In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan state court, a legal assistant who worked for a firm founded by a previously incarcerated man whose 17-year quest to practice law in New York attracted headlines alleges that he failed to protect her from sexual harassment by a male associate.
Mariella Tumminello alleges that Neal Wiesner of the Wiesner Law Firm, who spent six years in prison in the 1980s for attempted murder and taking part in an illegal drug distribution scheme and who obtained his J.D. from the City University of New York School of Law in 1994, retaliated against her when she came forward to complain about continued sexual advances by Randall Hirsch, an associate with the firm and also a named defendant in the suit.
Specifically, Tumminello says that Wiesner forced her to work on a Thanksgiving holiday and threatened her with termination for complaining about sexual advances by Hirsch, who Tumminello alleges subjected her to a “dramatic” incident in which he used her phone with his pants pulled down so that she could see his genitalia through his underwear.
Wiesner answered a call from the Law Journal on Wednesday afternoon.
“I’m sorry, I’ll have my attorney call you,” he said after a reporter identified himself, hanging up before taking any questions or identifying his attorney. Hirsch did not respond to a request for comment.
According to court papers, Tumminello, who is bringing claims under both the New York State and New York City human rights laws, resigned from the firm in November 2017. She is represented by Kelly O’Connell, a Miami-based attorney with the Derek Smith Law Group.
Wiesner lived a troubled life in the years before he went to prison, according to court papers and a 2012 Law Journal article chronicling his struggle to get admitted to practice in New York.
He began using drugs at age 12, dropped out of school at 16 and, in the early 1980s, began running fraudulent “sleep clinics” as fronts to sell Quaaludes that proved to be financially successful.
But things soon began to fall apart for Wiesner as federal authorities began to close in on him, a panel for the Appellate Division, First Department wrote in its 2012 order to allow Wiesner to practice in New York.
In a July 1983 incident, the panel said, he held his estranged girlfriend in her apartment at gunpoint and, as she tried to escape through a second-story window, he fired several shots at her but didn’t hit her.
In 1985, he pleaded guilty in a state court on Staten Island to second-degree attempted murder, first-degree murder and other charges and was given a 12 1/2 to 25-year prison sentence. Later, he pleaded guilty to drug possession and conspiracy charges in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York for the Quaaludes scheme.
But in 1989, U.S. District Judge Raymond Dearie of the Eastern District of New York granted Wiesner’s habeas corpus petition on the grounds that he had been denied his right to represent himself in the Staten Island case and was instead given assigned counsel, and he was released in 1990.
Wiesner was admitted to practice in state and federal courts in New Jersey in 2005 and, in the years to follow, was eventually admitted to practice in New York’s four federal district courts. However, he was denied entry into the New York bar nine times based on his past crimes before the First Department ruled, by a split decision, to grant him admission, citing the passage of time since his offenses and his clean disciplinary record in other jurisdictions.