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Activist to seek disbarment of pension-taking lawyers

Education advocate George Deabold is filing a complaint

Education advocate George Deabold is filing a complaint with the state grievance committee that seeks to get three private lawyers who took public pensions disbarred. (Jan. 7, 2010) Credit: Mahala Gaylord

Nearly two years after a pension scandal broke and led to sweeping state legislative reforms, an education advocate expects to file papers Friday seeking disbarment for three private lawyers who secured public pensions.

George Deabold of East Islip, who founded the nonprofit watchdog group SchoolWatch, said Thursday he would file a complaint with the state Grievance Committee, a court-appointed group that investigates complaints against lawyers. He is asking the committee to take action against Lawrence Reich, Carol Hoffman and Jerome Ehrlich.

All three were among scores of attorneys investigated by both state and federal authorities after Newsday exposed the practice of private attorneys' securing public pensions by being reported as public employees, even though they were simultaneously paid as outside contractors.

Lawyers for Reich and Ehrlich declined to comment yesterday. Hoffman's lawyer, Kevin Keating of Garden City, said, "Any complaint would be utterly frivolous. This matter was closed some time ago."

After an investigation by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo in 2008, both Reich and Hoffman agreed to forfeit pension credits they earned after being improperly reported as employees of multiple school districts. They also paid a total of about $290,000 to the state.

In a separate investigation the same year, New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli revoked Ehrlich's $34,029 pension, then restored it after a court ruling found Ehrlich had been denied due process. But the comptroller has vowed to revoke it again.

Deabold said he was filing the complaint because he thought the lawyers deserved more severe punishment.

Keating pointed out that the Grievance Committee can begin its own investigations based on news articles. "This has been a matter of public record, and the Grievance Committee has correctly initiated no action," he said.

In his complaint, Deabold said the lawyers violated their Rules of Professional Conduct, legal standards set by the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court, by committing fraud. He also attached articles quoting Cuomo characterizing the lawyers' actions as fraud.

In addition, Deabold said he plans to call Cuomo, DiNapoli and former Nassau County Comptroller Howard Weitzman as witnesses.

The Grievance Committee has 20 members, some of them attorneys, who volunteer to review complaints. If it finds a violation, the committee may trigger a judicial hearing and call witnesses. However, the proceedings are confidential, according to the Appellate Division Web site.

Findings of minor violations are sealed. Only findings related to censure, suspension or disbarment are public.

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