The feud between Joel S. Finkelstein and his younger brother and former law partner, Andrew, heated up last week when Andrew claimed that Joel's "abject laziness" and "flagrant acts of disloyalty" were the reasons Joel was terminated—allegedly for cause—from the three law firms managed by Andrew.
In papers filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Andrew, 45, who is managing partner of Finkelstein & Partners; Jacoby & Meyers Law Offices; and Fine, Olin & Anderman, said that Joel, 50, had "failed to live up to his obligations as a partner" in each of the firms, which Andrew claims his brother viewed as "cash cows to be milked for all they were worth."
The papers were filed one month after Joel hit Andrew, the three personal injury firms and his other former partners with a lawsuit for allegedly removing him "without prior notice or warning and without any substantive basis" (NYLJ, Oct. 4).
But Andrew and other defendants claim in their answer to Finkelstein v. Finkelstein, 651605/10, that, after "repeatedly covering for Joel's mistakes," his former partners were forced to remove him for cause.
"In the past decade alone, [Joel] pocketed millions of dollars in partnership profits, and spent even more to finance his lavish lifestyle," they assert. "Through it all, Joel showed no interest and no competence in performing his duties as a practicing attorney, much less as a partner with management responsibility for the Law Firms, their business success, the welfare of their employees, or the fate of their clients."
Joel insists that in June he was "duped" into attending a "sham meeting" and ousted without cause "for absolutely no valid reason."
He maintains he was pushed out the door because he was "trying to correct some of the failing policies implemented by his brother in his role as managing partner," including the "incurring of substantial and ongoing debt for the partnerships."
According to Joel's lawsuit, he was assigned an interest of 38.3 percent in Finkelstein & Partners, 38.3 percent in Fine Olin and 25.5 percent in Jacoby & Meyers.
Founded by Joel and Andrew's father, Howard S. Finkelstein, in 1959, Newburgh-based Finkelstein & Partners has multiple offices in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
According to Fine Olin's Web site, that firm was founded in 1963 and counts more than 100 attorneys.
The best known of the three firms, the 38-year-old Jacoby & Meyers, is recognized as a pioneer in law firm TV advertising. Joel and Andrew formed a relationship with the firm in 1999.
Joel is seeking more than $7 million for breach of contract, anticipatory breach and breach of fiduciary duty against the three firms, Andrew, Kenneth L. Oliver and the estate of Gail Koff, an early partner of Jacoby & Myers who died on Aug. 31 (NYLJ, Sept. 7).
Removal 'Richly Deserved'
But according to the answer and counterclaims filed last week by all of the defendants except Ms. Koff's estate, Joel had been "free-loading for years off the success of his partners" and his removal for cause was "richly deserved and long overdue."
Andrew, Mr. Oliver and the firms have asserted counterclaims against Joel for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract and prima facie tort. They are seeking a declaratory judgment that the partnership agreements required Joel to withdraw from the firms for cause.
The papers allege that Joel had "no meaningful" caseload for almost a decade before his termination.
"The few cases assigned to him languished, and required constant monitoring by others to keep them on track," the answer says.
As evidence of Joel's "bizarre and unprofessional behavior," his former partners cite an e-mail Joel sent last year to Andrew and their father. In the e-mail sent on Oct. 22, 2009, Joel sets out to "clear up some misperceptions that may be out there regarding what I do and don't do" on a "typical day."
Joel said that after "exchanging pleasantries" with everyone in the firm's finance and bookkeeping department, he chatted with a colleague about baseball, spoke with another employee about the "screw up (mine) yesterday on covering the calendar that was ultimately handled by me without any problem," and discussed high school soccer with another colleague.
"The Yanks are playing tonight and I want to watch the game so I will watch and work on the office computer at the same time. If I get assigned an ebt for tomorrow or conf's, which is usually the case, I will have to prepare and read everything I need to know to be able to handle."
The e-mail says the cycle would begin again the next day and "if I can't get to all of my work I will have to carve out time this weekend to get it done."
Joel then tells his brother and father that the purpose of the e-mail is "to let you know what a typical day in the last 4 or 5 months is like for me, the likes of which was not occurring in the last approx. 9 1/2 years which I take partial blame for."
According to the answer, Joel's "frantic 'schmoozing' with his colleagues and firm employees, though totally useless and irrelevant to the Law Firms' business and litigation goals, was in his mind an improvement compared with the prior 9 1/2 years."
By 2009, the former partners allege that Joel had "long since 'checked out'" and was "making no meaningful contribution to the welfare and vitality" of the firms.
When it allegedly became evident that "there was no realistic possibility of Joel playing a productive role as a partner," his former partners say they unanimously voted to terminate him for cause.
Jeffrey Carton and Michael A. Berg of Meiselman, Denlea, Packman, Carton & Eberz represent Andrew, Mr. Oliver and the three firms. They do not represent the estate of Ms. Koff.
Arthur J. Ciampi of Ciampi LLC, who represents Joel, said in an interview, "We don't believe that any of the statements [in the answer] are factually correct."
Mr. Ciampi said it was important to note that Joel was terminated without cause.
He said the only reason Joel's ex-partners have "attempted to switch it to 'for cause' is because [Joel] refused to succumb to what we think were their bad faith tactics post-termination, in particular their refusal to arbitrate or mediate."
Mr. Ciampi said that "even if you were to take all the 'bogus' allegations as accurate, which they are not," they still would not support claims for breach of contract, for cause termination or breach of fiduciary duty.
@|Noeleen G. Walder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.