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ALBANY � An Albany appellate panel has halted a disciplinary investigation involving a Kingston attorney who, in defending a Supreme Court justice facing misconduct charges, disclosed an allegedly confidential sanction imposed on another lawyer. The Appellate Division, Third Department, stopped a probe into the conduct of attorney Joseph D. Hill, who in 2002 represented Supreme Court Justice Vincent G. Bradley when he was admonished by the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Justice Bradley was chastised for referring to attorney Martin T. Johnson of Rockland County as a “thief” during a divorce proceeding. In defending Justice Bradley, Mr. Hill revealed publicly that Mr. Johnson had been cautioned by the Ninth Judicial District Grievance Committee after a client complained about excessive legal fees. A caution is a private rather than public sanction. Records show that during a matrimonial matter, Justice Bradley suggested that Mr. Johnson, who previously represented one of the parties, had grossly overcharged his client. Justice Bradley referred to the attorney, who was not present, as “an absolute thief,” and noted that, “I want to get a shot at him someday.” Then, when Mr. Johnson appeared before Justice Bradley on unrelated matters, the judge neglected to disclose his earlier expressed hostility and neglected to disqualify himself. The Commission on Judicial Conduct in October 2002 voted for a sanction. Mr. Hill represented Justice Bradley in the disciplinary matter. While that matter was ongoing, Mr. Hill issued a press release in defense of Justice Bradley. That release, picked up by the Poughkeepsie Journal, revealed that Mr. Johnson had himself been sanctioned by the Ninth District Committee. Gerald Stern, then counsel and administrator to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, filed a complaint with the Third Department’s Committee on Professional Standards, accusing Mr. Hill of misconduct for revealing the contents of what was supposed to be a secret letter of caution issued to Mr. Johnson. The Third Department initiated an investigation. Mr. Hill contended that the letter of caution was brought to his attention by the client who had complained about Mr. Johnson. He noted that there is nothing to prohibit a complainant who is advised of a letter of caution � as occurred here � from publicly disclosing the letter. Mr. Hill reasoned that if the complainant was free to reveal the letter to him, he was free to reveal it to others. Eventually, the Third Department committee transferred the matter to the Ninth District Committee since the press release was issued to the Poughkeepsie newspaper, which is in the Ninth District. A Supreme Court justice shifted the matter back to the Third Department, opining that the “persecution” of Mr. Hill was “pointless.” Last week, the Third Department said the matter was wrongly transferred to the Ninth District Committee since none of the alleged misconduct appeared within that disciplinary panel’s geographic jurisdiction. The Third Department, through Justice Anthony J. Carpinello, barred the Ninth Judicial District from proceeding against Mr. Hill. “The record further indicates that the Third Department Committee has closed its file in the matter, a disposition which, under the circumstances presented, we find appropriate,” Justice Carpinello wrote. He was joined by Justices Thomas E. Mercure, Edward O. Spain, Carl J. Mugglin and John A. Lahtinen. Mr. Hill appeared pro se. Assistant Attorney General Edward Lindner appeared for the disciplinary panels.

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