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Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the time frame over which Mason Pimsler called Rosenberg Minc’s answering service. The correct time frame was the first five months of 1999. A firm whose associate “stole” clients by impersonating a competing firm’s partner does not have to pay punitive damages, a Manhattan judge has ruled. In setting aside the $962,036 punitive damages award against Mallilo & Grossman, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Rosalyn Richter drew a distinction between the actions of the firm and its associate, Mason Pimsler. “There was no evidence presented that Mallilo & Grossman had any involvement in initiating the theft of . . . clients; the proof at trial showed that Pimsler came up with this idea,” Richter wrote in Rosenberg Minc v. Mallilo & Grossman, 603967-00. In the first five months of 1999, Pimsler, a 1997 Touro Law School graduate, made 52 calls to the answering service of Manhattan personal injury firm Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff, pretending to be partner Daniel Minc. Intercepting messages intended for Minc, Pimsler would direct prospective clients to Mallilo & Grossman instead. When Rosenberg Minc discovered its messages had been intercepted, it contacted the Queens District Attorney’s Office. Pimsler was arrested in a sting operation in which a detective posed as a prospective client and left a message for Minc. Pimsler intercepted the message, called the detective and brought him to Mallilo & Grossman’s offices for a consultation. Pimsler pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation and was sentenced to three years’ probation. He was also disbarred. At his disciplinary hearing, Pimsler claimed he was driven to his actions by his firm’s “pressure cooker” atmosphere. At trial of the civil case last year, Pimsler admitted calling Rosenberg Minc’s answering service but claimed the only person he successfully contacted was the undercover detective. The jury found that Mallilo & Grossman ratified and supported Pimsler’s actions. Awarding Rosenberg Minc $100,000 in compensatory damages and $1.3 million in punitives, the jury apportioned $962,036 of the latter against Mallilo & Grossman for misappropriating Rosenberg Minc clients. Mallilo & Grossman claimed in motions before Richter that the finding was against the weight of the evidence. But the judge agreed with the jury, noting that Pimsler, a first-year associate, brought in more than 100 cases, double the number of the next highest associate. “[N]o question exists that the firm was well-aware of the extraordinary volume of clients that Pimsler, a brand new associate, was bringing in,” Richter wrote. “In light of these facts, and other issues relating to Pimsler’s solicitation techniques, a jury could have rationally found that Mallilo & Grossman should have conducted a more thorough inquiry as to where the clients were coming from.” Richter said the firm’s conduct did not meet the standard for awarding of punitive damages, namely, “clear and convincing” evidence that Mallilo & Grossman’s actions were intentional and malicious.

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