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Saturday, May 22, 2004

New York Daily News - Home - Immigs rail-rudded

New York Daily News - Home - Immigs rail-rudded

Immigs rail-rudded

Subway ads law firm ripped in court

By HELEN PETERSON
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

Maybe this law firm should change its number to 1-800-NASTY.
The Manhattan firm, Wilens and Baker, and its name partner, Lawrence Wilens, deserve public censure for being rude to clients and neglecting their cases, according to an appeals court.

Wilens and Baker is the firm behind the subway ads imploring passengers to phone 1-800-DIVORCE, 1-800-BANKRUPT and 1-800-IMMIGRATION for legal help.

The five-judge panel of the Appellate Division on Thursday rejected the firm's plea for a private reprimand after it admitted 19 violations of New York's Code of Professional Responsibility. Wilens himself admitted to eight code violations. The censure is the equivalent of a public scolding.

Most of the bad behavior, which occurred between 1998 and 2002, was directed at low-income undocumented immigrants who did not speak English. When they asked about their cases, they were met with demands for money and denied information until payment was made, according to court papers. If they could not pay, they were often yelled at and ordered to leave.

In one case, Wilens followed the wife of a client to an elevator and yelled at her even though she was with her three children, according to the New York Law Journal.

The Law Journal also reported that Wilens called one client an "animal" and made an obscene gesture at him, and derogatorily suggested that a man seeking help for his wife was a homosexual.

The court held that "it would be particularly inappropriate to impose private discipline against an attorney or law firm that engages in a pattern of misconduct involving rude and discourteous behavior to clients - conduct that strikes at the very heart of a lawyer's or law firm's relationship to the public."

In asking for private censure, a lawyer for the firm noted that Wilens had completed an anger-management therapy program, apologized to his wronged clients and reimbursed their fees, and instituted significant changes aimed at improving behavior throughout the firm.

In a statement yesterday, the firm said it regrets "these incidents and, from appointing staff dedicated solely to client relations, to sensitivity training, we're doing everything we can to provide the highest quality service to our clients."



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