Panel Censures Lawyer and His Debt Collection Firm

, New York Law Journal

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a gavel on top of debt paperwork

Abramson said that in his opinion, Cohen & Slamowitz's actions were "reasonable and proper" in the six cases. Abramson testified that the Cohen & Slamowitz employees could not assume that the denials of the persons identified to them as debtors were true and that the onus was on the debtors to establish that they did not owe money.

The appellate panel disagreed, finding the conduct by Cohen and Cohen & Slamowitz was "neither reasonable nor proper." In at least three of the six cases, the court said the law firm had information at its disposal that indicated it was going after the wrong people, yet the collection actions continued.

Cohen's lawyer, Chris McDonough of McDonough & McDonough in Garden City, said his client is "very disappointed" in the ruling.

Chiefly, McDonough said, "the decision sets a dangerous precedent in that the Court rejected the expert testimony and seems to have adopted the position that a lawyer collecting a debt has an enhanced duty to the debtor, which is contrary to the FDCPA [Federal Debt Collection Practices Act] and which dilutes the lawyer's obligation of zealous advocacy to the client."

McDonough said he also could not understand how the court "could reject the finding of the Referee in deciding that minor errors involving five collection matters over a three year period was a 'pattern' of misconduct; when the evidence at the hearing demonstrated that the firm successfully and ethically handled many thousands of cases each year during that time period."

Staff attorney Leslie Anderson argued for the grievance committee.

Cohen & Slamowitz also was criticized by Western District Chief Judge William Skretny (See Profile) for seeking to add $140 in court costs to a consumer's credit card arrears. Skretny said the claim by Cohen & Slamowitz and Midland Funding was contrary to the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act and "borders on the frivolous" (NYLJ, Jan. 16).

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