A Brooklyn attorney has been disbarred by an appellate panel that agreed with a special referee that the lawyer was “morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt.”
The Appellate Division, Second Department, disbarred Gerard Tanella on Jan. 9, affirming all 26 charges of professional misconduct brought against him, finding no mitigating circumstances in his favor, but noting that aggravating factors were “numerous and substantial.”
Those factors, the panel said, included Tanella’s “complete abdication” of fiduciary duties, his “serial neglect” of legal matters, his “false testimony” to the grievance committee and his “deceiving” of clients and third parties. The factors also included his fabrication of court documents and his alleged participation, or at least “failure to extricate himself,” from an enterprise attempting to defraud insurance companies.
“The severe and gross violations committed by the respondent fully merit the Special Referee’s conclusion that the respondent is ‘morally corrupt and intellectually bankrupt,’” the panel wrote in Matter of Tanella, 2010-11445.
Tanella, a graduate of Quinnipiac University School of Law admitted to the bar in 2003 who says he suffers from cerebral palsy, represented himself before the panel. He could not be reached for comment.
The professional misconduct charges against him, filed in December 2010, included conduct involving “dishonesty, deceit, fraud and/or misrepresentation,” “false and/or misleading” testimony before the grievance committee, sharing of legal fees with non-attorneys, breach of fiduciary duty and failure to maintain bookkeeping records.
For example, Tanella allegedly told a client and the client’s mother that Allstate Insurance offered $140,000 to settle a personal injury suit he purportedly filed on behalf of the client. But no suit was filed and no settlement offer was made.
Tanella subsequently fabricated a civil court decision, which he gave to his client, that directed the company to pay the “agreed settlement.”
In another case, Tanella was retained by a client for a claim against a Long Island car dealership. About a year later, he allegedly told the client the matter “settled out of court” for $40,000, but Tanella never participated in settlement talks.
He wrote checks to the client reflecting his share of the settlement but the checks bounced.
Separately, Tanella entered an agreement with a business called Professional Billing Services. He moved his practice into the same building as Professional Billing, whose owners allegedly shared legal fees with Tanella. One owner, non-attorney Inna Lyubronetskaya, assumed “unsupervised” control of Tanella’s escrow and operating accounts.
The panel said that at the direction of the owners Tanella conducted no-fault litigation to recover payments on behalf of medical providers whose patients allegedly had been involved in auto accidents.
Under questioning from the grievance committee, Tanella said Lyubronetskaya was a “friend” who helped him “at his request” with tasks like preparing checks for Tanella’s signature.
In May 2011, Tanella was suspended from practice.
According to the suspension order, he admitted “wrongful conduct” and said disciplinary proceedings should proceed against him but he opposed interim suspension.
Tanella claimed he had been “deceived and taken advantage of by unscrupulous individuals.”
The suspension order continued, “Under the stress and trauma of having his law firm literally taken from him, he neglected his personal injury cases. He expresses extreme remorse, and asks only that the Court bear in mind his physical limitations inasmuch as he suffers from cerebral palsy.”
Following a January 2012 hearing, Special Referee Jerome Becker issued a report sustaining all the charges.
The grievance committee asked the Second Department to impose whatever punishment it deemed appropriate.
Tanella, however, asked the court to reject the report and grant a new hearing.
He claimed that on the day of his prior hearing, his request for adjournment was denied, thus depriving him of presenting character and medical evidence.
The panel was not swayed, noting Tanella and prior counsel “requested repeated adjournments and extensions of time both to answer the petition and hold the hearing.”
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.