Credit: Roman Seliutin/Shutterstock.com Credit: Roman Seliutin/Shutterstock.com

A veteran Bronx lawyer has been disbarred after being accused of misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars in client estate funds for his own use and then failing to respond to Attorney Grievance Committee investigatory requests for at least a year.

Joram Jehudah Aris, who according to an Avvo webpage has practiced in wills and living wills, real estate and nursing home abuse cases, among other areas, has had his name stricken from the rolls of attorneys, effective Jan. 29, by order of a unanimous Appellate Division, First Department, panel.

Aris, admitted to the state bar in 1979, had already been immediately suspended from practicing law on May 10, 2018, by the same First Department panel, after both failing to provide records and documents “repeatedly requested” by the First Department’s grievance committee and failing to “provide an explanation regarding the many questionable expenditures from the estate accounts,” the panel wrote last May.

In the course of battling that potential suspension, Aris had argued at the time, in part, that he would be retiring in February 2018 and thus had suggested, according to the panel’s May decision, that it wasn’t necessary to suspend him.

Meanwhile, the grievance committee had contended that Aris’ “self-proclaimed retirement on February 10, 2018, does not relieve him of his obligation to cooperate, and he remains a New York lawyer until such time as this Court orders his suspension or disbarment,” the panel further noted last May, before it suspended Aris in its May decision and order.

Last Thursday, the panel disbarred Aris. It wrote that “inasmuch as more than six months have elapsed since this Court’s May 10, 2018 suspension order, and respondent has neither responded to, nor appeared for, further investigatory or disciplinary proceedings, the Committee’s motion for an order disbarring respondent pursuant to 22 NYCRR 1240.9(b) should be granted,” citing Matter of Pomerantz, 166 A.D.3d 26, and Matter of Freidman, 162 A.D.3d 14.

According to the panel’s decision, the grievance committee had alleged that Aris failed to comply with demands to produce bank and tax records for the estates of three deceased clients, and that he failed to respond to questions regarding his alleged repeated violations of fiduciary obligations as co-administrator of one of the estates by misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars for his own personal purposes, tens of thousands of which passed through his attorney trust account.

The justices added that “interim suspension [of Aris] was also sought based upon uncontroverted evidence of professional misconduct, including bank records, which demonstrated specific instances of his conversion of estate funds.”

Aris, who was said to be age 65 in the May 2018 decision, could not be reached for comment following the court’s Jan. 31 decision. He is listed in two panel’s decisions as having represented himself pro se.

According to the panel’s May 2018 suspension decision, the grievance committee at one point submitted a supplemental affirmation arguing that it had “uncontroverted evidence in the form of detailed letters to respondent, and bank records from one of the estate accounts and from respondent’s attorney trust account, showing that he ‘repeatedly and flagrantly used estate funds for his own personal purposes over the course of five years,’ with the total amount of misappropriation of funds from one estate alone exceeding $500,000.”

Moreover, the panel, in recounting other grievance committee allegations, pointed out that on Jan. 9, 2018, the committee had allegedly “obtained partial bank records for one of the estate accounts which had been subpoenaed from the bank,” and “upon review, the Committee has questions about the legitimacy of $484,662 in expenditures from this estate account that appeared to be completely unrelated to the estate but rather related to the respondent’s personal finances.”

The panel, in further recounting committee allegations, also wrote that “the Committee sets forth ‘the most troubling examples’: respondent paid more than $44,000 for one son’s university tuition and fees; $9,969 to his psychotherapist for therapy sessions; $82,593 to the IRS and $29,110 to New York State for his own personal tax bills; over $45,000 for various credit card bills; and $174,425 directly to himself.”

The panel’s recounting of grievance committee allegations continued, “Subsequently, the Committee discovered three additional checks respondent had drafted on one of the estate accounts indicating further misappropriation of estate funds. Together, these three checks raise the total amount respondent misappropriated from the estate account to $510,292.39.”