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Abner Louima’s first group of attorneys do not deserve any fees for work on his civil rights lawsuit, and one of them is guilty of misconduct so egregious he should be barred from federal practice in the Eastern District of New York, according to a magistrate judge. U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak said Wednesday that attorney Brian Figeroux “overstepped the bounds of both ethical and moral conduct” by accusing Louima of perjury in an affidavit “in order to enhance his position in this fee dispute.” “The Court finds Figeroux’s conduct in connection with this fee proceeding to be so beyond the bounds of ethical conduct that it warrants a referral to the Disciplinary Committee of the Bar and a recommendation that he be barred from further practice in this Court,” she wrote in a footnote to a 177-page opinion, Louima v. City of New York, 98 CV 5083. Magistrate Judge Pollak said because of the serious nature of her findings, she would allow Figeroux to respond before she recommended him for discipline. All of her findings are subject to the approval of Eastern District Judge Sterling Johnson, who asked the magistrate judge to consider the fee dispute. Reached by phone, Figeroux declined to comment. His attorney in the fee dispute, Thomas A. Kissane, was away from his office and could not be reached for comment. Magistrate Judge Pollak’s recommendations arrived a year and a half after Figeroux and two fellow attorneys squared off in court with the high-profile legal team — led by Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. — that eventually secured an $8.8 million settlement for Louima. Louima, a Haitian immigrant, was viciously attacked in 1997 by former police officer Justin Volpe in the restroom of a Brooklyn precinct station house. Volpe, who shoved a broken broomstick into Louima’s rectum, is serving 30 years in prison. Another ex-officer, Charles Schwarz, is serving five years in prison on a perjury conviction. He was tried three times, and two of his convictions were overturned by a federal appeals court before he accepted his final conviction and sentence in an agreement with prosecutors. In dispute before Magistrate Judge Pollak was one-third of the $3 million in fees associated with Louima’s civil settlement with New York City. Under an early fee agreement between Louima and all his attorneys, Figeroux and Carl W. Thomas, who has since died, were to receive one-third of the fees. The two were originally retained to represent Louima on criminal charges stemming from his arrest at a nightclub on the evening of the attack. Another attorney who worked with them, Casilda Roper-Simpson, was to be paid from their share. Sanford A. Rubenstein, a well-known plaintiffs attorney, was to receive another third. The remaining third would go to the legal team of Cochran, Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld. Under a second fee arrangement, after Figeroux and Thomas were no longer working on the case, the remaining lawyers agreed to share all the fees. After the settlement, Cochran and his team sought to disqualify Figeroux and Thomas’ estate from any fees. They alleged that the attorneys quit the case, did little to further Louima’s civil rights claims and at various points hampered and jeopardized the civil suit and a criminal investigation into the attack by speaking to the press. Attorneys for Figeroux and the estate of Thomas countered that they had been pushed out by their more prestigious counterparts and deserved to be paid for the work they did. Magistrate Judge Pollak agreed with Cochran and his associates, saying Thomas and Figeroux violated disciplinary rules by disclosing “client secrets” to the press and by commenting on the case publicly, despite repeated instructions from Louima not to do so without his approval. Their misconduct, the magistrate judge said, “vitiates any right” to a fee award. She also said the attorneys had “radically overstated the value of their contribution to the case,” while ignoring the efforts of Cochran and the others. “It is unclear to this Court � that [Thomas and Figeroux] would ever have succeeded in attaining a settlement comparable to that actually recovered,” she wrote. Magistrate Judge Pollak singled out Figeroux for what she deemed “utterly incredible” testimony and remarks he made as part of the fee dispute that were “not worthy of belief.” In an affidavit filed in December 2001 about the fee dispute, Figeroux alleged that he and Thomas were forced to resign because of ethical breaches by the other attorneys. In the affidavit, Figeroux said federal prosecutors had approached him and Thomas with concerns that Scheck was influencing the testimony of witnesses by meeting with them before prosecutors could. Figeroux lodged a more serious claim. He said he had noticed a change in Louima’s “testimony” about which officer was in the restroom with Officer Volpe during the attack. The change, he said, coincided with meetings that the rival attorneys had with a defense attorney for another officer who had been convicted on obstruction charges related to the attack. That conviction was later overturned. Newspapers got wind of the claim and wrote articles that voiced doubts about Louima’s credibility. Prosecutors have always denied that Louima ever changed his story, and Magistrate Judge Pollak on Wednesday found Figeroux’s allegations about Louima baseless, saying there was “not a single shred of evidence” to support them. She said Figeroux attempted to “back peddle” once he realized the serious nature of his charges, first to the FBI and government prosecutors and then to Schwarz’s attorney, Ronald P. Fischetti. But Figeroux never amended his affidavit in the fee dispute. At a hearing before the magistrate judge in November 2002, Figeroux said he should have used the word “account” to describe change, rather than “testimony.” The magistrate judge found there was no evidence to support him in any case and said she completely credited the testimony of Scheck, who testified at the hearing with his associates. If Judge Johnson disagrees with her findings, Magistrate Judge Pollak said, then Thomas’ estate should receive no more than $212,000 in fees, 10 percent of the total less a 30 percent penalty for “extremely serious ethical violations.” Roper-Simpson would receive $35,000 from that total amount. In no event, she added, should Figeroux receive any compensation. Michael S. Ross, who represents Cochran and litigated the fee dispute, said the magistrate judge’s recommendations were commendable. “Judge Pollak was shocked at not only the ethical misconduct, but the way the ethical misconduct injured Mr. Louima and impugned the integrity of the lawyers who worked so hard on his behalf,” Ross said. During the hearing Ross moved for sanctions over Figeroux’s affidavit. Bradley D. Simon, who represents Thomas’ estate, said he was pleased the magistrate judge recognized that Thomas had nothing to do with Figeroux’s affidavit, which was submitted after Thomas had died. “I’m hopeful that the District Court will recognize that [Thomas] performed work and on a quantum meruit analysis should be entitled to a percentage of the fees based on the work he performed.”

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