Iowa’s ‘dog lawyer’ spars with judges, confounds court system

Attorney Jaysen McCleary, known locally as “the dog lawyer,” is a paradox.He has a mental disability, but also an above-average intellect, a law degree and 10 years of experience as a high-powered investment adviser.He has been praised by colleagues and clients for challenging local ordinances regulating pit bulls but has also been criticized by judges for making "a farce" of the judicial process, filing frivolous claims and being ignorant of the law.He claims to have saved at least 10 dogs from being euthanized as vicious animals but suffered a serious brain injury when a trash can loaded with frozen dog feces fell from a garbage truck and struck him, resulting in a recent $2.1 million settlement from the city of Des Moines. MORE: How McCleary tried to seal court records, stop the Register from publishing a story The 47-year-old lawyer is, by all accounts, a passionate, caring advocate for animals. But he also has filed numerous ethics complaints against judges; filed a lawsuit over a pygmy goat that died of shock inside his car; suggested another lawyer was in some way involved in a robbery; and told a Polk County judge he was “no better than the scum” sitting in the county jail.He once stood before an exasperated Polk County judge who told him: “I told you what I told you and I’m not going to say it again … Don’t argue with me … Just sit there and be quiet … Can you do that?”McCleary has tied up his opponents with litigation and overlapping lawsuits that have cost taxpayers thousands of dollars in legal fees, and he has sued the Des Moines Register in an effort to block publication of this story.Despite all this, and despite the nine days he served in jail for harassing his neighbors with spotlights and loud music, McCleary’s license to practice law is spotless, with no record of any public disciplinary action taken by the Iowa Supreme Court.In Continue Reading

Docs need malpractice relief: The threat of lawsuits is crushing New York hospitals

Last summer, Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn announced it could no longer afford to deliver babies. Other hospitals around the city and state are being forced to make similar choices, leaving maternity care, one of the most basic services provided by doctors and hospitals, ever more difficult to find. The high cost of malpractice insurance - which is driven up by runaway malpractice litigation, especially in New York State - is the single biggest reason why. This is the ideal moment to confront the problem. Hospitals are justifiably concerned about the impacts of coming state health care cuts. Targeted malpractice insurance and tort reform would soften that blow by reducing costs to hospitals and doctors. New York's doctors already face among the highest malpractice premiums in the nation, and they're felt most painfully by ob-gyns. Premiums for obstetricians on average are $137,000 a year in Manhattan - and even higher in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Contrast this to Los Angeles, where the rates average just $63,000, in part because California has already tackled the malpractice crisis. Ob-gyns currently stop practicing obstetrics at an average age of 48, at the peak of their skill and experience, citing malpractice insurance costs as a major reason. Often they continue their gynecology practice but no longer deliver babies. Some people claim malpractice lawsuits improve medical quality by holding physicians to high standards. But a 2004 health policy report in The New England Journal of Medicine found that lawsuits are at best inefficient and at worst useless in regulating the quality of care. In fact, the threat of malpractice suits may lead doctors to practice "defensive medicine," ordering expensive and sometimes unnecessary tests and reviews by specialists. That adds billions of dollars each year to patients' medical bills. Trial lawyers have a powerful voice in New York; that's part of the reason we haven't had reform yet. And it's true Continue Reading

Mother of teenage girl in coma named guardian – but only for malpractice suit

A woman seeking to cut off life support for her comatose 16-year-old daughter against the father's wishes won a minor victory Monday in court.Janet Joseph was named the girl's guardian, but only for the purposes of pursuing a medical malpractice suit against Montefiore Medical Center, where the girl suffered irreparable brain damage during an operation three months ago. The father, Leonard Peters, was not in the courtroom, but his lawyer agreed to the appointment. The estranged parents - who never married - both filed for guardianship of their daughter, Javona Peters, in Bronx Supreme Court. Referring to the life support issue, Justice Stanley Green said, "I just want to make it clear" that the appointment "has nothing to do with the continuation or discontinuation of life support or any care and treatment of this young woman." Legal experts said Monday's decision would affect future court decisions on guardianship and Javona's fate. "It sets the stage," said lawyer Joshua Rubenstein, former chairman of the Trusts and Estates Law Section of the New York State Bar Association. Rubenstein and other experts said the issue could take years to resolve, an echo of the life support cases involving Terri Schiavo and Karen Ann Quindlen. Monday's hearing was held behind closed doors at the request of the parents' lawyers, neither of whom would comment, except to state jointly, "The parents are agreeing to cooperate." Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Lawyer sued for not filing medical malpractice papers against urologist

A Great Neck lawyer is being sued for failing to file court papers in time to sue a urologist who allegedly botched a penile implant procedure. The suit, filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, accuses Ira Podlofsky, of the law firm Podlofsky, Hill, Orange & Modzelewski, of missing the deadline to file a medical malpractice action against the doctor. Podlofsky and his firm "failed to commence a lawsuit and negligently allowed the statute of limitations to expire," according to the complaint filed by Christopher Isabella, who is back to being impotent - and powerlessto recover damages from the doctor. Isabella, a carpenter formerly of Maspeth, Queens, claims he suffered serious injuries in 2004 when the doctor who installed the penile prosthesis failed to remove a foreign device during the surgery. "It was a bonehead mistake," Isabella's new lawyer Peter Gordon said about the doctor's flub. The doctor, whose name is not given in the new lawsuit, initially denied anything was wrong and referred Isabella to a psychologist, telling him the problem was all in his mind, Gordon said. "He's very bitter at the doctor," Gordon said of Isabella. Finally, surgery to remove the device was performed, and Isabella retained Podlofsky in July 2005, which gave the attorney a six-month window to sue, Gordon contends. But on March 6, 2007 - with the deadline already past - Podlofsky sent the following letter to Isabella: "After due reflection, we are going to decline to accept your case into our office." "I don't know how he [Podlofsky] missed this one. It's a slam-dunk case," Gordon said. Isabella is seeking $10 million in damages from the lawyer for legal malpractice. Isabella and his wife, Natasha, now live in Michigan with the child they were able to conceive when the implant was working. Podlofsky declined to comment on the suit, and his attorney could not be reached for comment. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading


LAWYERS FOR THE city's beleaguered child protection agency are underpaid, overworked and quitting in droves, according to a report to be released today Crushing caseloads and low pay have helped create a 22% annual turnover rate among the agency's staff lawyers, according to the report by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum obtained by the Daily News. "It's a dangerous cycle: Strained, underpaid attorneys burn out and leave ACS," Gotbaum said. "Their cases are assigned to lawyers whose caseloads are already full. "The remaining attorneys often do not get to review a case until moments before entering a courtroom." The agency currently has 174 lawyers, with a starting salary of $44,000 a year. They typically battle in court to compel uncooperative parents to work with the agency, while consulting with caseworkers and supervisors to assess risks to kids. But they have so many cases that one complained in a February letter to Gotbaum's office of being forced into "committing malpractice every day" in the course of fighting for the interests of neglected or abused kids. "We had way too many cases per attorney," said another former ACS attorney, Hannah Leshaw. She left the agency's Brooklyn office last month, disgusted and frustrated after three years. "There was no way to get everything done correctly. We were just triaging cases," said Leshaw, 29, who now practices corporate law. "The disasters were where we had to focus our attention, and it came at the expense of other cases." Stung by several high-profile cases - including the death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown, who was in the ACS system when her stepfather and mother allegedly beat her to death - the agency has boldly bolstered its caseworker ranks with 600 new hires this year. Caseloads for fieldworkers have been cut from a high of 21 to 12, and ACS Commissioner John Mattingly has won praise for the progress. "Our attorneys, caseworkers, supervisors and managers have been working very hard in the Continue Reading


BRONX SUPREME Court Justice Douglas McKeon negotiated the Happy Land fire case settlement and presided over the wrongful death cases of Anthony Baez and Eleanor Bumpurs. Yesterday, court officials announced the 57-year-old jurist's extensive experience will now bump him up a big notch. He was appointed presiding justice of the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court for the 1st Judicial Department, where he will preside over appeals from criminal, civil and housing court cases from Manhattan and the Bronx. "I am honored and grateful for the appointment," McKeon told the Daily News. "I'm feeling a flood of different emotions. My father was a court clerk and worked in the Bronx. I've spent a lot of time in this building, so this appointment is also a testament to my father's memory." McKeon said he will divide his time between his new appointment in Manhattan, hearing appeals with four fellow jurists, while still hearing civil malpractice cases in the Bronx. McKeon is replacing Lucindo Suarez, who was recently named statewide coordinating judge for summary jury trials. The appointment, made by Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, takes effect immediately. "Justice McKeon has both keen intellect and the invaluable experience of a well respected jurist who has had many productive years on the bench," said Lippman. McKeon, a married father of three, has been a Supreme Court Justice in the Bronx since 1990, after serving as a Civil Court judge. He negotiated the Happy Land Fire Case settlement, presided over the Yankee Stadium referendum case as to whether the facility could be moved, and the wrongful death cases of Baez and Bumpurs, both killed in incidents with police. After graduating from New York Law School, McKeon served as a law clerk to two U.S. District Court judges for the Southern District in Manhattan. While in private practice, he specialized in trial and appellate cases. He also served as associate counsel to the speaker of the Continue Reading

State Assembly approves Lavern’s Law to help medical malpractice victims; Senate must now act on bill

ALBANY — The state Assembly for the first time Wednesday passed Lavern’s Law, leaving the measure’s fate squarely in the Senate’s hands. The Assembly, with overwhelming bipartisan support, approved the legislation 99-23, which would start the 15-month statute of limitations to bring a medical malpractice case when the error is discovered, and not when the mistake occurred, as is current law. Lavern’s Law, which has been part of a Daily News campaign, is named after Lavern Wilkinson, a Brooklyn woman who died in 2013 of a curable form of lung cancer after doctors at Kings County Hospital misdiagnosed her. By the time her family sued, the window to file had expired. "It is just the right thing to do for patients and their families,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “We have heard about so many heartbreaking cases, and this bill will provide some measure of relief for those who have been victims of medical malpractice." Gov. Cuomo has said he will sign the bill if it clears the Legislature, meaning the GOP-controlled Senate is the last obstacle. “The ball is in the Senate’s court,” said Assembly bill sponsor Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn). “Hopefully, the strong bipartisan showing here will help provide some energy and incentive for the measure to come up in the Senate.” The bill has support from several key Senate Republicans, but strong opposition from the influential medical community, which fears it would cause already sky-high medical malpractice rates to soar even higher. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) has not said whether he will allow the legislation to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote. Senate Finance Committee Chairman John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), who has been pushing the bill, expects his Republican colleagues will meet to discuss whether to take it up before the scheduled end of the Continue Reading

Cure for an injustice: Fix the state’s broken malpractice law

How easy it is to beat your chest about abstract concepts of social justice, and how much harder to do justice for particular people in need. People like Lavern Wilkinson, who died in 2013 at 41 from a curable form of lung cancer after doctors at Kings County Medical Center failed to tell her that a chest X-ray had shown a suspicious mass. People like Wilkinson’s 18-year-old daughter Micalia, who stopped speaking when she was three, was diagnosed with autism and severe mental retardation and is unable to care for herself. People like Gloria O’Connor, an aunt who assumed responsibility for Micalia and struggles to get by physically and financially. Two years ago, the Daily News told the story of Lavern Wilkinson’s last days. Racked with pain, she was also tormented with fears for Micalia’s future. Her agony was all the worse because, despite lethal malpractice, New York law made Wilkinson and Micalia ineligible for compensation. That’s because the state has two sets of malpractice rules, one for patients treated at private hospitals, the other for patients of public hospitals like Kings County. A private hospital patient gets 30 months to file suit after discovering malpractice; a public hospital patient gets 15 months after the malpractice happened, not after it was discovered. Lavern Wilkinson learned that she had fatal cancer more than 15 months after her doctor’s error, so she was shut out of court. Purporting generosity, the Bloomberg administration offered a settlement of $625,000 in a case that would typically provide $8 million or more. With the Legislature under the sway of medical groups, nothing came of calls to write fairness into the law. Now reporter Heidi Evans has revealed that Micalia and her aunt have not seen a penny of the $625,000 while legal fees have consumed $200,000. The funds are tied up in Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court, a Democratic Party Continue Reading

Autistic daughter of Lavern Wilkinson will finally receive money from medical malpractice settlement

Lavern Wilkinson can finally rest in peace. After a nearly year-long struggle with a lackadaisical lawyer, the dead Brooklyn woman’s severely disabled child Micalia will finally enjoy the aid of a trust fund to help with her care. Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres signed a decree Tuesday giving Micalia’s great-aunt, who is also her guardian, oversight of the money to provide for the autistic, developmentally disabled teen. EDITORIAL: NEXT STOP, ALBANY “Wow!” said guardian Gloria O’Connor, 63, after hearing the news. “It’s been time enough. Thank you, Daily News. It was a long wait.” Torres’ approval came less than 24 hours after attorney Maureen Fonti finally filed a report approving the devoted O’Connor as the 18-year-old’s primary caregiver. Fonti, who got busy with the paperwork only after The News exposed the nine-month delay, refused to comment Tuesday as she left her Brooklyn law office. The money came in a settlement with the city’s Health and Hospitals Corp. after Wilkinson died in March 2013. Doctors at Kings County Hospital botched the diagnosis of her curable form of lung cancer. Attorney Judy Donnel, who won the $625,000 city payment despite the fact that the statute of limitations on medical malpractice cases had expired, was also elated. The lawyer filed suitmore than 15 months after Wilkinson’s fatal misdiagnosis — too late, under state law. A measure to change that, Lavern’s Law, is moving through the state Legislature. Mayor de Blasio lent his support to the law Tuesday. “My administration believes that all New Yorkers should have the ability to bring legitimate medical malpractice actions whether treated in a private or public hospital,” he said in a statement to The News. The bill, which has Gov. Cuomo’s backing, passed an Assembly committee Monday. The money — about $441,000 Continue Reading

Andrew Cuomo backs Lavern’s Law to toughen rights of medical malpractice victims

Two years after her death, the state is inching closer to righting the unthinkable wrong that doomed Lavern Wilkinson. Gov. Cuomo threw his support Sunday behind “Lavern’s Law” — a bill that would strengthen the rights of victims of medical malpractice to hold hospitals accountable in court. The endorsement from the governor provides a big boost for the legislation named after Wilkinson, a Brooklyn mother who died in March 2013 from a curable form of lung cancer after doctors at Kings County Hospital failed to alert her to a suspicious mass noted in X-rays three years prior. EDITORIAL: CURE FOR AN INJUSTICE Wilkinson, 41, was barred from suing the hospital due to a legal loophole that requires claims of medical malpractice against public hospitals be filed within 15 months after they occur — instead of when the patient actually discovers the neglect. The push to reform the law is gaining steam in Albany as the legislative session enters its final stretch. “The governor will sign this legislation if passed,” Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi told the Daily News. While the bill has never passed either house, the state Senate is seen as the biggest obstacle, given the opposition from the health care industry, which is keen to avoid costly litigation. The New York State Trial Lawyers Association, which is close to the Assembly’s Democratic majority, supports the measure. “Penalizing a patient who just found out she has a terminal illness simply because they found out about the doctor’s error too late makes a bad situation even worse,” said Michael Levine, president of the association. “New York should join the 44 other states that already have this common-sense law on the books.” The bill recently was reported out of the Assembly Codes Committee. “It didn’t come out of codes without the speaker knowing about Continue Reading