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An imprisoned former attorney was ordered to pay $250,000 in damages to a client whose case against the Metro-North Commuter Railroad was lost because the lawyer failed to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Campbell Holder, in prison for stealing over $1.6 million from clients, defaulted on a judgment sought by Christine Robinson, the widow of former Metro-North conductor Charles Robinson. Mr. Robinson claimed Metro-North forced him into in-patient drug rehabilitation following a positive drug test on Feb. 8, 1993. Told he would lose his job if he did not comply, Mr. Robinson entered Gracie Square Hospital on March 1, 1993. He had asked for an independent analysis of his urine test, and on March 5, his physician informed Metro-North that the result of the retest was negative and that Mr. Robinson should be released from the hospital. But the railroad instructed Gracie Square not to release him until he finished rehabilitation. Mr. Robinson was not discharged until March 29, 1993. Claiming negligence against the railroad and assault and abuse at the hands of other patients at the hospital, Mr. Robinson retained Holder to sue Metro-North. The railroad moved for summary judgment on June 2, 2000, but Holder failed to oppose the motion. Given a second, and then a third chance, he never delivered opposition papers and summary judgment for the railroad was ordered Aug. 14, 2000. After Mr. Robinson died of leukemia, his widow hired attorney Philip J. Dinhofer to sue Holder for malpractice in the Southern District in 2005. But before the suit could make any meaningful progress, Holder ran into new problems at the offices of Campbell Holder & Associates at 401 Broadway, where his practice focused on estates and trusts, divorce, personal injury and real estate transactions. Holder, a native of Barbados, was indicted for stealing more than $1.6 million in client funds that were held in escrow and trust accounts, with prosecutors charging he used the money to pay for luxury cars and make numerous payments to friends and family members in both Barbados and the United States. He agreed to plead guilty and, at age 58, he was sentenced to serve 3 1/3 to 10 years in prison. Holder is now serving that term at the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility. On Dec. 7, 2007, Holder defaulted on the malpractice claim brought by Ms. Robinson and Judge Denise Cote referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Henry B. Pitman for an inquest into damages. Magistrate Judge Pittman, in a ruling issued July 2, said Holder had “inexcusably” failed to oppose Metro-North’s summary judgment motion. But figuring damages was a more difficult task, he said, in part because the plaintiffs “fail to cite and my research fails to reveal any case in which a plaintiff was awarded compensatory damages for his unwarranted detention in an in-patient drug rehabilitation facility.” Pitman said false imprisonment cases might be a useful analogue but that those cases were not entirely on point because Mr. Robinson’s initial admission to Gracie Square was “not entirely involuntary.” He also said Ms. Robinson had failed to produce any evidence that her late husband was abused while at Gracie Square. In the end, he rejected Dinhofer’s request for $50,000 for every one of the 25 days Mr. Robinson spent at the facility and instead awarded $10,000 a day for a total of $250,000. Judge Cote, in Robinson v. Holder, 07 Civ. 5992, approved that award in an opinion issued July 22. Dinhofer, whose practice is in Rockville Centre, said Wednesday that recovery of the award will be difficult. “I don’t even know where I stand in line because the guy stole over a million from his clients,” Dinhofer said. “The search is going to begin, but with this guy in jail, I don’t know. This may be a Pyrrhic victory.”

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