Failure to Support Change of Venue Request Results in Sanctions

, New York Law Journal

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Justice McCarthy

ALBANY - Sanctions against a law firm for seeking a change in venue in two Workers' Compensation cases based on a non-existent statute have been upheld by an appellate court.

The Workers' Compensation Board sanctioned Rella & Associates of Sleepy Hollow after the firm's clients asked in June 2012 that their cases be heard in Westchester County instead of New York City, where they both lived and were allegedly injured.

The requests came about three weeks after the firm was warned in another matter that its request to have a hearing held in Westchester County was based on faulty grounds.

The Appellate Division, Third Department rulings on Dec. 19 affirmed a total of $1,000 in sanctions—$500 in counsel fees in each case.

Gerarda Rella, a partner in Rella & Associates, said her firm has appeals pending before the Third Department in 15 other cases in which it faces a total of $17,000 in sanctions from the Workers' Compensation Board related to change in venue requests.

Rella said Wednesday her clients prefer to have cases heard in Westchester County because the process is faster in White Plains than in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Claims that typically take 12 to 14 months in Westchester County take 18 to 24 months, on average, to be resolved in New York City, she said.

"The Workers' Compensation Board has a certain agenda that they are attempting to institute, including economic duress on practicing attorneys by penalizing an attorney for a claimant's preference" about where to hear cases, Rella said. "It is clear to us that we are being targeted."

She said that in light of the two appellate rulings, she is likely to withdraw her firm's pending appeals of sanctions. Instead, she said her outside counsel is preparing to file an Article 78 proceeding in Albany Supreme Court challenging the board's $5,000 reduction in attorney fees in a case successfully argued by her firm.

The Article 78 would encompass a challenge to all board decisions that Rella & Associates says have been designed to punish it in the past 24 months for counseling clients to have cases heard in Westchester County, Rella said.

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