Trusting Emanuel Roy and Peter Mayas, A Bad Idea

For those who care to debate the heady question of whether law is a business or profession, of the merit of non-lawyer, who have neither an ethical duty nor fiduciary relationship, ownership, meet Emanuel Roy and Peter Mayas.  They’re lawyers, but of the sort that follows the business path rather than the profession path for which I often advocate.

From the Sun-Sentinel, via Walter Olson at Overlawyered:

Patrick Coulton’s lawyers ripped him off to the tune of $275,000 and left him to rot in prison.

The bizarre legal soap opera began in March 2008 when Coulton was arrested on federal drug and money-laundering charges for smuggling cocaine and marijuana.

His family hired Roy, who was a lawyer in New York and Florida at the time, and Roy brought his friend, Mayas, a Plantation attorney, on board too.

There’s no indication how Coulton found Roy, or why he decided to use a New York lawyer to represent him in a south Florida case. In the absence of a good reason, it’s generally a bad idea.

Coulton admitted responsibility, cooperated and pleaded guilty within two months of his arrest. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison with the understanding that prosecutors would later recommend his punishment would be reduced as part of his plea agreement.

He never heard from Roy and Mayas again and when prosecutors tried to give him the promised break, they couldn’t get the lawyers to respond either, court records show.

For those who assume that the only out in a federal prosecution is to become a rat, read the quote again.  Coulton flipped almost immediately (and it took an out-of-state lawyer to accomplish that?) and was sentenced to 14 years. Then his lawyers disappeared.

A new lawyer, Paul Petruzzi, came in to straighten out the mess, and had Coulton’s sentence reduced by half (so he got a mere 7 years for snitching), and went after Roy and Mayas to boot,

U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff called the misconduct

“disgusting, abhorrent” and the “most outrageous” he’d seen in 25 years on the bench, the judge wrote. He said they lied in court, hid their assets and wasted everybody’s time.

The good news is that Roy was arrested and returned to Miami to answer to the court, and Judge Joan Lenard held that every dime taken from Coulton had to be returned. This somehow resulted in Coulton living in the lawyer’s (which lawyer is left unsaid) house in Miramar, apparently because they lack the funds to repay what they took from Coulton.

So, dear law-is-just-another-ordinary-business believers, is this cool with you?  As Petruzzi said, “Guys like them are the reason people hate lawyers.” Well, one of the reasons, anyway.

While law, like any endeavor that involves making a living, has its business aspects, it is not a business.  If it was a business, then guys like Roy and Mayas might be justified in negotiating as good a deal for them as possible. Why not? It’s just business, right?

But that’s not what we do, or should do. Lawyers hold a position of trust with regard to our clients, and the violation of that trust is an outrage. And it should be.

While the future-of-law-ists argue that if law was released from its ethical shackles, the world would be wonderful for everyone, they assume that lawyers are all inherently paragons of virtue.  Worse still, they believe that non-lawyers, the ones already engaged in the Unauthorized Practice of Law, will be paragons as well. Because, you know, if they’re already committing a crime, they can definitely be trusted otherwise.

This inexplicably rosy vision defies the reality facing anyone who believes he can put his trust in a lawyer.  Some of those who already hold a license have no qualms about cheating and neglecting their clients, while there are disciplinary rules in place.  And this will be better without the ethical rules that old lawyers use as “weapons against young lawyers“?

It cannot be overstated that lawyers are in a unique position to steal.  Clients trust us. Clients believe what we tell them, and place their lives and fortunes in our hands. Yes, not all, but most. And every one of them is entitled to place their trust in us. It is our duty to respect that trust by putting the client’s interest ahead of our own.

We have rules to provide a minimal floor below which we are not permitted to go so that we do not violate that trust.  The ethical lawyer never comes close to that floor, that minimum, because he understands the obligation toward clients he undertook when he swore his oath.

The law is not merely a business, despite what lawyers like Roy and Mayas did and what others who dream of similar success may choose to believe.  Whenever someone cries that our ethical boundaries are harshing their fabulous business plans, forcing them to behave in a way that puts clients’ interests above their own, think about whether your future plans are to be more like Roy and Mayas, or Petruzzi.

And take good care of your home in Miramar, so it’s a warm and welcoming place when you are forced to hand it over to the client you screwed when your business model didn’t prove to be as great as you thought it was.

7 comments on “Trusting Emanuel Roy and Peter Mayas, A Bad Idea

  1. Fubar

    All I can say is “Amen!” And I’m not even particularly religious.

    Part of the business model you presented here seems to involve nocturnal aviation. If only the FAA could whack ‘em for that too.

    1. SHG Post author

      Want to bet the “future of law is business” crowd avoids this like the plague? It’s just not happy enough for them.

      1. Fubar

        If the “future of law is business” crowd wants happy, a good first rule of business would be “Do not lie and hide assets from Happy Fun Judge.”

        Icing on the cake: in addition to repaying fees to Coulton, Judge Lenard also ordered Roy and Mayas to pay about $100K to Petruzzi for his four years’ work on Coulton’s case. That was apparently sua sponte with at least some objection by Petruzzi, who really deserves a medal for it.

        So, aside from execrably criminal legal ethics, the duo also engaged in remarkably bad business risk analysis.

  2. Charlesmorrison

    That is quite the impressive business model: almost three hundred grand for a shitty plea deal. Admittedly, I’m not sure how much work it took to get the original deal worked out, but the linked sun sentinel article says the judge estimated the total legal fees should have come in under 50k. Now, how long the prosecutors wanted to talk is not mentioned, but I imagine there was enough of the retainer left to a least find out what’s going on. Perhaps there was even enough left for a court appearance or two.

    Also, as to your point re: UAPL, the article says neither scumbag was even admitted to practice in that federal court! How could they even believe this would end well is beyond me.

    CDL 1: “Hey, remember that guy we represented in a court we weren’t licensed for? Yeah, the state’s leaving messages that they’re going to reduce his sentence, should I take the call?”

    CDL 2: “nah, I’m sure it will work itself out.”

    They must have never intended to practice again?

    1. SHG Post author

      They flipped him within two months. I struggle to figure out where the $50k comes from. Five phone calls and three meetings tops.

      1. Charlesmorrison

        I wondered the same thing. Then again, a young lawyer in flyover country doesn’t command the big bucks you seasoned guys do in NY and Miami…

        In all seriousness, I assumed (probably incorrectly) that his cooperation required his testimony in another case, which could have taken several days of these idiots’ time as, ostensibly, they should be there to ensure the government isn’t unjustified in claiming breach. That may have explained a good potion of the fees? Or, maybe the judge came from the corporate world where fees thirty years ago ran wild, as I understand it.

        1. SHG Post author

          It’s not totally outside the realm of possibility, but even amongst NY and Miami lawyers, that would be steep on a quantum meruit basis to flip a defendant in two months.

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