A Stratford attorney who has been convicted of disorderly conduct for threatening to shoot at two water company employees will decide in the near future if he wants to appeal the ruling.
The attorney, Laurence Parnoff, 72, is also under scrutiny from state grievance officials. Patricia King, the chief disciplinary counsel, said once her office gets a copy of documents related to the conviction, it will file a presentment, which is a complaint to the judge.
“It’s up to the judge,” King said, referring to whether Parnoff will be disciplined. “She heard the trial. She heard the sentencing. Whether the judge would view that as affecting his ability to practice law, I don’t know.”
Judge Maureen Dennis sentenced Parnoff to a three-month suspended sentence with a year of probation. She fined him $500 and agreed to order the anger management as well as the letter of apology. Parnoff is being represented by Bob Gulash, of Gulash & Riccio in Bridgeport, who declined to comment on the case, other than to say he would be meeting with his client to decide whether to appeal.
The case stemmed from an incident involving Aquarion water company employees, who had been doing routine fire hydrant inspections in Stratford in July 2011. They saw a missing cap from the hydrant in front of Parnoff’s home. A hose attached to the hydrant led them to a goat pen.
When the water company employees began looking for the cap to the hydrant, Parnoff demanded they leave his property. When they told him they were going to continue to look for the cap, he threated to shoot them. At his Jan. 21 sentencing for disorderly conduct in Bridgeport Superior Court, Parnoff said he was trying to protect his family.
Judge Dennis told Parnoff that his response to the water company employees was “irrational” and out of proportion to what was occurring. According to the Connecticut Post, Assistant State’s Attorney Michael DeJoseph said he was troubled that Parnoff took the case to trial instead of accepting a conditional discharge.
No charges were brought against Parnoff for the use of the hydrant water for his goats.
Fee Cap Case
According to lawyers.com website, Parnoff’s practice consists of a general practice as well as personal injury and workers’ compensation law. He has been practicing for more than 40 years.
Another disciplinary case against him is still pending. Last year, the attorney received a reprimand for a case involving a misappropriation of the $360,000 in client funds. King, who sought a disbarment or a suspension in the case, said her office has appealed the more lenient punishment. She said it’s the first time in 10 years the office has appealed a judge’s decision in connection with attorney discipline.
That case started back in 1998 and involved a client, Darcy Yuille, a Bridgeport Hospital nurse, who had filed a bad faith claim against the hospital for not settling her workers’ compensation claim. Parnoff agreed to handle her case for a 40 percent contingency fee. She ultimately collected about $1.1 million.
However, a state “fee cap statute” limits lawyers’ contingency fees to 33 percent or less of the amount awarded to their clients. The nurse had learned about the fee cap law, and, according to court documents, authorized Parnoff to pay himself only $125,000 “until my objection to the 40 percent fee is resolved.”
In 2010, a jury found that Parnoff was entitled to $139,405, or just a little over 13 percent of the bad-faith award. Then, in November 2012, an Appellate Court panel found that Parnoff’s 40 percent fee was void because it ignored the fee cap statute. The Appellate Court ruled that even the reduced $139,404 payment “cannot stand” because the contract between lawyer and client so greatly violated public policy. Parnoff was left with no legal grounds for collecting anything.
However, according to King’s presentment in that case, Yuille had much earlier agreed to endorse the $1 million-plus check to the lawyer with the understanding that Parnoff could pay himself $125,000 and that the balance “would be held in escrow pending resolution of the fee dispute.”
Parnoff opened an account in his name as trustee for Yuille, and made disbursements to her and payments for legal costs, leaving a balance of $313,413 in the escrow account. When the jury in 2010 awarded him the $139,405, Parnoff didn’t wait for the 20-day appeal period. He transferred all the escrow account funds into a personal account he held jointly with his wife, “thereby improperly commingling his client’s funds with his own funds,” King alleges.
Parnoff never provided Yuille with notice of what he was doing or an accounting, and she didn’t learn the funds were gone until eight months later, after Parnoff had spent the money “to pay personal bills,” the presentment states.