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Indefinite Suspension for N.Y. Lawyer After $150K Goes Missing

March 13, 2020, 2:40 PM

A New York lawyer has been indefinitely suspended after failing to answer three complaints filed by the state attorney grievance committee regarding settlement funds of more than $150,000 he received and never disbursed.

Melvin W. Hoffman “willfully failed to comply and failed to assert any explanation for his noncompliance,” the state Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, said in its Thursday opinion.

Hoffman allegedly mishandled several matters he assumed on behalf of special needs children, according to a 2018 New York City Department of Education complaint, the court said.

The Manhattan attorney had been retained by parents of the some of those children in 2015 to sue the DOE for tuition reimbursement for the private school attended by their children, the court said. The cases settled but Hoffman allegedly didn’t complete the necessary paperwork to allow the DOE to release the tuition money and he stopped communicating with those clients.

In two other instances, DOE deposited more than $101,000 into Hoffman’s trust account for tuition reimbursement for one family and more than $58,000 for another, both of which he allegedly never paid out, the court said.

In August 2019, one set of those parents obtained a default judgment against the attorney for $101,475 which he has not satisfied, it noted.

The attorney grievance committee reached out to Hoffman numerous times beginning in July 2018 after being notified by DOE of the matters, the court said. In Feb. 2019, they were able to contact him and Hoffman admitted he had received the complaint but said he was physically unable to respond, the court said.

The committee reached out again several more times after receiving no reply. In July 2019, Hoffman denied having ever received the complaint. He also never complied with the committee’s request for his bookkeeping records, the court said.

The court agreed with the committee that Hoffman willfully failed to respond despite being given “ample opportunity” to do so and granted his immediate suspension until “further order of this court.”

The case is Matter of Hoffman, 2020 BL 91939, N.Y. App. Div., No. M-8715, 3/12/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Melissa Heelan Stanzione in Washington at mstanzione@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com