Maive Rita Giovati first registered as an attorney with the Office of Court Administration in 1987, when she was admitted to the state bar.
For the next 28 years, while continuing to practice law in New York City during much of that time, she never did her biennial registration again. She never paid her registration fees again. She never met the requirement of updating her residential and business addresses either, according to a joint affirmation that she recently submitted, along with a First Department Attorney Grievance Committee, to an appellate panel considering what discipline she should face now, at age 66.
In the middle of the 28-year stretch—in 1998—the First Department suspended Giovati as part of a mass suspension targeting lawyers who had failed to file registration statements and pay biennial fees.
But she kept holding herself out as an attorney anyway, working for 15 years as an arbitrator for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and for more than a year as an arbitrator for New York Stock Exchange, and dishing out legal advice to pro bono clients who’d come to the city bar association on Monday nights looking for help.
Giovati says in the submitted affirmation that she never received OCA registration forms, or notices or calls from OCA advising her of delinquencies and that she simply never learned of her 1998 suspension until late 2014, according to an Appellate Division, First Department panel that cites parts of the joint affirmation.
On Tuesday, in a lengthy opinion that listed many admitted facts, conditional admissions of professional misconduct and aggravating and mitigating factors, that same First Department panel suspended Giovati from practicing law in New York State for five years, although the suspension is retroactive to September 2015. When the suspension ends in 2020, she can apply to be reinstated to the bar.
The decision appears to bring to a conclusion one of the more bizarre attorney discipline matters to come before the First Department in years.
Giovati, who has represented herself pro se in the disciplinary matter, had been seeking reinstatement to the bar since at least 2015, the panel’s decision said. She was trying to get her 1998 suspension lifted.
At one point during her effort—in 2016—the grievance committee moved for her immediate disbarment based on her alleged unauthorized practice of law in violation of the 1998 suspension, the panel noted. But the First Department denied that motion in February 2018. Then in June 2018, the committee filed 11 disciplinary charges against Giovati, and in her answer she admitted to four of them but contended her misconduct was due to unintentional error.
In a statement sent to the Law Journal on Thursday, OCA noted that “if one of the agencies where this individual [Giovati] was working at the time [after her suspension] had taken the step of requiring her to produce a certificate of good standing or even looked at her public records readily available on our directory—it would have been abundantly clear that she had been suspended since 1998.”
The organization, which is responsible for overseeing the courts and New York attorney registration, further pointed out that “each year over 100,000 attorneys from all around the world manage to file their registrations in a timely manner. It is the attorney’s responsibility to maintain a current address or email address so that we can provide notice.”
Giovati, meanwhile, said in her own statement sent Thursday afternoon to the Law Journal that “I have stated my case to the [Grievance] Committee. I was not aware of my suspension. I was never notified by telephone or mail.”
She added that “the committee was relentless in accusing me of misrepresenting myself and claiming I was practicing as an attorney, knowing of my suspension. I told them consistently that I never received any registration forms and have since paid all outstanding fees with the exception of 2017-2018 due to financial inability.”
She said in a separate phone interview on Thursday that she moved from apartment sublet to apartment sublet in Manhattan for many years, and often didn’t get all her mail.
“I didn’t mistreat my clients and am not a criminal,” she also said, before adding that in 2014 her teenage son discovered online that she was not in good standing with the bar, and that it shocked her and she soon took action.
“I made mistakes but never intended to deceive or fraudulently claim that I was an attorney in good standing,” she also said in her email, signing it with the name she uses now, Maive Giovati-Dale.
She concluded, “I am looking forward to working towards and finally being reinstated in 2020.”
In its opinion, the panel, while again citing the agreed-to affirmation and facts, further pointed out that Giovati also ”admits that she made false statements to the courts, OCA, and the AGC.”
“In May 2015, respondent [Giovati] submitted an affidavit to the [Appellate Division,] Second Department to change the name under which she practices law in which she falsely stated that she was in good standing at the bar and not suspended from practice,” the panel said, pointing to the affirmation. It then added that “[Giovati] asserts that her claim of good standing was done by mistake, which she tried to correct by contacting the Second Department upon learning of her error.”
Continuing, it said that “on May 28, 2015, two days after she executed this false affidavit, [Giovati] registered with OCA, paid delinquent fees for 1987-1989 and 2011-2016, but falsely certified that she was retired under 22 NYCRR 118.1(g) from 1991 through 2010 (during which period respondent was employed as an Arbitration Counsel with the NYSE [2004-2006]) and, therefore, was exempt from paying registration fees for this period. [Giovati] asserts that she certified as retired for the aforementioned period because she received erroneous information from court personnel, but upon learning of the error she rescinded her retirement claim and paid the fees due.”
Later in the decision, while laying out various agreed-to mitigating factors in supporting Giovati’s reinstatement, the panel wrote that she “has been unable to work in the legal field for the last three years; and her financial situation is dire and it is necessary for her to [do legal] work and support her family.”
Moreover, it noted that “she has Multiple Sclerosis and is a cancer survivor, she has been cancer free for 18 months, and the procedures connected to her cancer diagnosis continue.”
Then near the close of its unanimous decision on Tuesday, the panel of Justices Judith Gische, Troy Webber, Jeffery Oing, Anil Singh and Peter Moulton, again citing mitigating factors, wrote that “the parties assert that while this Court has generally disbarred attorneys who engage in the unauthorized practice of law in violation of a disciplinary suspension order, there are no cases directly on point involving an attorney disbarred for violating a suspension order based on failure to register.”
The justices also added that the parties, Giovati and the grievance committee, “assert further that in cases involving intentional misrepresentations to courts, the sanction has ranged from suspensions of varying length to disbarment, depending on the particulars of the misconduct and the aggravation and mitigation presented and they reiterate their position that a five-year suspension retroactive to September 21, 2015 is the appropriate sanction herein.”
The First Department’s Grievance Committee declined to comment on Thursday.