NY Lawyer Bests His Suspended Dad in "Greek Tragedy" Courtroom Showdown
The New York Law Journal by Andrew Keshner - December 23, 2010
In what a Long Island judge said was "at its bitter core, a Greek tragedy," the son, who is a former associate of a suspended attorney, has convinced the court that his father is not entitled to $2,600 in unpaid rent from a subtenant who is now the son's partner. The suspended lawyer, Sheldon M. Krupnick, of Garden City, said in an interview after an unusual five-day small claims trial that he had not expected his son, Kevin P. Krupnick, to stand up against him in court, but noted that there had been previous problems between him and his son, whom he did not hesitate to call as an adverse witness. "Hannibal Lecter has a more paternal relationship with Clarice Starling than I have with Sheldon," acknowledged the son, who said he has been regarded as the "black sheep" by his father since his parents' divorce in the 1980s. District Court Judge Gary F. Knobel in Nassau County dismissed the elder Mr. Krupnick's pro se claims against his son's partner and client Jennifer Drossman in Krupnick v. Drossman, SC 02938-2009. He held that Ms. Drossman's agreement to pay rent had been with Sheldon Krupnick's now-inactive firm, and he could not sue her as an individual. The Appellate Division, Second Department, last year suspended the elder Mr. Krupnick for five years, effective July 30, 2009, finding that he had completed a blank deed signed seven years before, without the knowledge or consent of the signer, by notarizing the document and delivering it to an individual Mr. Krupnick knew was involved in litigation surrounding the deed. "Although the respondent's misconduct emanates from a single incident, it displays gross misjudgment," the appellate court noted in Matter of Krupnick, 65 AD 3d 291. The ruling also noted Mr. Krupnick had an "extensive disciplinary history," which included five letters of admonition and four letters of caution between 1981 and 2004. Ms. Drossman, who had worked as an associate for Sheldon Krupnick from 1998 to 2000, had been sharing space in his Mineola office since June 2006, paying $1,300 a month in rent. Kevin Krupnick had been an associate with his father until November 2008, when he started his own practice at the office. "It wasn't always bad, it just got bad at the end," Ms. Drossman said in an interview of her relationship with Sheldon Krupnick. After Mr. Krupnick was suspended, he continued to come to the office and Ms. Drossman became concerned that she and Kevin could be held liable if the father engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, according to the decision. So she and Kevin moved out. Ms. Drossman said she paid Mr. Krupnick $2,600 in rent for August and September, all in a credit for legal work Kevin had done for his father. Doreen Krupnick, Sheldon's ex-wife and Kevin's mother, testified at the trial that she had arranged a meeting among the parties in which an oral agreement had been reached. Sheldon Krupnick disputes that. Tensions came to a head during a Sept. 17 incident in the office parking lot. As Ms. Drossman and Kevin were packing up files and preparing to move, Sheldon Krupnick came to the office and allegedly attempted to remove files. Ms. Drossman contacted the police and Adrienne Flipse Hausch, a Mineola attorney who is a member of the Second Department's committee on character and fitness. Ms. Hausch, who testified at the small claims trial, instructed police to prevent the father from taking the files, and he left without them.The elder Mr. Krupnick denied in an interview that he had been practicing law, saying that he was not meeting clients or going to court. Rather, he said the files were needed for the arbitration of fees, in previous cases, including one for which he was owed more than $28,000. "All I was doing at the office was getting stuff out of there," he said. Ms. Drossman and the son packed up the rest of their offices that day and worked from their homes before renting space for their Drossman-Krupnick Legal Group in Glen Cove. Sheldon Krupnick sued for back rent.Judge Knobel ruled that the father did not have the standing to bring the suit. "The right to enforce the oral sublease belongs to the plaintiff's former law firm, The Law Offices of Sheldon Martin Krupnick, P.C., since that entity entered into a lease with the landlord for the use of the Suite," the judge held. "The plaintiff acted on behalf of that professional services corporation and could not sublease what he, as an individual, did not lease. In an interview, Mr. Krupnick said he thought the decision would allow him to sue Ms. Drossman again under a corporate name, but did not know if he would appeal. "It doesn't seem monetarily worthwhile," he said. In any case, the elder Mr. Krupnick said his firm no longer exists because he retired after he was suspended. He said he is now working on his real estate investments and does not know if he will resume practice once his suspension is complete. Kevin Krupnick said that the ruling was "appropriate." He added that he had had no problem facing off against his father. "It would have been more difficult for me not [to take the case]. I felt there was a duty there to protect [Ms. Drossman]," he said. "There was a duty to protect the lamb from the wolf." The judge said he would send a record of the proceedings to disciplinary authorities. "Though the amounts sought in damages are small, the claims asserted in this action are by no means 'small' in terms of the seriousness of the legal and ethical allegations," he wrote. Andrew Keshner can be contacted at email@example.com.