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A judge has found that an attorney did not waive the privilege of protected speech afforded those who bring actions before the New York Grievance Committee when she told a third party that such a proceeding was pending against a fellow attorney. But disclosing details about the grievance matter does waive the privilege, making them actionable under a defamation claim, the judge said. “It is the content … that must be held confidential under the statute, not the fact of filing,” Supreme Court Justice F. Dana Winslow of Nassau County wrote. Ruling on an issue of first impression, Justice Winslow determined that attorney Judith Ellen Stone did not waive protection from a defamation action by telling others that a grievance matter was pending against attorney Richard T. Sinrod. Judiciary Law � 90(10) requires the confidentiality of “papers, records and documents” related to grievance matters and prohibits the dissemination of that information except by a written order from the Appellate Division. In Sinrod v. Stone, 14854-03, Winslow held that it is the contents of the “papers, records and documents” that must be kept confidential, not the fact that a grievance has been filed. According to the decision, Sinrod and Stone had worked together on personal injury cases during a nine-year period but in 2002 had a falling out that led to a dispute over fees. When they could not reach an agreement, “war erupted,” Winslow wrote. The disagreement led to Stone’s application in two cases for retaining liens and actions in two other cases to remove Sinrod as counsel. She also initiated three disciplinary actions with the grievance committee. Those grievances were dismissed. Sinrod filed the defamation action in state Supreme Court, claiming that in all the proceedings Stone intended to destroy his reputation “as an act of extortion and revenge.” In dismissing the majority of Sinrod’s claims, Winslow wrote that he was faced with a question of first impression: “Whether or not a breach of confidentiality as required under Judiciary Law section 90(10) can operate as a waiver of absolute privilege regarding statements made in connection with attorney disciplinary proceedings.” As a threshold matter, he rejected Stone’s argument that the law required only confidentiality by the grievance committee itself. He determined that although the statements Stone made to the grievance committee were privileged, a different question arose as to whether statements made about the proceedings to others were protected. He noted there is a strong public policy in favor of protecting attorneys from irreparable harm to their reputations. As a result, he said, statements made outside the context of disciplinary proceedings specifically about those proceedings were not protected if made without a court order in violation of the Judiciary Law. However, the judge wrote that such was not the case before him, since Sinrod alleged that Stone merely “advised others of having filed” complaints with the committee. David Gabor of Gabor & Gabor in Garden City, N.Y., who represented Stone, said the judge seemed to be making a distinction between statements seeking to “color one’s opinion” about a grievance matter that would not be protected. Sinrod, who practices in Millbrook, N.Y., said he is disappointed with the ruling and that it is an “open invitation for an attorney with knowledge of absolute privilege to use it and abuse it.” Sinrod said he is considering an appeal, and added that on some causes of action, the judge has granted him leave to replead with greater particularity.

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