Rhode Island Attorneys Behaving Badly - The Top Ten
Thursday, September 19, 2013
Some are censured. Some face suspension. Others are outright disbarred—with few likely to ever return to law practice. The below cases are culled from court records for the past two terms of the state Supreme Court, from 2011 to this year.
Description: Attorney Mary O’Rourke was implicated in a decades-long kickback scheme that cost the U.S. Navy nearly $20 million. Last May, O’Rourke admitted to fraudulently obtaining $478,880 in federal funds by submitting false invoices to a Navy contractor. Her boyfriend Ralph Mariano also pled guilty to steering millions in U.S. Navy funds to a private contractor in return for kickbacks.
Description: Attorneys should do everything they can to help their clients but Gerard Donley went too far when he paid $6,000 to a stabbing victim so he wouldn’t testify against his client. Donley reportedly had claimed the money was compensation for the victim’s wounds. Then he said it was a pay-off to prevent more violence. The jury didn’t buy it: this month, Donley was convicted on four felony counts—obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, bribery, and conspiracy to bribe a witness. He has been sentenced to 11 years in prison. A felony assault charge is still pending against his client, who has also been charged in connection with the bribery scheme.
Punishment: Suspended until further order
Zvi Hershel Smith
Description: It’s not hard to figure out why the state Supreme Court turned down former lawyer Zvi Hershel Smith’s request to be readmitted to the bar earlier this year. In 1998, Smith was disbarred after conviction on two counts of embezzling $290,000. At the time, he already had three strikes with the state disciplinary council with seven more pending complaints. After serving his prison sentence, Smith apparently found religion and is now in Israel studying to become a rabbi. But the state disciplinary council isn’t convinced he’s a changed man. It might have something to do with the fact that Smith roped 700 donors from his community into paying back most of the money and claims he is still entitled to $140,000 of the embezzled funds. “Quite frankly, he seems to conclude that he is at least partially a victim in this tale,” the disciplinary counsel concluded.
Punishment: Reinstatement to the bar denied
Selling Votes for Stooges
Description: Remember the three North Providence councilmen caught exchanging votes for a bribe? Former attorney and town solicitor Robert Ciresi was the guy who helped arrange the whole deal. A federal court convicted Ciresi of conspiracy, bribery, and extortion in April 2011. Ciresi, then 78, was sentenced to 12 years in prison and fined $10,000. Ciresi was suspended in 2012 and disbarred earlier this year after he had exhausted his last appeal.
Beer and Burgers
Description: After some drinks and a Burger King run last January, David Potkul left a messy accident scene on Route 1 in South Kingstown. But police didn’t have to go very far to find him. Potkul was spotted cruising by the scene a little later and was promptly pulled over by police. He later pled no contest to two felony counts of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in an injury and a misdemeanor DUI charge. The incident had nothing to do with his law practice, but the state Supreme Court disciplinary counsel urged it to take disciplinary action noting that lawyers are, after all expected to “comport themselves in accordance with the criminal laws.”
A Flood of Troubles
Description: After a state investigation found that Bruce Gladstein had paid personal bills with a client’s accident settlement, the cash-strapped attorney had no shortage of excuses. He blamed “turmoil in his family life, his own medical issues, and a flood in his office” which had a “devastating impact on his practice,” according to the state Supreme Court disciplinary council. But after expressing remorse and embarrassment for his “misconduct,” the Supreme Court showed some mercy, suspending him for nine months.
Punishment: Suspended for 9 months
Marc B. Press
Description: After he admitted to “commingling and converting funds” he had received on behalf of a client, attorney Marc B. Press received a one-year suspension from law practice in 2011. But this wasn’t his first run-in with the state disciplinary council. Press had previously been suspended in Florida for failing to “undergo a psychological evaluation” and go into rehab. When Rhode Island authorities caught wind of this, they yanked his license too.
Punishment: Suspended for 1 year
Photo: Valerie Everett/Flickr
Scapegoating Fake Staff
Description: Employees make for convenient scapegoats when there is an error in your paperwork—except attorney Malin Azar had none. When the Department of Children, Youth, and Families complained to the state disciplinary counsel in March 2010 about being overbilled by Azar, he said the invoices were the result of staff error. “However, further investigation revealed that the respondent has no staff,” the disciplinary counsel reported. When he was confronted, he admitted that he had prepared the invoices but was “unsure as to the proper method of submitting invoices” and had “concocted a story about an incompetent staff to hide his embarrassment.”
Punishment: Must provide 20 hours of pro bono legal services
Photo: Mark Hillary/Flickr
Former Senator Christopher B. Maselli
Description: Eight counts of bank fraud and $1.7 million in improperly obtained mortgages and loans landed former state Senator Christopher B. Maselli in federal prison in 2011. Maselli had seen the handwriting on the wall and actually asked to be suspended from law practice after pleading guilty in 2010. Once he went behind bars, the state Supreme Court promptly disbarred him.
Rosemary A. Macero
Description: When attorney Rosemary A. Macero was late with a check for an appellate fee to a tribunal in Massachusetts, she blamed the U.S. Post Office, even filing a formal motion making the allegation. When she was exposed, she “attempted to mislead the tribunal into believing her misrepresentations were negligent rather than criminal” according to the report of the Rhode Island state disciplinary counsel. In the disciplinary proceeding that ensued, she displayed a “continued lack of candor.” After the Massachusetts state Supreme Court suspended her, Rhode Island followed suit in 2011.
Punishment: Suspended for 1 year
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