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.
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.