A Manhattan judge who found an attorney lied on multiple occasions to vacate a eight-year-old judgment against him has sanctioned the lawyer $10,000 and ordered him to pay about $7,400 in fees to his adversary.
In moving to vacate, solo practitioner Richard Savitt had argued that a “rogue attorney” whom he didn’t know had appeared on his behalf in a 2006 proceeding and settled a case against him without his consent.
But Manhattan Civil Court Judge James d’Auguste (See Profile) found Savitt’s statements about the purported 2006 settlement were fabricated, and only one of several misrepresentations.
“Savitt lied on multiple occasions to secure relief from an agreed-upon stipulation of settlement,” d’Auguste said. “This court concludes that Savitt’s misconduct in this proceeding was not aberrant conduct, but rather part of a pervasive pattern of wilful misconduct.”
In an interview with the Law Journal, Savitt said he has never told anything but the truth.
“It’s such a nightmare for me,” he said. “I have a judge who, no matter what I say, [says] ‘I don’t believe you, you’re dishonest.’ I have never lied in a courtroom in my life.”
The case began in 2006, when Savitt’s former landlord, Tribeca Equity Partners, sued him, claiming he hadn’t paid rent on his private apartment.
In October 2006, attorney Marion Mishkin appeared on his behalf at a court proceeding, and a stipulation of settlement was ordered by Judge David Cohen. The agreement provided for a $10,753 judgment against Savitt.
Six years after the settlement was signed and judgment entered, Savitt argued that Mishkin settled without his consent. He also claimed he had verbally agreed with a Tribeca representative to break the remaining term of the lease, and there would be no money due after he left the apartment.
In January 2013, Judge Debra Samuels denied Savitt’s motion to vacate. Savitt moved to reargue, disclosing he had filed an ethics complaint against Mishkin. Tribeca cross-moved against Savitt for legal fees.
In a July 2013 conference before Samuels, Savitt claimed he had never been in Housing Court before this case “to my recollection.”
After Samuels pressed him, Savitt demanded the judge recuse herself “because you have unfair, undue bias against me based upon your findings in this case which were absolutely wrong.”
Samuels eventually recused but not for issues raised by Savitt.
In his decision in Tribeca Equity Partners L.P. v. Savitt, L&T 87923/06, d’Auguste pointed out that Savitt was involved in two other Housing Court cases, and in both he was sued for nonpayment by his landlord. At a February 2014 hearing to address the possibility of sanctions, d’Auguste confronted Savitt with apparent misrepresentations to the court.
Savitt, who testified, did not apoligize for making accusations of misconduct against Samuels. He justified his failure to remember his prior Housing Court litigation by saying he was practicing in Connecticut and New York at the time.
“Savitt’s handling of cases in two states as an attorney should have had little impact on his ability to recall two lawsuits in which he was personally sued for not paying rent,” d’Auguste said.
Savitt maintained that he had never previously spoken to Mishkin, but he was unable to explain six telephone calls he had with her, as reflected in phone records, on the day the matter settled. His only explanation was the “highly implausible contention” that the phone calls were from Tribeca, d’Auguste said.
Mishkin testified that she appeared for Savitt through Per Diem Services Inc. She testified that before the stipulation was ordered in 2006, she read it entirely to Savitt over the phone, line by line, and had appeared for Savitt in another case.
After the February sanctions hearing, Savitt claimed d’Auguste was biased and should be recused, and he requested the court refrain from deciding on sanctions until a grievance he filed with the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct was resolved.
In his decision, d’Auguste said the commission’s review of Savitt’s complaint would not affect pending litigation, and he had not been contacted by the commission.
Savitt didn’t demonstrate a basis to vacate the 2006 settlement, d’Auguste said, finding Savitt’s claims “inherently implausible” and Mishkin’s testimony credible.
“Savitt repeatedly lied about never having communicated with Mishkin,” d’Auguste said. “Savitt’s factual assertions regarding the  court appearance are fabrications.”
The judge said Savitt failed to provide “any semblance of detail” of the verbal agreement to settle the landlord’s suit, and displayed “an appalling lack of candor” while “repeatedly made factual assertions that, upon examination, are either untrue or misleading,” d’Auguste said.
The judge cited six prior decision that “paint a disturbing picture of Savitt’s litigation conduct over the past decade.”
“Savitt, whether as an attorney or self-represented litigant, has demonstrated little inclination to abide by basic court rules and procedures,” d’Auguste said. “His misconduct has delayed litigation, inflicted unnecessary expense on adversaries, and wasted judicial resources that could have been better spent resolving meritorious matters.”
“In reaching its conclusion that Savitt committed sanctionable misconduct, this court considers the complete absence of any remorse by Savitt for his behavior,” the judge said.
D’Auguste imposed a $10,000 sanction, the maximum allowed for an act of frivolous conduct, payable to the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection. The judge awarded Tribeca $7,410—slightly less than what it requested.
In an interview, Mishkin, a solo practitioner, said Savitt had also sued her in Manhattan Supreme Court over the rogue attorney claims. The suit was dismissed for improper service.
“It was harassing, tortuous,” she said. “It was just mortally disturbing. I felt I was in a middle of an ever-growing nightmare.”
Mishkin said she felt vindicated by d’Auguste’s decision, saying the judge “went the distance” to demonstrate Savitt’s conduct.
The ruling was “right on point, both legally and factually accurate,” said Tribeca’s attorney, Todd Nahins, a senior partner at Borah, Goldstein, Altschuler, Nahins & Goidel. “[Savitt] just didn’t harass the landlord. He harassed the court, and he harassed his attorney.”
But Savitt in the interview insisted he had never communicated with Mishkin at the time of the 2006 judgment. He said he was not aware of the judgment until 2012, when it appeared on his credit report, and his own agreement with the landlord forestalled collection efforts.
“I never hired Per Diem for this matter, and Per Diem never hired Ms. Mishkin for this matter,” Savitt said.
He added that he felt he had to file a grievance against d’Auguste to protect himself after the judge “attacked” him in court.
“It is truly not fair to try and destroy my career when I never hired Ms. Mishkin and certainly never authorized her to enter into that stipulated judgment,” he said. “I have never fabricated or misrepresented anything. I’m willing to take a polygraph or anything else from anyone.”