Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Law school is an intense experience, really quite unlike anything else I've ever done. At my law school we were divided into three sections, and took all of our first year, first semester classes together. Second semester the deck was slightly shuffled, and then after that we were all mixed into the general population. We all knew each other, of course, but that first semester first year meant that were all deeply acquainted with the members of our section. Through it all there were people who stood out. We all knew, for example, that the current Chief Administrative Justice for the Eighth Judicial Department was destined for great things. There were classmates that went deep into the annual Moot Court competition, and of course second year there were the people who made it onto the Magazine.

 Some people were just visible people: vivid characters who would stand out in any group. The coin of the realm was, I think, intellectual assurance more than anything else-- some people did the work, and were confident in their demeanor, and seemed comfortable in the peculiar climate of law school. One such was a friend who, I have just learned, has been disbarred, and I feel terribly sad about her fate. She has more trouble on her plate than she needs, obviously, so I'll refrain from naming her here, but I will note that she was (and is still-- we just saw her last year) an attractive and charismatic person who worked hard, and had been successful professionally. She'd been an Assistant District Attorney in a suburb of New York City, and had then gone on to private practice, and from time to time we were in touch-- when I needed someone to make an appearance in the county where she mostly practiced I'd give her a call, for instance. She'd always been very intense, but not in a way that prevented her from enjoying things when the work was done, and I think that it is fair to say that most of the people she encountered liked her.

At some point-- probably about ten years ago now-- she received a cancer diagnosis, and that seems to have been a twist in her path that she never recovered from, although she survived and has been, I believe, cancer free since. At around the time that she returned to practice, following a year or so of what I have to believe was misery, her name began to show up in the Attorney Discipline section of The New York Law Journal.  A federal district court suspended her from practice-- she'd repeatedly disregarded the court's orders, and commenced actions to enjoin the court, and been defiant in front of a jury, and generally carried on in a way that seemed bizarrely out of kilter. The Appellate Division suspended her too. Then there were a couple of public cautionary letters. Then she appeared before a State Senate committee to testify on judicial transparency, and gave a rambling account of her recent disciplinary problems that made it clear that she sincerely believed that she'd been targeted by the courts because of her aggressive advocacy on behalf of her clients.

And now it's over for her, as a lawyer anyway. It's a shame. I'm sure there were people who tried to tell her to pull it together-- in fact, I know that her law partner did-- but one of the qualities that all of us who know her would agree that she possesses in spades is a dogged stubbornness. Combined with whatever else she managed to drive into a stone wall, just because she was sure that going that way was what she had to do. I watch the video of her testimony before the State Senate Judiciary Committee, I read the various decisions directing her suspensions, dismissing her cases on the grounds of contumacious behavior, and now her disbarment, and I recognize her in each-- there is nothing implausible about any of it-- but at the same time it all seems terribly off, like a map that has been re-folded wrong.

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