Mr. Goldman was merely guilty of sloppy work and taking his "foot off the accelerator" after reaching a settlement of high monetary value. The judge said he deserved no payment owing to his misconduct.

"Indeed, had he not already been removed from the roll of attorneys admitted to practice in New York, I would have taken steps to bring his conduct to the attention of the appropriate disciplinary committees," Judge Korman said.

Mr. DiJoseph said his client would continue with his appeal.

"You can't justify not giving the guy any fee," Mr. DiJoseph said. "As blatant as [the judge] makes it appear, it is hardly that blatant. It's sloppy rather than intentional."

Brian M. Cogan of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan represented the plaintiff child and his mother, Zuhua Chen.

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