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Commonwealth of Massachusetts

NO. BD 1998-012

IN RE: STANLEY ROBERT COHEN

S.J.C. Order of Term Suspension entered by Justice Greaney on June 30, 2000.1

SUMMARY2

On a total of seven occasions, the respondent has been found in contempt or otherwise sanctioned: By the Massachusetts Superior Court, the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, and the Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts. These courts have made findings that the respondent failed to obey orders and injunctions, filed frivolous suits, and violated the bankruptcy automatic stay.

The respondent was admitted to practice in 1989. In 1990, he was appointed to represent a person who had been convicted of larceny while an employee of Cumberland Farms, Inc. He succeeded in obtaining a new trial for her and in having the charges dismissed.

In the course of representing this woman, the respondent obtained evidence that Cumberland Farms had engaged in a pattern of falsely accusing employees of theft, coercing confessions from them, firing them, and filing criminal charges which often resulted in restitution orders. Over the next several years, the respondent was retained to represent 46 such former employees of Cumberland Farms. Included in the actions which the respondent took on behalf of these clients prior to September 8, 1993, were the institution of four law suits in which various of the respondent's clients were named as plaintiffs and the presentation of proofs of claim on behalf of eleven of them in a bankruptcy proceeding filed by Cumberland Farms.

Since 1986, a class action had been pending against Cumberland Farms in the United States District Court in New Jersey. The allegations in this case were based on the same pattern of conduct which gave rise to the suits filed by the respondent.. In July, 1993, the New Jersey federal court gave preliminary approval of a settlement of this case and provisionally certified the class. The bankruptcy court ordered the eleven clients on whose behalf the respondent had filed proofs of claim to participate in the class settlement and discharged their claims against Cumberland Farms and its employees and agents. The respondent appealed this order to the district court, which affirmed, then to the First Circuit, which also affirmed. His petition for certiorari was denied.

On September 8, 1993, the New Jersey federal court entered judgment certifying the class and ordering payments to the class members. The court found that it had jurisdiction over all members of the class and enjoined all members who did not effectively opt out and their agents and attorneys from prosecuting any action against Cumberland Farms or its owners and employees. The respondent was aware of this order. He had sought to intervene in the class action prior to the issuance of the order, but his motion was denied and the denial was affirmed by the Third Circuit.

Notwithstanding the order of the federal court, the respondent continued to file new lawsuits and to take other actions against Cumberland Farms or its owners and employees. In February, 1994, he filed two new lawsuits denominated as class actions, one in the Suffolk Superior Court and one in the Massachusetts federal court. In May, 1994, the New Jersey federal court found him in contempt and directly enjoined him and the eleven clients who had filed bankruptcy claims from taking any further action against Cumberland Farms, its owners, or employees. The court found that the respondent knew of its September order, that it had jurisdiction over the respondent and his clients, and that the clients had not effectively opted out of the class settlement. The respondent appealed the order to the Third Circuit, which affirmed.

Notwithstanding the May order, the respondent continued to take actions in contravention of the injunctions. He served deposition notices in June, filed an amended complaint naming new defendants in August, and filed a new suit in the Norfolk Superior Court in November. In April, 1995, the New Jersey federal court served an order to show cause on the respondent, but the respondent failed to appear as ordered. In June, he filed his eighth suit, in the Massachusetts federal court. In July, he was sanctioned by the Suffolk Superior Court. Later that month, he was arrested on a warrant issued by the New Jersey court; following a show cause hearing, he was found in civil contempt. A new injunction naming the respondent and twenty-six of his clients (including the eleven covered by the May order) was issued. The court specifically found that the named clients were members of the class

Notwithstanding these orders the respondent continued to prosecute claims on behalf of members of the class. As the suits which he had filed were dismissed, he filed notices of appeal and then notices of appeal from the dismissal of the appeals. The Massachusetts federal court ordered him to pay nearly seventy-six thousand dollars in fees and costs. In December, 1997, upon his failure to pay, the court found that he had the ability to make payments, held him in contempt, and ordered him incarcerated. The court also ordered him not to file new complaints unless they were signed by another member of the bar. On January 21, 1998, the respondent filed a new complaint not signed by any other member of the bar.

The respondent's actions in ignoring and defying court orders constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice in violation of Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(5), conduct that adversely reflects on his fitness to practice law in violation of Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(6), and advancement of claims unwarranted under existing law in violation of Disciplinary Rule 7-102(A)(2). His belief that the orders which he disregarded were incorrect and that the various courts lacked jurisdiction over him does not excuse his actions. The Board of Bar Overseers recommended that he be suspended for a year and a day, retroactive to the date on which he filed his affidavit that he had complied with the order of temporary suspension.

The court imposed a suspension of a year and a day, retroactive to the filing of the affidavit of compliance.

1 The complete Order of the Court is available by contacting the Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.

2 Compiled by the Board of Bar Overseers based on the record before the Court.



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