By Mary Serumaga
The most alarming thing about Dr. B.’s case is that senior Counsel involved is rated as one of the Best Lawyers in America. He is also a member of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association a consumer-protection group whose mission is “To promote a safer and healthier society, to assure access to the civil justice system by those who are wrongfully injured and to advance representation of the public by ethical, well-trained lawyers.”
Michael Chetkof is a Special Master of the Nassau County Supreme Court Matrimonial Center. A judge in all but name he presides over proceedings in the absence of the judge. His role is to resolve issues, not aggravate them.
He is also a member of the Matrimonial Committees of a couple of New York Bar Associations and a member of the Family Law Section of New York State Bar Association. Both he and his junior partner Allyson Burger (the one who did the shouting at Dr. Baldeo) are listed by the Super Lawyers[i] rating service. Allyson has the further accolade of “Rising Star.” These accolades are supposed to be assurances of both their superior legal ability and general ethical standards.
But do these ‘accolades’ even mean anything? Last year the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on Attorney Advertising issued a notice warning lawyers against using honors and accolades given out by organizations that do not verify the fitness of the lawyer or whether they are any better than their peers. They singled out honors including Super Lawyer, Rising Star and Best Lawyers. They were also concerned that the authenticity of the awards was rendered suspect by the payment of money for the right to display the awards on lawyers’ websites and membership in the organization that issues others. So Dr. Baldeo need not be intimidated by Chetkof and Burger and their fancy titles.
Dr. Finkelstein has been arrested twice for protesting the unethical treatment to which Dr. Baldeo has been subjected by these two Super Lawyers. On both occasions he was led out of his apartment at midnight. On the first he spent six hours in handcuffs, five chained to a pole. On the second occasion he was picked up the night before he was to appear in court. Dr. Finkelstein was brutalized and held for eighteen hours.
Regardless of his firm’s description of him as being well respected by the bar and the bench (do they not respect other lawyers?), Chetkof is an ordinary lawyer not above the human failings of so many lawyers, including the temptation to make off with other people’s savings. This will become apparent as Dr. Baldeo remains resolute in his pursuit of justice.
Chetkof has been sued by disgruntled clients at least twice for legal malpractice. In one of his many incarnations,[ii] he was sued for failing effectively to serve a party his client needed served – a rookie error after thirty years as a lawyer. The court found that the failure to serve may have been negligent but that it was not the “proximate cause” of the client’s losing the action for damages.[iii] The clients had sacked them at some point, complicating matters.
In SCOMELLO v. CHETKOF[iv], Michael Chetkof again beat the rap on a technicality: the plaintiff filed her suit too late. She also failed to make a prima facie case. This all began in 1996 when Chetkof would have either still been with Saltzman and McLoughlin or after he had moved on to his present configuration.
Chetkof and his partner Gerald McLoughlin parted ways in 1996. In 1998 a certain Gerard P. McLoughlin was suspended from practicing law for two years.[v] He had a disciplinary history consisting of “three letters of admonition and a letter of caution, all of which concerned neglecting legal matters and/or failing to communicate with his clients.” The charge reads “illegal, corrupt, and unethical conduct; conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice; and conduct adversely reflecting on his fitness to practice law by being convicted of a crime (attempted petit larceny).”[vi] The conviction occurred in 1998.
It would be interesting to know if Gerard P. McLoughlin who was suspended is one and the same as Gerald McLoughlin, Chetkof’s old partner. There is no record of the partner who spells his name Gerald on eCourts, the New York State website. There is only a Gerard P. McLoughlin. Unofficially, Martindale, the company that awards the A-V rating and devised the Super Lawyer rating methodology, lists both of them, at the same location, while stating that the firm only employs one lawyer. This may be why Superlawyering is banned in New Jersey.
In November last year, Allyson Burger applied to be relieved of her duty to represent her client in Greenberg vs. Greenberg on the basis that the client was “not confident” in her and had asked her to act in an unethical manner. Their motion to reverse a custody decision was thrown out anyway. She has made a lot of progress since. The question is, in which direction?
[i] Jed Cain, a trial lawyer and partner with Herman, Herman, & Katz, LLC in New Orleans, Louisiana has this to say about the ratings. His essay is titled “Calling Bullsh!t On The Lawyer Ego Industry”: “These accolades are bestowed upon us by the Lawyer Ego Industry because our supreme legal greatness is simply undeniable. “
[ii] There have been many: Saltzman Chetkof & Rosenberg LLP 1996 – Present, Saltzman, Chetkof, McLoughlin & Robinson 1993 – 1996, and likely; Bogut Chetkof & O’Brien 1988 – 1993, Saltzman Bogut & Chetkof 1976 – 1988. Michael Chethof, Esq. 1973 – 1976, Britvan & Chetkof, Esqs. 1970 – 1973).
[iii] VOSSELER and VOSSELER vs. SALTZMAN, CHETKOF, McLOUGHLIN & ROBINSON
[iv] SCOMELLO v. CHETKOF, 238 A.D.2d 572 (N.Y. App. Div. 1997).
[v] IN RE: Gerard P. McLOUGHLIN, Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York his appeal against suspension was denied. McLoughlin was reinstated as an attorney in July 2010 after a favorable report from the Character and Fitness Committee.
[vi] The Grievance Committee.