East Hampton Attorney Is Suspended

A five-judge grievance committee of the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court has ordered that an attorney based in East Hampton, James R. Fischer, be prohibited from practicing law for at least 18 months, beginning on Jan. 29. The decision follows an Aug. 22, 2017, report by a referee that found Mr. Fischer had misappropriated money he was holding in trust for two clients. In both cases, he ultimately paid back the money.

“We find that a suspension from the practice of law for a period of two years is warranted,” the judges concluded, although Mr. Fischer can apply for reinstatement after 18 months. In the meantime, he is barred from “practicing law in any form, either as principal or as agent, clerk, or employee of another.”

One of Mr. Fischer’s clients, according to the Dec. 29, 2017, ruling, was “an infant, Elizabeth Reyes, who had been a passenger in a vehicle . . . involved in an automobile accident.” The matter had been settled with the insurance company involved in July 2015 for $10,000. Mr. Fischer received the money and deposited it in a trust fund. However, after deducting legal expenses in the amount of $3,481.91, when it came time to pay the baby’s guardian the balance due, $6,518.09, the account had only $196.69. Mr. Fischer issued a check for the full amount anyway, however, and it bounced. The decision does not explain what happened to the missing money. 

The second case cited by the committee involved the prospective sale of a Springs property in November 2015. According to the decision, a tentative deal was made on 14 Washington Avenue for $1,240,000, and Mr. Fisher deposited a down payment of $124,000 in an escrow account. He then made “six online transfers from the trust account to his operating account, which totaled $11,400,” the decision reads. When the sale fell apart, the trust fund did not have the amount needed to return the money.

“The shortfall in the respondent's account was more than a bookkeeping error,” the committee wrote. "Here, the record reflects that, once the Reyes check had been dishonored, the respondent did not immediately reimburse his client.” The committee also rejected Mr. Fischer’s argument that there had been an unwritten agreement that he could draw on the escrow funds.