Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Lawyer Sanctioned After Blowing Up at Process Server

Henry Gottlieb
New Jersey Law Journal
May 4, 2007
When a lawyer is served with a malpractice suit, throwing the complaint on the floor, ejecting the process server for trespassing and yelling "call 911" are possible responses.

But they're wrong, a Mercer County, N.J., judge says in a $403 sanction order against Robert Conroy, one of the state's leading health care lawyers.

Conroy was in his Bridgewater office on March 20, when Guaranteed Subpoena Service Inc. sent a representative to serve a malpractice suit by a doctor Conroy had represented in a complicated transaction.

But Guaranteed reported back to the plaintiff's lawyer: "Not served! Entity was evading service. Threw service at server, stating he was trespassing and would be arrested if he didn't leave."

Conroy says that's not what happened. He says the firm accepted service at the reception desk but the server barged his way into private areas of the office, like a dangerous intruder.

Even so, Superior Court Judge Paul Koenig Jr. found Conroy at fault and called the conduct, "ill-advised, unlawyerlike, and in my opinion, even outrageous."

"He chose to intimidate the process server, someone who works, you know, in close connection with the attorneys to serve court process and court papers," the judge said in an April 11 ruling. "Any attorney should not take such a position, however unhappy he is with the circumstances."

"He's a licensed attorney," the judge continued. "He has an obligation to act professionally. Throwing documents -- throwing court documents doesn't sound professional."

Conroy, of Kern, Augustine, Conroy & Schoppmann, is a founder of the state Bar's Health and Hospital Law Section and was counsel to the New Jersey Medical Society before the society took its work in house a year ago. For many doctors, his firm is the one to call for litigation and transactions.

Conroy has a reputation as a dogged litigator and he's showing why in this case. He says it's about an overzealous process server, not a lawyer acting badly. His lawyer, Meredith Stoma of Morgan Melhuish Abrutyn in Livingston, moved for reconsideration.

It all started when Princeton solo Glenn Bergenfield hired Guaranteed Subpoena to serve the complaint in Farmer v. Conroy, Mer-L-554-07. The suit alleges Conroy and his firm gave bad advice on a business deal, costing Princeton ear, nose and throat doctor Howard Farmer $310,000.

Stoma has filed an answer denying the allegations.

Conroy's receptionist accepted service of the complaint against the partnership on March 19, but Bergenfield requested personal service on Conroy, so the server returned the next day.

Guaranteed Subpoena President Philip Geron says in an interview that the server, whom he did not identify, sought out Conroy in the firm. When the papers were handed over, Conroy threw them back and threatened to call the police, and the server left, Geron says.

Conroy's firm is also one of Guaranteed Subpoena's customers. "We would do no less for Mr. Bergenfield than we would do for Mr. Conroy, and if the tables were reversed, we would have served Mr. Bergenfield the same way," Geron says.

"He threw the papers back at my guy, who was told to leave or he would be charged with trespassing, and he left," Geron says. "I talked to the server and he says, 'that's the way it went down,' but everyone is going to have a different story."

Indeed they do. Conroy says in a certification that there was no reason for the server to even be there because the firm had accepted service the day before. Even so, the receptionist accepted service again, and that should have been the end of it, he says.

Instead, the server, dressed like a security guard, strode down a hallway into private realms, barged into the lunch room, and went into the file room, receptionist Donna Ehrenberg says in a certification that reads like a narrative for the TV show "Rescue 911."

"I ran to get help while shouting that there was an intruder loose in the office," Ehrenberg says. "Fortunately, Mr. Conroy and several other male employees came to my aid. Mr. Conroy confronted the man and asked him to leave. The man refused and Mr. Conroy called out to me to call 911 and tell the police that an intruder was in our offices."

"Needless to say, we were all quite shaken by having some strange man running loose in the inner hallways of the firm's office," she continued. "A stranger should not be allowed to invade a private office even if he is dressed up like a security guard, especially in this day and age with the shootings and workplace violence that is going on."

Conroy says the process server threw the documents at him, not the other way around, and that the incident was caused by the server's "illegal trespass and inappropriate behavior."

He adds that the firm is very careful to prevent intrusion because its files contain health care documents whose security is required under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

The service brouhaha came before Koenig because Bergenfield moved for a declaration that service had been effected, plus sanctions. Koenig granted both motions. He added Bergenfield's counsel fee of $350, the motion filing fee of $30 and copying and delivery costs of $23 to arrive at $403.

In a moment of self-effacement in his previous opinion, Koenig mused that he has made wrong decisions in the past, "and I may even be wrong about my opinion in this case as to whether Mr. Conroy acted appropriately. But I don't think I would recommend that anyone act that way."

source : www.law.com

No comments: