Herzfeld & Rubin has brought a lawsuit against a client’s son whom the firm claims is attempting to extort money and is defaming the firm through online postings.
Herzfeld & Rubin claims that Joel Leyden has "illegally appropriated" the law firm’s name by registering a website with a domain name nearly identical to its own and posting fictitious news articles on other sites claiming the firm is accused of malpractice and has taken $80,000 in legal fees from a trust account. One of Joel’s postings says the firm bullies and coerces like a mobster.
"There is no malpractice and no case of malpractice," the firm says in Herzfeld & Rubin v. Leyden, 154004/2012. "It is not plaintiff but Joel who is depleting the Trust by his repeated frivolous proceedings. Herzfeld & Rubin has not taken over $80,000 from the Trust. …It is Joel who files the frivolous claims and marches to Court. They do not bully, intimidate or coerce or act like Tony Soprano."
Herbert Rubin, a founding member of the law firm, said in an interview that he has never dealt with a situation like this.
"We felt we had no alternative but to bring this action," in order to stop the attacks on the trustee and the firm, Rubin said. "He’s acting in an irresponsible fashion and you can either ignore or try to stop further irresponsible action."
Herzfeld & Rubin, a 60-attorney firm with a wide range of practice areas, such as litigation, real estate and trusts and estates, is seeking an injunction barring any material on any domain names that refer to the firm and requiring that Joel turn over "the illicit domain names." The firm is also asking for $1 million in damages for defamation, domain name cybersquatting and misappropriation of name and tortious interference.
Meanwhile, Joel, who is not yet represented in the Herzfeld suit, claimed in an interview that the litigation is a form of "pure intimidation" and his online postings are protected speech.
He said Herzfeld & Rubin was trying to intimidate him because it does not want to be criticized. "There is no slander, there is no libel, there is no mistruth. Herzfeld & Rubin is trying to censor this," he said.
The dispute stems from Herzfeld’s representation of Leyden’s father, Bernard Leyden. The firm prepared a will for Bernard, who died in January 2009, which designated Bernard’s other son, Brian Leyden, as the trustee of a trust for Joel.
The firm says it represented Brian in his capacity as executor of the estate and as trustee, but has never represented Joel. The trust was established because the father did not have confidence in Joel’s ability to manage funds, according to the firm’s court papers.
About two years ago, Joel left Israel for the United States, contacted Brian and requested payments from the trust. After Brian determined these were unwarranted requests, Joel brought three separate proceedings in Manhattan Surrogate Court to obtain money from the trust and each time, the court dismissed the proceedings, the lawsuit says.
One Surrogate Court in Estate of Bernard Leyden, (0481/09), found: "Petitioner has demonstrated a pattern of filing unmeritorious applications in his attempts to force distributions from the trust, resulting in a decision of this court dated July 28, 2011, prohibiting him from making further applications for distributions without prior consent of the court."
Joel most recently filed an action in the Bronx Supreme Court against his brother "repeating the same issues which were rejected" in the Surrogate Court, Herzfeld’s suit says. Joel’s attorney in the Bronx case, Michael Lippman, said in an interview that Joel is seeking $25,000 from the trust for child support and another $14,000 for living expenses.
Lippman says the trust holds about $400,000. He added the $39,000 would go directly to an attorney in Israel, and not Joel, to pay for expenses. The parties are awaiting the court’s decision, he said.
Herzfeld & Rubin alleges that having failed in court, Joel "intensified his campaign of non-judicial tactics to try by false, malicious, distorted and defamatory attacks on plaintiff and his brother Brian" to gain money from the trust.
Herzfeld lists seven websites where it claims Joel has posted false news articles about the firm, written by him under fictitious names.
The firm says its professional reputation and status have been damaged. Prospective clients have been diverted "to the illicit domain names," and "have been deterred from entering into relations with plaintiff," the suit claims.
The firm says that before it filed suit, it demanded that Joel "desist from posting false and derogatory information, and either discontinue the illicit domain names or transfer same to plaintiff." Herzfeld said that Joel’s response was to demand $100,000 to purchase the nearly identical domain name.
"His objective is to pressure (Herzfeld & Rubin) to advise Brian to pay him moneys from the trust and to extort and extract moneys from Plaintiff by forcing a coerced sale if his demands are not met," the suit adds.
A May 5 posting on the website titled "Israel News Agency" says an Israeli-American, called "Daniel," has accused Herzfeld & Rubin of malpractice. Joel’s biographical website says he serves as publisher for the Israel News Agency.
"Instead of acting to ensure my well-being and protection as the Trust stipulates, in accordance to the wishes of my late father, [Herzfeld & Rubin has] chosen to fight me, and are depleting my Trust to fund the brutal and unnecessary legal battles they are waging against me and my children in the New York Courts," the May 5 posting says.
Joel said in an interview that he is speaking to attorneys and preparing a malpractice suit.
His online biography also says he has years of experience in international public relations, public affairs, journalism, social media and Internet marketing. The biography says he has served as a media consultant for several Israeli government offices and U.S. politicians.
Joel, in an interview, said he is 59 and will not have access to the trust until he turns 65.
"I haven’t seen the [law firm's] lawsuit but it doesn’t surprise me because Herzfeld & Rubin has been acting more like a bunch of thugs than like civilized attorneys. And attorneys hired, retained by my father, to protect me [and my family]—something they have completely failed to do," Joel said.
"Anybody can buy any domain name they wish," he said. "Everything we have done has been done in good faith. It has been done under what is known as fair use and me and my attorney will not be intimidated by Herzfeld & Rubin."
He said he never asked the firm for money over the domain name. "I wasn’t extorting or trying to blackmail anybody," he said.
Joel said he is facing a number of problems, including a heart condition and lack of financial resources. He said he may soon live in a shelter, even though, he added, the trust provides for his well being. He is currently living with friends in New York, he said.
@ | Christine Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.