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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman: Civil Rights Lawsuits, part 6: Employee Surveillance
In another memorable case I handled, the opposing lawyer not only gave his client bad advice, but made things a lot worse for him than they needed to be. My client, Patricia, worked at the United States Redemption Center, one of the many purchasing centers owned by U. S. Redemption, and she had discovered that some of her most intimate conversations there had been recorded because the phones were “bugged.” At the time, she was in the middle of a divorce and had a boyfriend, and one of her children was going to counseling. Patricia learned that her employers had listened to her conversations about all these matters and replayed the tapes to other persons to the amusement of all. It goes without saying that she felt her privacy had been violated and, as we stated in the formal complaint, that she had suffered extreme embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety and mental anguish.
We did an extensive investigation and discovered from former employees of the Redemption Center who had installed the bug how and where it was installed (in the ceiling). To my surprise, they admitted that they had heard the recordings and knew that had been repeatedly played for others. So we brought a lawsuit in federal court against U.S. Redemption Center, Inc. and the individual defendant, who ran the business (although we discovered that his wife was the nominal president and sole shareholder of his business). We alleged that the activities of the defendants were in violation of anti-bugging statutes contained in federal law and in New York State penal law, and constituted an invasion of privacy and defamation. Initially, the defendants were represented by an attorney (let’s call him “Attorney A”), but eventually he represented only the company while another attorney took over the representation of business owner as an individual.
Attorney A impressed me as quite bright but lacking common sense. It didn’t take a mental gymnast to realize that the charges in the summons and complaint could also lead to criminal charges in both the state and the federal courts. If I had been in his position, I would have rushed to make the best possible deal for my client and settled the matter as quickly as possible. Instead, Attorney A never cooperated, rarely returned a phone call, and referred to my client in the most derogatory manner, using just about every sort of epithet a “street guy” could think of. He had to have known I’d repeat this all to my client and, of course, she was furious. She wanted to go straight to the Nassau County District Attorney’s office to file a complaint alleging criminal violation of the anti-bugging laws of the State of New York. Up to that point, I had restrained her from doing this, but in light of the defendant’s attorney’s behavior I now made no attempt to stop her.
Meanwhile, nothing in the civil case went smoothly. Agreements and promises meant nothing. During depositions, the defendant produced invoices and other documentation purporting to show that my client could not have been wiretapped because she wasn’t in the Merrick store on the days in question. I told Attorney A to make sure to hold on to those documents because I wanted a documents expert to examine them; I suspected they were forgeries. Early the following week, Attorney A contacted me to tell me that he had gone to court in Brooklyn, parked his car in a municipal garage with the papers and documents in question in the trunk of his car, and returned to the car to discover them all missing. Frankly, I didn’t believe him, but since I had no proof to the contrary I commiserated with him. What followed was almost unbelievable and reflects the tone of the litigation and what I had to deal with. A few hours after this phone call, I received another call from a police sergeant in the Seventh Precinct in Seaford, who told me he had been contacted by Attorney A who had told the sergeant his tale of woe. Attorney A, he said, had hired a private polygraphy expert to confirm his tale, passed the polygraph, and then alleged that I was responsible for the theft of the papers! The sergeant now wanted me and my client to submit to polygraphs and give our statements in the matter. I told him we would do no such thing. There was no end to Attorney A’s perfidious surprises.
It was in the criminal case that my client had instituted that Attorney A’s behavior most damaged his client, who was caused to plead guilty to a class A misdemeanor in the Nassau County District Court and was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, which he served on weekends. I can say categorically that but for his attorney, the business owner would never have had to suffer the pain of incarceration.
The civil case finally came before federal Judge George C. Pratt, a distinguished-looking gentleman whose reputation was that you couldn’t just “jerk him around.” I knew that the law in this case was far from clear; there were few civil suits based on this criminal law, and I kept this in mind in negotiating a settlement. We agreed on the figure of $32,500, but like everything else in this case, this wasn’t the end of things. Unbeknown to me and Judge Pratt, the defendants (with the help of their attorney, I believed) had denuded themselves of any assets before the settlement by transferring title to their expensive waterfront home in Massapequa so as to try to keep it out of reach of the plaintiff. I therefore had to institute additional proceedings in the Nassau County Supreme Court to void that transfer. Eventually, we succeeded in securing the relief we sought, and my client collected the settlement monies.