A New York lawyer who pleaded guilty to grand theft after stealing from his employer in Florida was disbarred by a New York appeals court.
Hilton M. Wiener’s guilty plea qualifies as a “conviction” sufficient to trigger automatic disbarment under New York law, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department, said April. 23.
The Manhattan lawyer, who isn’t barred in Florida, was working as a paralegal at a law firm in 2010 through 2011 when he misappropriated the funds, the appeals court said.
He pleaded guilty in 2018 and agreed to pay $20,000 in restitution and take part in a pretrial intervention program in order to defer prosecution, it said. If he successfully completed the program, his plea would be vacated and the case dismissed.
But he was kicked out of the program about two months later after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, the court added.
The New York grievance committee argued that his guilty plea for the theft triggered automatic disbarment in New York. Wiener argued that there was no actual conviction so he can’t be automatically disbarred, according to the appellate panel’s ruling..
The court admitted this was a “unique scenario” because the Florida court didn’t issue a final judgment of conviction due to the deferred prosecution deal.
But his guilty plea nevertheless qualifies as a conviction, it said. New York law “clearly defines a conviction as occurring at the time a guilty plea is entered,” it said. And state law provides for automatic disbarment of an attorney convicted of a felony.
Wiener’s Florida felony conviction for grand theft in the third degree is “essentially similar” to the New York felony of grand larceny in the third degree because “the plain meaning of both statutes criminalize the knowing, wrongful taking or obtaining of property of another with intent to deprive,” the court said.
It ordered Wiener’s disbarment effective retroactively to the date of his 2018 guilty plea.
The case is Matter of Wiener, 2020 BL 151083, N.Y. App. Div., No. M-7534, 4/23/20.
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