A Simsbury lawyer who had several legal skirmishes with former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and who recently sued Simsbury police for defamation has been disbarred by state attorney disciplinary officials.
James Oliver, a partner in the Oliver Law Firm, was sanctioned primarily for lying to a client about the credentials of a forensic accountant who was hired to work with him on a major case. Oliver repeatedly claimed that the accountant, Cynthia Michaud, was a federal agent, even though Michaud denied that was the case. During one secretly recorded conversation in a McDonald’s restaurant, Oliver allegedly told the client Michaud was “involved with several national intelligence agencies,” according to state authorities.
The client was Stephen Zaczynski, a co-owner of New England Pellet, a company that had been accused by Blumenthal of failing to deliver the pellets — which are burned in stoves to make heat — to customers who had already paid up. The restaurant conversation took place in 2011, after New England Pellet made $55,000 in restitution and emerged from bankruptcy protection related to the state investigation.
According to the Aug. 5 written decision in the disciplinary case by Superior Court Judge Antonio Robaina, the restaurant meeting was the result of what appeared to be a billing dispute between Oliver and Zaczynski. Oliver apparently initiated the meeting; because McDonald’s seemed like an odd venue, Zaczynski, a former state correction lieutenant, secretly recorded the session. During the meeting, Oliver reportedly produced a copy of a book written by espionage novel author Robert Ludlum and suggested he was mentioned in a certain section, according to Robaina’s decision. He also fielded a call from Michaud on his cell phone, according to state officials.
After the call, according to the judge’s decision, Oliver made the following claims, apparently in an effort to persuade Zaczynski to pay the disputed bills and to keep Michaud working for him: “[Oliver] suggested that Michaud had been able to convince federal authorities to ‘stand down’ and ultimately indicated that there was a postal inspector named ‘Vega’ who demanded a bribe in order to cease an investigation into Zaczynski … and New Enlgand Pellet.”
State authorities have been building their case against Oliver for two years, with the Hartford grievance panel finding probable cause in 2012 and the Statewude Grievance Committee Reviewing Committee holding hearings in March and June of 2103. The committee directed that a presentment be filed with the Superior Court.
In his ruling, Robaina writes that the fee dispute was not resolved at the McDonald’s meeting, and that there were future emails, conversations and another recorded phone call. The judge said that at no time did Oliver “refute or deny the statement as to the bribery of the postal inspector.” Robaina found that to be a violation of Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, which bars lawyers from engaging in conduct that involves dishonsty, fraud or deceit.
The judge said Oliver also violated Rules 3.3 and 3.4, basing that on “Oliver’s repeated claims that Michaud was a federal operative, that she had extensive contacts with the federal government and that her credentials were vital elements in the government’s action. Those representations appear to be patently false.”
The judge said Oliver had a good idea of Michaud’s background. The attorney had represented her after she was fired from a New Jersey accounting firm after reportedly issuing press releases in which she claimed to be a pediatric cardiologist. Robaine wrote that Michaud has no medical degree, and that she later acknowledged that she had, on business documents, indicated that she was a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Fraud Examiner, even though she was neither.
Robaina wrote that even after Michaud had denied she was a federal agent, Oliver stuck to his story in testimony to the Statewide Grievance Committee. “He dismisses her repeated denials of that status,” wrote Robaina, “by advancing the logic that her status as a federal operative compels her to disavow this claim, even in statements to the police, federal agents and under oath to court. In essence, he claims the fact that she denies it is proof that it is true. Those arguments are neither credible nor compelling.”
The judge also found that, at one point, Oliver went to Robaina’s home to get her to try to testify “in a manner contrary to the truth.”
State officials have said that Oliver has no prior disciplinary history. He will be permitted to apply for reinstatement after five years.
The Oliver Law Firm website says Oliver has been practicing for more than 20 years and that his work includes commercial law, construction law and complex litigation. There’s also a blog that contains links to articles about his face-offs with Blumenthal.
That New England Pellet case, and another Blumenthal investigation into one of Oliver’s small business clients, launched the attorney into the political news. He said the Attorney General’s Office’s dogged pursuit of consumer protection cases involving small businesses was an “abuse of power” that did nothing but put companies “out of business” and “polish the political image of Blumenthal,” who is now a U.S. Senator.
Meanwhile, the monetary disagreement between Zaczynski, New England Pellet co-owner Jason Tynan and Oliver eventually led to Zaczynski filing a complaint with the Simsbury police, which accused Oliver and Michaud of conspiring to steal more than $340,000 from the pellet business. Oliver was charged with third-degree larceny, but the case was dropped for lack of evidence in February.
Last month, the Law Tribune reported that Oliver sued the police department, claiming false arrest and defamation. “News of his arrest spread quickly and Oliver’s reputation in the community in which he lived and in the legal community was destroyed,” the lawsuit claims. “Friends and acquaintances abandoned him. Oliver lived with the possibility of several felony convictions for crimes he did not commit.”
The lawsuit also defends the work that Oliver and Michaud did for New England Pellet. “Oliver and Michaud did a superb job for Tynan and Zaczynski, who turned on them when Oliver and Michaud confronted them with their latest forensic report,” the lawsuit states.
Law Tribune Managing Editor Jay Stapleton contributed to this report.