He’s known as “Mighty Mouth,” a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney suspended several times before finally losing his license.
The best known of Allen L. Feingold’s law license suspensions came in 2006 after he allegedly choked a 74-year-old judge pro tempore in Philadelphia because he was unhappy with his knowledge of the law.
Feingold was already on the hot seat with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for filing a number of lawsuits against attorneys, doctors and others, accusing them of manufacturing testimony in his personal injury cases.
“I figured, hell, if I’m going to lose my license at least let me get my one punch in,” Feingold reportedly said at his disciplinary hearing.
The lawyer was disbarred in 2008 after he was accused by the Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary Counsel of practicing law through another attorney by using his computer password unbeknownst to his colleague.
The disciplinary board locked Feingold out of his office and put a conservator in charge of his clients in 2009.
But what really rankled the board is Feingold has refused to pay the $45,000 in the conservator’s expenses in closing down his practice. With a home in Aventura, he sought bankruptcy protection in South Florida.
Feingold now has set a precedent for disbarred attorneys facing financial penalties for disciplinary actions.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit partially sided with the board, agreeing the conservator’s costs can be considered a fine and not a dischargeable expense in a personal bankruptcy case.
A week after arguments, the three-judge panel said in the Sept. 17 ruling that a bankruptcy judge and a district judge “stopped short” in fully evaluating Feingold’s claim he should not have to pay the $45,000, leaving the door ajar for the disbarred lawyer to continue his legal maneuvers.
Attorney Grace Robson, a partner with Markowitz, Ringel, Trusty & Hartog in Fort Lauderdale, represented the board on the appeal. She said the issue is an important one for attorneys across the country.
“To the best of my knowledge there was no other Eleventh Circuit opinion on whether a disbarred lawyer could discharge fees and costs associated with disciplinary proceedings,” she said.
But certainly the legal costs have surpassed the fees owed by Feingold. Is it worth fighting an embittered disbarred lawyer who knows how to use the judicial system to his advantage?
“It’s an important legal issue, and we don’t want to set a precedent that a disbarred attorney can file bankruptcy and have his fines and costs become automatically dischargeable,” Robson said.
Feingold, in an interview with the Daily Business Review, said he wants his old case files that contain personal injury claims. He said the disciplinary board has allowed some of the cases to grow stale and is now liable to plaintiffs.
“I have files with checks. All they have to do is prepare a distribution sheet,” he said.
Robson said the board’s goal is to return the files to the clients, and they belong to the conservator who took over Feingold’s law firm anyway. “If he has a monetary interest in the files, which is what he claims, arguably it’s the property of the estate,” she said.
As for the infamous incident with the judge at the Philadelphia Dispute Resolution Center, Feingold claims he was attacked first and had already resigned himself to having his law license suspended.
The 72-year-old former attorney said the board had him in its sights by 2005 because he filed half a dozen lawsuits against professionals, including powerful lawyers.
A Pennsylvania appellate court in March said, “Feingold habitually files frivolous state and federal complaints, consisting of vague allegations of fraud, abuse of process and civil conspiracy against parties who prevailed against him in prior litigation, as well as their counsel, insurers and medical experts.”
And Feingold denies choking anybody. “I ended up just knocking off his glasses, and he had like a red mark on the bridge of his nose,” he said.
A disciplinary report found Feingold “a danger to the public and the judicial system because of his short temper and unreasonable, erratic behavior.”
Feingold paints the board as vindictive, saying it not only revoked his license but also the license of his wife, Dora Garcia, and a lawyer who represented him in the disciplinary matters.
He still maintains costs directed at disbarred lawyers should be dischargeable in personal bankruptcies to allow the individual “a clean slate.”
“How am I supposed to pay them back if I don’t have a license or a job?” Feingold asked.
His war with the board is far from over, and getting it to spend money to litigate against him is a victory in it’s own right.
“In many ways, I’ve already won,” he said.
He previously filed lawsuits against the board in Pennsylvania over the seizure of his firm.
Now he wants an en banc review, arguing it’s incumbent upon the Eleventh Circuit to follow Pennsylvania law that stipulates court costs in disciplinary procedures cannot be considered a penalty.
“Every penny they are trying to get from me is just a cost. It’s not a penalty,” he said.
Cost or Penalty?
The diminutive Feingold said as a kid he was known as “Mighty Mouse” for his athletic prowess, but that nickname changed to “Mighty Mouth” when he became a lawyer.
If he fails in getting the Eleventh Circuit to review the panel’s decision, Feingold said he is ready to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I’ve been a living hell for them,” Feingold said.
The 23-page unsigned opinion from Circuit Judges Frank M. Hull and Beverly Martin and U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee, who was sitting by designation, gave Feingold some hope.
The dispute landed with the three-judge panel after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge A. Jay Cristol in Miami ruled in favor of the disbarred attorney in 2011, saying the $45,000 was a dischargeable debt.
The board appealed to U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra in West Palm Beach, who in 2012 ruled the money constituted a fine and was not exempt from the automatic stay that allows a debtor to attempt repayment or derive a reorganization plan.
The appellate panel agreed with Marra — with a caveat. Cristol must still evaluate whether cause exists to lift the automatic stay, calling it a fundamental protection for debtors. Marra’s finding is still not enough for the disciplinary board to collect from Feingold, the panel said.
Marra made the right ruling but erred in excluding other potentially relevant circumstance, the panel concluded.
“This is not to say that nondischargeability cannot be a factor, or even a weighty factor, in the bankruptcy’s court’s evaluation of cause,” the panel wrote. “The bankruptcy court should have looked to the totality of the circumstances in Feingold’s case.”
Feingold, as he is prone to do, lives to fight another day.
Make no mistake, he is still motivated to get back at those who took away his profession and his way of life as a lawyer.
Feingold represented himself before the Eleventh Circuit but said he isn’t given the respect he once deserved as an attorney.
“I feel like a leper. When I go into court, I’m treated like a leper,” he said.