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A disciplinary complaint lodged against a combative attorney at virtual war with the Roman Catholic diocese in Albany, N.Y., has been transferred downstate after the lawyer claimed he could not get a fair hearing in the region. The Appellate Division, 3rd Department, in a recent confidential decision obtained by the New York Law Journal, granted a motion by attorney John A. Aretakis to shift a disciplinary case to the 1st Department. With that order, at least three disciplinary matters initiated against Aretakis have been transferred from Albany to Manhattan. Aretakis represents numerous alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse. He is facing at least five disciplinary complaints, most of them initiated in Albany but none made by clients. The complaints were lodged either by clergy or sua sponte by disciplinary officials. Among the allegations are that Aretakis publicly revealed a confidential settlement between one of his clients and the church, made “wild and unsubstantiated” assertions that the local judiciary is corrupt, impugned the reputation of a nun, abused the judicial process to make false charges against a cleric, and publicly revealed an ethics complaint lodged against him by a high-ranking priest in the diocese. The 3rd Department did not indicate why it transferred a recent complaint to the 1st Department. However, Aretakis has made the same allegation in all of his motions for transfer. He claims his adversary, Albany Roman Catholic Bishop Howard J. Hubbard and his allies, are so influential that the 3rd Department is compromised. In a brief decision dated April 23 and marked “confidential” — as ethics matters routinely are — the 3rd Department transferred a complaint filed by the Rev. Kenneth J. Doyle, an attorney, adviser to the bishop and diocesan chancellor for public information, to the 1st Department. Doyle, in a December complaint to the 3rd Department Committee on Professional Standards, said Aretakis has persistently exploited the legal system and the media in “his aggressive, preemptive and continuing attacks to discredit me.” A misconduct charge against Aretakis for disclosing the priest’s complaint remains with the 3rd Department. Aretakis has never accused Doyle of any sexual impropriety, but he did accuse the priest of engaging in a conspiracy to intimidate alleged sex abuse victims. A Supreme Court justice, in dismissing an action that Aretakis brought against the priest, harshly criticized the attorney for pursuing a baseless claim. Aretakis contends he is the target of a campaign by the Albany diocese and political and judicial figures close to the bishop. Diocesan spokesman Kenneth Goldfarb denied that the church is on a mission to disbar or discredit Aretakis. He noted that ethics complaints regarding Aretakis were publicly disseminated by the attorney, not the diocese. “He cannot point to any effort by the diocese publicly to attack him,” Goldfarb said. “If there has been any public criticism of Aretakis, it has not come from the diocese but the courts who have handled the lawsuits he has lodged against the diocese. … The bishop has filed no complaints at this point in time against Aretakis.” Aretakis, however, has waged a very public campaign against Hubbard. The attorney — mainly through press releases but also in court documents — has portrayed the bishop as an enabler of pedophile priests. He has gone so far as to imply that the bishop has engaged in homosexual acts and that his behavior was a factor in two suicides. Hubbard insists he has remained true to his vow of celibacy and has never had sexual relations with anyone. He has offered to take a polygraph test to erase doubts, and laments that he faces the daunting task of proving his chastity. INVESTIGATION UNDER WAY The dispute reached an unprecedented point recently when a diocesan board hired former U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to conduct an investigation into allegations uncovered by and/or revealed through Aretakis and his clients. White, who served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002, is a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton in Manhattan. One of the matters she is investigating involves a man who killed himself in 1978 and may have left behind a recently discovered suicide note referring to an illicit relationship with a “bishop” named “Howard.” Howard Hubbard became bishop in 1977. Another involves a priest who apparently accused Hubbard of having sexual liaisons with several clerics. In February, the priest met with Hubbard and Doyle, and signed a repudiation letter denying that he had anything to do with the accusations. Shortly afterward, the priest committed suicide. White said in a press release that 140 people, including current and former priests, have been interviewed. Aretakis said he is reluctant to cooperate with her probe because he is a plaintiffs’ attorney and she is an investigator and attorney retained by his adversaries. “I am certainly not going to open my files and investigations to her,” Aretakis said. “She has a fiduciary obligation to her principal.” But Goldfarb likened White’s role to that of an independent auditor enlisted to scrutinize a corporation’s financial books. He said there are no attorney-client issues because White “has not been hired as a lawyer for the diocese or the bishop or the diocesan review panel. She was hired to investigate some allegations involving clergy.” The diocesan spokesman acknowledged the difficulty in proving that Hubbard did not violate his vows. “It will be up to Mary Jo White to do the best she can under these circumstances,” he said. “The bishop is eager to see his name is cleared and certainly there is a belief here that she will do a thorough and complete job and get at the truth, which is all we can hope for here.” White has said she will not comment until her report is complete. CONTROVERSIAL TACTICS Meanwhile, Aretakis’ tactics are raising eyebrows in New York’s Capital Region legal community. Several of the most prominent attorneys here have called for his disbarment. Others, though, say they admire him for his persistence and willingness to take on the church and the local judiciary. “He is battling one of the most powerful organizations and most powerful people in the state of New York by himself, and he is representing the downtrodden,” said Kevin A. Moss, a trial attorney in suburban Albany and former prosecutor, legislator, town supervisor and judge. “If our job as attorneys is to seek the truth, and I think that is the cornerstone of the practice of law, you use whatever means that are legal and ethical to get the truth. John Aretakis is doing that.” Laurie Shanks, a partner in Kindlon & Shanks and professor at Albany Law School, said she initially respected Aretakis for his “courageousness” in taking on an institution as historically influential in heavily Catholic Albany as the diocese and a figure as authoritarian as Hubbard. Supporters of the bishop, including political leaders, are wearing purple ribbons these days as a show of support. But Shanks said Aretakis went too far in revealing extremely damaging allegations against the bishop when there was no valid legal reason to do so. Shanks said a lawsuit — if there were a basis for one — would have provided the bishop with a legitimate forum and opportunity to answer the allegations. As it stands, she said, Hubbard was unfairly denied that opportunity and permanently scarred by innuendo disseminated to the media. “Where I really started to have a problem was when he [Aretakis] went on TV accusing Hubbard of having a relationship [with a young man who committed suicide],” Shanks said. “In the news report I saw, it was John Aretakis saying he didn’t have a client, he wasn’t going to bring a lawsuit and was just going to talk about what a horrible person Hubbard is. That, I thought, was reprehensible.”

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