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A retired partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison has been disbarred for stealing more than $500,000 from a family trust for which he was a trustee. Allan L. Blumstein admitted he essentially depleted an account intended to benefit his elderly aunt, who was suffering from dementia and was confined to a nursing home. The former litigator said he took the money to maintain a lavish but unaffordable lifestyle, without which he feared his wife would leave him. “I knew it was wrong,” Blumstein, 68, testified at a disciplinary hearing in March 2004. “I did it because I wanted to maintain a certain lifestyle. I was fearful of what would happen to my marriage if I couldn’t maintain that lifestyle.” Though both a hearing panel and the Appellate Division, 1st Department, agreed that the case “abounds with tragedy,” they also agreed that Blumstein’s misconduct — conversion of client funds for personal use — required his disbarment. In so doing, they overruled the referee who heard the case. The referee, Frederic Berman, had recommended an 18-month suspension, citing Blumstein’s distinguished 35-year career, his struggle with alcoholism and his commitment to pro bono as extraordinary mitigating factors. Berman also lent great weight to the character testimony of four former Paul Weiss colleagues, two of them sitting federal judges in the Southern District of New York. But in In the Matter of Allan L. Blumstein, M-5482, a unanimous appellate panel of Justices John Buckley, Peter Tom, George Marlow, Luis Gonzalez and James Catterson said the mitigating circumstances in the case “were not sufficiently unusual to deviate from the general rule mandating disbarment in cases of intentional conversion.” The thefts took place between the fall of 2000 and the beginning of 2003. Blumstein retired from Paul Weiss in 1996 but maintained an office at the firm as a retired partner until 2003, when his thefts became known to the firm. He first joined Paul Weiss out of Columbia Law School in 1960 and became a partner in 1970. In his long career at the firm, Blumstein handled a variety of matters. He represented the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in a large number of copyright cases. He also handled pro bono death penalty appeals and, in the 1980s, led a Paul Weiss team that successfully challenged a Louisiana statute that would have required schools to teach creationism alongside evolution. On his retirement, Blumstein received $10,000 a month from the firm pension plan. But he testified at the March 2004 disciplinary hearing that his expenses, which included mortgage payments on a three-bedroom Upper East Side condominium, credit card payments for his wife and adult daughter and various other expenses soon amounted to double his income. Between 1996 and 2001, Blumstein testified, he completely depleted a retirement account that contained $2 million. He still owes $1 million in taxes on the withdrawals. The trust for his aunt was established in 1998. Though he was co-trustee with his cousin, Blumstein maintained the records and the checkbook. His aunt was placed in a nursing home in February 2000. He began withdrawing money from the trust in increments ranging from $15,000 to $20,000 in September 2000. He confessed to his cousin in January 2003 after the money was gone and an outstanding debt to the nursing home had grown to almost $200,000. The cousin, also an attorney, reported Blumstein’s conduct to Paul Weiss and to the Disciplinary Committee. The firm advanced Blumstein the money to restore the trust in exchange for a 50 percent reduction in his pension payments over the next 10 years. CHARACTER WITNESSES Blumstein testified that, during the time he was depleting both his and his aunt’s accounts, his wife, Susan, was earning an income of between $100,000 and $150,000 as a fund-raiser for the Manhattan School of Music. But he said he never asked her to contribute to their expenses, nor did he ever tell her how dire their financial situation had become. “I never did what I should have done, which was to face up to the issue, which was to say to my wife, we can’t go on this way, this is not the way we can live,” Blumstein testified at the hearing last March. He and his wife, who were married in 1967, were divorced in 2003 after his conduct came to light. Blumstein, who was represented by Michael Gentile of Benjamin Brotman & Associates, had asked that his alcoholism be taken into account, but the appellate panel said he failed to show through expert testimony any relation between his alcoholism and his actions. Blumstein said he had no plans to return to private practice but wanted to continue to work pro bono. He has recently been working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He had argued that disbarment or a lengthy suspension would prevent him from “righting the wrongs I have done.” The four character witnesses who testified for Blumstein were Jay Topkis, a retired Paul Weiss partner; Martin Payson, a former Paul Weiss partner and former vice chairman of Time Warner; and Southern District Judges Sidney Stein and Lewis Kaplan. All four said they continued to hold Blumstein in the highest esteem. Kaplan, who was an associate under Blumstein at Paul Weiss before becoming a partner himself in 1977, testified that he thought it would be “outrageous” if Blumstein were disbarred. The judge also said he would be comfortable with Blumstein serving as a trustee for a trust in his own family. The witnesses all said Blumstein’s actions remained inexplicable to them, though Judge Kaplan offered his “amateur” opinion about what had happened. Though regarded as perhaps the best legal writer at the firm, the judge said, Blumstein never possessed “whatever it is about personalities that attracts clients.” “And the result of that is that people like myself and others who came in wet behind the ears and learned at Allan’s knee, wound up with Allan doing for them what they did for Allan ten years earlier or fifteen years earlier,” Kaplan said. “And they made more money. And there was more acclaim in the firm and in the community and so forth. So that’s one element of it. I think that just can’t have been easy.” The judge said he suspected Blumstein’s longstanding career disappointment and his “dynamic, ambitious, aggressive” wife, whose work associated her with extremely wealthy people, created “tremendous pressure” on Blumstein “to provide more for his family consistent with Susan’s expectations [and] desires than he could do given where he was professionally.” The hearing panel, which included Jane Parver of Kaye Scholer, Eric Warner of Coblence & Warner, Douglas Brandrup of Griggs, Baldwin & Baldwin and William E. Hammond, said their recommendation of disbarment might have been different if there had been an emergency for which Blumstein needed the money. Instead, they said, it was personal greed that put at risk “a lifelong record of high legal accomplishments.” “Of the many matters considered in the past by this particular panel, this matter is one of the saddest we have yet to consider,” the hearing panel said.

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