A consent suspension of two years and fitness has been imposed by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department for an associate who engaged in serious misconduct for the benefit of attorney Natalia A. Sishodia suspended employer.
The disciplinary charges to be resolved by this joint motion arose from respondent's employment at the firm of Felix Nihamin and Associates, P.C. (the Firm). Respondent, who is now 33 years-old, began working at the Firm in or about November 2012 as a part-time law clerk. She became an associate in January 2014 following her admission to the New York State Bar. In or about August 2014, respondent, then nine-months pregnant, left the Firm, intending her departure to be permanent so that she could be a stay-at-home parent to her daughter.
On or about October 21, 2014, this Court suspended Mr. Nihamin from the practice of law for a three-month period, effective on November 20, 2014. Mr. Nihamin informed respondent of his impending suspension and asked her to manage the Firm during his suspension. Respondent agreed to do so.
From on or about November 20, 2014 until in or about February 2016, respondent resumed her employment at the Firm, working as its managing attorney. During this period, she was the Firm's only employee authorized to practice law in New York State. Accordingly, respondent acted on behalf of the Firm, representing clients on a daily basis. While doing so, respondent took a significant number of actions at the direction of Mr. Nihamin.
In addition, respondent worked with the Firm's paralegals and its bookkeeper at the direction of Mr. Nihamin. Respondent also signed blank checks from the Firm's operating account, to be made payable for legitimate firm expenses, which were later made payable for Mr. Nihamin's benefit by the bookkeeper, without respondent's knowledge. Some of these checks were used to pay Mr. Nihamin's personal expenses, including mortgage and car payments.
On or about February 24, 2015, Mr. Nihamin applied to this Court for reinstatement. In connection with this, respondent authorized a paralegal of the Firm to sign her name to and notarize an affidavit dated April 1, 2015. The affidavit falsely stated that, during the relevant time period, Mr. Nihamin was not involved in the Firm's representation of clients in legal matters in New York State. The affidavit was submitted to this Court in support of Mr. Nihamin's reinstatement application.
On or about November 16, 2015, the Committee commenced a sua sponte investigation against respondent. In response to the sua sponte investigation, respondent submitted an answer dated December 4, 2015, in which she falsely stated that, during the time period in question, she represented the Firm's clients without Mr. Nihamin's participation. She also falsely represented, in her answer, that during the relevant time period, she supervised the Firm's staff in connection with clients' legal matters without Mr. Nihamin's participation.
On or about January 6, 2016, the Committee interviewed respondent by telephone in connection with Mr. Nihamin's reinstatement application. During the interview, respondent falsely stated that, during the relevant time period, she represented the Firm's clients and supervised the Firm's staff in connection with clients' legal matters without Mr. Nihamin's participation.
Respondent also submitted a letter, dated April 1, 2016, to the Committee, by which she, inter alia, intended to supplement the written answer dated December 4, 2015. In her letter, respondent falsely minimized her contact with, and reliance on, Mr. Nihamin in connection with the Firm's representation of clients in legal matters in New York State.
On April 14, 2016, respondent testified at a deposition conducted by the Committee. During the deposition, respondent falsely minimized her contact with, and reliance on, Mr. Nihamin in connection with the Firm's representation of clients in legal matters in New York State.
The parties stipulated to the above facts in a joint motion for suspension.
The parties request that we discipline respondent for her misconduct by imposing a two-year suspension from the practice of law. In support of this request, the parties stipulate to the following mitigating factors: there have been no complaints made against respondent since the conduct at issue took place; respondent has no prior disciplinary record; respondent is relatively young and naive; respondent's misconduct was largely motivated by misplaced loyalty to her former employer; respondent accepted full responsibility and is remorseful; and respondent is well-regarded in the legal community, with an excellent reputation for honesty and integrity.
Source: Professional Legal Blog