WOMENSENEWS–An Albany, N.Y., judge could issue a foreclosure order as early as Monday against a woman who was unable to pay her divorce attorney’s fees, despite ethics rules passed in 1993 that bar divorce lawyers in New York from foreclosing on a client’s primary residence.
Jean O’Sullivan, who has already paid $46,200 in legal fees, is expected to lose her home of more than 20 years, according to report by the National Coalition for Family Justice.
In 1986, O’Sullivan hired attorney Stewart Schantz, the former chair of the state’s Committee on Professional Standards, to represent her in divorce proceedings. During the eight-year course of the divorce, O’Sullivan gave Schantz two mortgages against her home for a total debt of $39,000 in legal fees, according a decision by the state’s appellate division. The mortgages were later signed over to Schantz’s wife.
However, Schantz claims that O’Sullivan owes him an additional $77,176. He offered to reduce the fees by $20,000 if O’Sullivan paid the remainder. When she refused, Schantz’s wife brought the foreclosure action.
Schantz’s legal position–that his wife is entitled to foreclose against O’Sullivan’s home–was upheld Nov. 1 by the state’s Appellate Division, Third Department. The court also ruled that attorney Schantz was not violating any disciplinary rules by foreclosing on Mrs. O’Sullivan’s home.
“Although plaintiff’s actions would now clearly violate the ethical rules governing matrimonial attorneys in this state, the retainer agreement at issue here was entered into seven years prior to the effective date of the applicable rule,” the court added.
For more information:
National Coalition for Family Justice:
New York State Bar Association: