Disbarred and Disgraced Lawyer Strikes Again

GEO Oct 26, 2010Former lawyer Janice L. Jessup, who practiced on Long Island New York has a dreadful discipline history which led to her resignation and disbarment in 2010. Rather than slinking away into oblivion she is again in the news for stealing $1.2 million dollars from an elderly, mentally and physically challenged client.

In 2008 she faced 13 charges of professional misconduct involving making false statements of fact and law; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; representing a client without adequate preparation; conduct adversely reflecting on her fitness as a lawyer; engaging in an impermissible conflict of interest; and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Unable to muster any kind of defence she opted to resign in 2010, an act that ensured she could not apply for reinstatement for at least seven years. Frankly, she got off lightly if her disbarment was the only punishment for her flagrant abuse of her clients’ trust. She apparently relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina and began using her husband’s surname, Jones.

It now appears the 2008 discipline charges were only the tip of the iceberg.

In 2007 she acted for Geraldine Savage, age 47, in respect of real estate inherited by Ms. Savage that was expropriated and used to build a community centre in Westbury. Lawyer Jessup convinced officials she had authorization to accept $1.2 million dollars in compensation on behalf of her client.

She craftily arranged for an imposter to pretend she was Geraldine Savage when government officials visited her home to confirm Ms. Jessup’s authority to act was legitimate and to investigate Savage’s health status. The real Geraldine Savage was resting comfortably in a residential facility, oblivious of the fraud being perpetrated.

In 2013 Ms. Savage’s relatives realized she had been duped by her lawyer. They later learned Ms. Jessup had spent all the money on herself, her family, and reimbursing other clients.

She was arrested in January 2015 for charges of first-degree grand larceny and first-degree scheme to defraud and entered a “not guilty” plea last month. The offences carry a maximum prison sentence of eight to 25 years. Her bail was set at a bond of $150,000 or $100,000 cash.

Is it just me or does it seem that cases of corrupt lawyers seem to be on the increase or is it that with the web and other social media we now hear about them much more than before?

“There is no fire like passion, there is no shark like hatred, there is no snare like folly, there is no torrent like greed.”
― Gautama Buddha

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Ex-Lawyer on Trial for Throwing His 2nd Wife Off a Cruise Ship and Putting a Hit on Wife #3

GEO#1Lonnie Loren Kocontes, age 55, formerly a lawyer in California, and later in Florida, is approaching his day of reckoning for his unfathomable deviant behaviour. He lured his second ex-wife, Micki Kanesaki, to join him on a Mediterranean cruise in 2006, where he strangled her and threw her body overboard. He reported her missing and then quickly hopped a flight back to California to reunite with his newest wife.

Ms. Kanesaki was a paralegal who had worked with Mr. Kocontes. They married in 1995 and divorced in 2001 but remained on good terms and continued living together on and off until the fateful cruise. Her body surfaced two days later, an event that likely shocked Mr. Kocontes, who undoubtedly thought he had devised a “perfect murder”.

Authorities in California did not pursue Mr. Kocontes until he was caught transferring $1 million dollars from his deceased wife’s accounts to his new wife. The money was eventually seized in civil forfeiture proceedings.

At a federal grand jury hearing in 2006 wife #3 testified on his behalf, but the FBI failed in their efforts to indict him and were later ordered by a judge to return to him $1 million dollars they had seized.

When it became apparent that neither the federal authorities nor the Italians would take jurisdiction, a California prosecutor convened a state grand jury in 2013, calling 14 witnesses including an Italian pathologist who opined that Ms. Kanesaki had been strangled and beaten prior to being tossed into the ocean. She also called Mr. Kocontes’ third wife who recanted her earlier federal grand jury testimony.

Kocontes was arrested in Florida in 2013 for “murder for financial gain” which constitutes “special circumstances” making a convicted offender eligible for the death penalty in California.

In procedural motions, Kocontes’ lawyers argued that only Italy had jurisdiction to prosecute, or alternatively, under admiralty law, the country under whose flag the cruise ship operated should take jurisdiction. The ship flew under a Bahamian flag.

Initially a California judge agreed that California had no jurisdiction to prosecute a homicide in waters off Italy, but fortunately for the victim’s family that order was reversed by an appellate court. Had the lower court decision prevailed, Mr. Kocontes would have escaped any consequences for his heinous act.

In jail awaiting trial Mr. Kocontes was not finished with his devious plans. Now aware his third wife had changed her testimony, he hired two inmates to force her to sign a letter reinstating her 2006 evidence. Once that was accomplished they were directed to kill her.

Instead, one of the hit men contacted the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and this week Mr. Kocontes will appear in a California courtroom to face additional charges of solicitation to commit murder, and one count of solicitation to bribe a witness.

It is difficult to understand how Mr. Kocontes’ greed became his central motivating factor such that he would kill his ex-wife for her money. His decision to off his third wife was to save his own skin… a desperate, defeated man who deserves to be locked up for the rest of his life.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Looking for a Lawyer? Buyer Beware

_DSC4851The practice of law is both a profession and a business. Many lawyers rely on their winning track record and high ethics to gain a reputation that engenders word-of-mouth referrals.

Other attorneys buttress their status in the profession with advertising, but Yellow Page ads, popular for so many years, have gone the way of the dodo bird.

Today’s lawyers utilize television, radio, and the internet to entice potential clients. Many of these ads fall into the cruelly boring “conservative, balding, male lawyer standing in front of a bookcase” category. While others are innovative, even racy! Case in point:

An all-women law firm in Chicago created a billboard ad that read “Life’s Short. Get a Divorce.” The ad featured a photo of an attractive woman in her lingerie beside a handsome man with a tanned six-pack. The woman who posed for the ad looked like a model but she was the lead attorney at the law firm and the dude with her was her personal trainer.

She reported that the firm was inundated with phone calls. Of course, the billboard created quite a stir and consternation in the Chicago bar. It was removed seven days after it went up for an alleged by-law infringement.

In reaction to their increase in business, these lady lawyers started a website with the same name, where they sell T-shirts and mugs with the slogan emblazoned on their products. From all reports they’re selling like hotcakes!

Other forays into to the world of marketing are less provocative but no less effective. One family law firm, again an all-women firm, launched their print marketing with the headline “Ever Argue With A Woman?” I think they made their point very clear!

Of course, where television copies life, you have the billboard in New Mexico declaring “Better Call Saul”, the sleaze bag attorney from “Breaking Bad” who has been rewarded with his own spin-off show.

Other law firms have raised the hackles of their governing bodies with their ads.

In Nevada a lawyer bills himself as “The Heavy Hitter” in his rambunctious televisions spots and a Polish speaking lawyer ran an ad on a Polish-language radio station referring to himself as “The Lion of the Court”. The trouble was that he had never tried a case in court!

Looking for a lawyer? Buyer Beware!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyers Convicted of Extortion in Collection of Their Legal Bill

_DSC4179 - Version 2As a lawyer/owner who has practiced law for 26 years, I learned a thing or two about how to run a law firm. While the practice of law qualifies as a profession, and for some a “calling”, it is also very much a business. The bottom line is that if you don’t get paid, you will not be in business very long.

That’s why most lawyers understand that it is usually necessary to get a retainer “up front”. Unlike a body shop who has your car and will not release it until they are paid, or a watch repair business who will hang on to your Rolex until they get your Visa card, lawyers sell “intellectual property”, an intangible asset that is in high demand.

However, researchers who study people who need a lawyer recognize that a person with a legal problem is most inclined to gratefully accept legal advice and willingly (perhaps not happyily) pay their lawyer when they feel the most pressure i.e. when they are overwhelmed with anxiety and stress and are desperate for someone to alleviate their legal or financial pain.

Many young lawyers, including myself, way back when, have learned hard lessons about collecting legal fees. Ironically, the worst clients to collect from are so-called “good friends”. While they swear they will pay you, they often do not and usually without any justification.

Recently two senior lawyers in Tennessee broke the cardinal rule about getting paid in advance, only to be accused of extortion when they attempted to collect $50,000 they said a client owed them.

Michelle Langlois hired lawyers Carrie Gasaway, wife of a longtime local Tennessee judge, and her partner Fletcher Long to be present at the reading of her father’s will, a legal service that would cost her $800.00.

After the reading of the will, Ms. Gasaway and Mr. Long advised Ms. Langlois to challenge the will, and asked her to sign a retainer agreement. They initially offered a contingency contract of 20% of the monies they recouped for her.

Ms. Langlois instead decided on a flat fee of $50,000 for all the legal services required. She provided the lawyers with a personal cheque for $50,000 but advised them they could not cash it until she sold some of the stocks she received from her inheritance.

Langlois later sold the stock and faxed a certified cheque for $50,000 to the lawyers with a plan to meet with them to give them the original cheque. But she cancelled the meeting and in short order, fired her lawyers who angrily demanded payment of their fee.

An email to Ms. Langlois from the lawyers read:

“While we really don’t feel like you are in much of a position to negotiate, we will accept $7,000 as a full settlement […] in the event the check is not good, you will only receive more criminal charges.”

Testimony at trial indicated that Gasaway and Long had taken funds from monies held in trust for another client to purchase real estate and needed Langlois to pay her bill so they could return the funds to their trust account.

In their zeal to collect their alleged fee, they made good on their threats to put her in jail and had her arrested for “theft of services”, a charge that was later dropped once the truth emerged about the lawyers’ collection methods.

Last week a jury found both lawyers guilty of extortion, a Class D felony with a sentencing range of two to 12 years with a maximum fine of $5,000.

Needless to say their legal careers are over. Attorney Long said he is considering changing his profession because it is “too stressful. He added:

“God has a plan for me, but it’s not to practice law… I think I have some marketable skills.”

Yesterday both attorneys had their licenses to practice law revoked pending a full discipline hearing. An inevitably unhappy ending for all concerned.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Lawyer’s Arrest Mid-Trial a Set-up by Opposing Counsel

10950859361151CDPFlorida radio “shock-jocks”, “Bubba the Love Sponge” Clem and Todd “MJ” Schnitt were engaged in an ugly defamation lawsuit, a case that spun out for five years, culminating in a tough-fought court battle that ended with Bubba declaring himself the victor. But the conflict between the two radio DJ’s took a back seat to the drama that unfolded when MJ’s lawyer, C. Phillip Campbell Jr., was busted for drunk driving in the middle of the trial.

Lawyer Campbell apparently got under the skin of Bubba’s lawyers at Adams & Diaco, so much so they repeatedly brought motions before the trial judge to have him removed as MJ’s counsel, with zero success. But according to Mr. Campbell’s DUI lawyer and the prosecuting attorney, Adams & Diaco found another way to get back at their courtroom adversary.

After court Mr. Campbell walked from his office/apartment to Tampa’s Malio’s Prime Steakhouse two blocks away. An attractive paralegal in the employ of Adams & Diaco was in the restaurant and saw Campbell. She quickly contacted her bosses and asked if she “there was anything she should do?” Following instructions Melissa Personious began a flirtation with Mr. Campbell, lying about who she worked for, and buying him drinks. Campbell wasn’t driving and enjoyed a few drinks.

Shortly after Campbell and Personious connected, lawyer Adam Filthaut from Adams & Diaco called a police officer friend who sat outside the restaurant for three hours waiting for Campbell to leave. Unfortunately, Campbell ended up driving Ms. Personious home in her vehicle, but was stopped and charged with DUI within the first five blocks. He refused to take a breathalyzer.

Notably, at the time Adams & Diaco contacted the police Campbell was stone-cold sober and upon his arrest there was no evidence he was over the limit for alcohol consumption.

During the investigation it became apparent that Ms. Personious was in constant contact with her employers, sending and receiving over 200 text messages and phone calls.

Eventually the charges against Mr. Campbell were dropped, the prosecutors comments included words like “collaboration” and “organized effort”. They said the intense communication between the paralegal and Adams & Diaco was “jaw-dropping”.

Campbell’s lawyer, John Fitzgibbons said:

“It is now absolutely clear that Mr. Campbell was the victim of a devious setup, And all honest and ethical police officers and lawyers should be deeply troubled over what happened.”

Meanwhile, Bubba tweeted:

“This setup nonsense has nothing to do with me or the fact that a jury of my peers found in my favor vs Todd Schnitt. This was just another weak attempt from the losers to justify why they got their a– kicked in court by me/jay diaco.”

Thankfully Adams & Diaco’s “dirty tricks” were the subject of discipline proceedings. Last month Stephen Diaco was disbarred with a stipulation that he could not apply for re-entry into the Florida bar for five years, and would have to retake the bar exam.

Robert Adams and Adam Filthaut entered conditional consent guilty pleas that would impose upon each lawyer a 91-day suspension and requirement to attend ethics school.

The Florida Bar’s Creed of Professionalism includes the following:

“I will strictly adhere to the spirit as well as the letter of my profession’s code of ethics, to the extent that the law permits and will at all times be guided by a fundamental sense of honor, integrity, and fair play.”

Lawyers like these need to be ferreted out of the profession.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Love and Legal Fees Incompatible

BarristerIn 1990 Park Avenue family practice doctor, G.Peta Carrera, hired his girlfriend, Manhattan lawyer, Christine Anderson to represent him in a civil suit where he was accused of sexually molesting a patient.

Because they had been together for ten years, Ms. Anderson did not insist on a cash retainer from Dr. Carrera but instead took the doctor’s Park Avenue apartment and his Mercedes Benz as security for her legal fees. Anderson and Carrera agreed that he would sell his apartment after the trial to pay his legal fees.

Ultimately, Dr. Carrera lost his civil suit with the jury awarding $1.4 million dollars to his former patient.

Dr. Carrera was in no hurry to pay off his former patient and also took his sweet time to sell his apartment. It wasn’t until 2011 that the apartment sold for $2 million dollars and he persuaded Ms. Anderson to falsely claim that her lien had been satisfied.

She said she agreed because “I trusted him and loved him; and I believed he would honor his word.” But Dr. Carrera was a dishonourable, irresponsible cad who continues to refuse to pay his bills, both to Ms. Anderson and his patient who was
awarded $1.4 million dollars in damages.

Last week Ms. Anderson filed a civil suit in Manhattan Supreme Court against her former lover where she wrote that she realized Carrera never intended to pay her. She is seeking $500,000 to cover her legal bill, $500,000 in a palimony claim and $2 million dollars in punitive damages.

Another case of love and legal fees being incompatible… a situation that arises more often than you may think. Many attorneys act for friends or family and suffer the same fate as Ms. Anderson, they get “stiffed” in circumstances where their friend, lover, or relative, who with effusive gratefulness accepts the legal services, refuses in the end to pay for them.

A word to the wise: If you really must act for a friend, lover, or relative, do it pro bono, or don’t do it at all.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Notables Who Failed the Bar Exam

GEO_edited-1From time to time I meet with young men and women who dream of becoming a lawyer and seek encouragement or advice on their journey to the bar. I believe the legal profession, although often maligned, is a noble calling, and to those lawyers who much has been given, much is owed.

A recent conversation with the eighteen-year-old daughter of a client, caused me to reflect on the process. After the completion of an undergraduate degree and successfully passing the Law School Admission Test, three years of law school follows. With a law degree in hand the only impediment to calling yourself a lawyer is the passing of the bar exam.

It is at this point where many people run into a roadblock. Certain of the bar exams are notorious for their difficulty, including the tests required in New York and California.

The top spot for lawyers who have failed their bar exams goes to MAXCY DEAN FILER who obtained his law degree in 1966, but failed the California Bar Exam 47 times before finally passing the exam in 1991.

By the time he was permitted to practice law, both of his sons were lawyers. He worked with one of his sons for about five years before striking out on his own. His other son is now a judge in California.

But there are many more lawyers who struggled for the right to practice law, but were forced to retake the exam. Some of the notables include:

1. MICHELLE OBAMA- A graduate of Harvard Law School, Ms. Obama failed her first try at the Illinois Bar Exam, said to be one of the easier bar exam States;

2. HILARY CLINTON- Former Secretary of State, former Senator for New York State, candidate for President of the United States, First Lady during Bill Clinton’s presidency, attended Yale Law School, wrote her bar exam in Washington DC and failed. Around the same time she wrote and passed the Arkansas Bar Exam, practicing patent law and intellectual property law. Her pro bono interests were in the area of child and family advocacy;

3. THE MAYORS- RICHARD DALEY of Chicago, ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA of Los Angeles and ED KOCH of New York;

4. THE GOVERNORS- JERRY BROWN of California, PETE WILSON of California, and DAVID PATERSON of New York;

5. PAT ROBERTSON, founder and host of the 700 Club and leader of the Christian Coalition, graduated from Yale Law School but failed the bar exam. He then abandoned law and obtained a Doctor of Divinity degree. Leader of the christian right, he is a successful businessman and entrepreneur, who founded Regent University which includes a Judeo-Christian law school.

6. KATHLEEN SULLIVAN, former Dean of Stanford Law School, Marshall scholar at Oxford, graduated from Harvard Law School in 1981, constitutional and appellate law expert, often mentioned as a candidate for the United States Supreme Court, failed the California Bar Exam, but rewrote it in 2006 and passed. Many years earlier she had been admitted to both the Massachussats and the New York bar.

It is clear that perserverance is the cornerstone of success. To all my friends, young and old, who have a dream, remember these words:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful
people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is
almost a proverb… Persistence and determination alone are
omnipotent.”
Calvin Coolidge

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang