Tesser Ryan Blog

Retaliating Against Grievance Complaints: Could Defamation Suits have a Chilling Effect on Attorneys and Clients’ Willingness to File Complaints with the Grievance Committee?

By Lewis Tesser, Partner, and Timothy Nolen, Associate, of Tesser, Ryan & Rochman, LLP

Recent news headlines may cause concern for attorneys or clients seeking to report an attorney to a disciplinary committee. For example, an article by Daniel Wise in the New York Law Journal entitled Attorney Cleared by Grievance Panel Sues City for Defamation, June 10, 2011, at 1, details the story of an attorney who filed a Complaint alleging defamation against the City of New York and two criminal justice officials after those officials made “false and malicious” claims about her to the Grievance Committee.

But a recent decision out of the Richmond County Supreme Court may sooth clients and attorneys’ fears. Bisogno v. Borsa, No. 102110-10, 2011 N.Y. Slip. Op. 50482U, 2011 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 1276 (Sup. Ct. Richmond County, March 28, 2011), involved a complaint to the Grievance Committee about an attorney’s inappropriate conduct where the attorney allegedly tried to physically intimidate, harass and threaten the complainant. The Grievance Committee exonerated the attorney of any wrongdoing. But in dismissing the attorney’s defamation suit, Justice McMahon explained that maintaining the high standards of the legal profession outweighed the reputation and hardship placed on an attorney who is the subject of a grievance complaint. She further explained that the validity of the allegations against the attorney was “irrelevant” and that the attorney’s attempt to bring a defamation suit was “abhorrent,” since it is of paramount importance to encourage those who know of attorney wrongdoing to report such wrongdoing to the Grievance Committee. It remains to be seen whether cases like Bisogno will deter litigants seeking to file similar defamation suits.

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