Jackass Of The Month: IP Lawyer Sanctioned For “Maelstrom of Misconduct” In Pro Se Divorce Case

This month we launched the “Jackass of the Month” award. The award recognizes the IP practitioner whose exceptional or extraordinary conduct befits the title of being, well, a real jackass.

This month’s award goes to Anthony J. Zappin, a 30-year-old Ivy League-educated patent attorney.  Zappin was  slapped last week with a reprimand and $10,000 fine by New York State Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper for his outrageous litigation behavior.  Zappin v. Comfort, No. 301568/14, 2015 N.Y. Slip Op. 51339(U) (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Sep. 18, 2015) click here

Zappin, most recently a patent litigation attorney with Mintz Levin, is representing himself in a divorce and custody proceeding in which he seeks unsupervised visitation with his 2-year-old son.  To say that the case is “contentious” fails to do justice to the word.  Zappin’s courtroom and litigation antics are so over the top that they even made the New York Post.  His mother–whom he attempted to depose in the proceedings–must be very proud.  

canstockphoto15460217A History of Outbursts

The opinion recounts an extraordinary history of Zappin’s abusive tactics.  In imposing the sanction, the court  charged Zappin with using “his law license as a tool to threaten, bully and intimidate” judges, other lawyers, and a medical expert, noting Mr. Zappin’s “ill-advised behavior seriously call into question his fitness to practice law.” The judge wrote, “More often than not, it is a problem when lawyers choose to represent themselves in their own lawsuits” as “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.”

The court’s opinion detailed various “aggressively hostile” behavior by Mr. Zappin, including Mr. Zappin’s attaching of a handwritten note to a prior judge handling his divorce case stating, “You’re pathetic! (Judicial Complaint forthcoming).” The opinion also quoted a transcript of Zappin telling Justice Deborah Kaplan, “I am tired of these lies coming from you on the record. … It’s lie after lie that comes out of your mouth.”

According to the court’s decision, Mr. Zappin “intentionally continues the pattern of delay and disruption” by “barrage” of “never-ending,” “voluminous, citation-strewn, and … largely redundant” motions, subpoenas, letters, and e-mails to the court. The judge noted Zappin made “numerous forays into other courts,” as he recently sued his wife in New York County Family Court; sued his wife, her family, and her lawyers in the United States District Courts for the Southern District of New York and the District of Columbia; and brought Article 78 proceedings in the Appellate Division against judges in the case.

Mr. Zappin attempted to disqualify Harriet N. Cohen, Esq., appointed to protect the child’s interests, when Ms. Cohen recommended Mr. Zappin only be allowed supervised visits with his son. In retaliation, Mr. Zappin started a website calling Ms. Cohen, “a very sick and greedy woman.” In addition, Mr. Zappin refused to pay half of Ms. Cohen’s fees and expenses claiming it would render him “indigent,” which, according to Justice Cooper, was “not even remotely possible” given Mr. Zappin’s $230,000 annual salary. Mr. Zappin also filed a complaint with the state Office of Professional Medical Conduct against the psychiatrist Ms. Cohen hired to evaluate the child, which Justice Cooper called “reckless and dishonest.”

The court explained that the fact Zappin decided to represent himself did not excuse him from his ethical duties.  On the contrary:

Whether an attorney represents himself or not, his basic obligation to the court as an attorney remains the same. He is an officer of the court . . . . Disciplinary proceedings not only concern the rights of the lawyer and the client, but also the rights of the public and the rights of the judiciary to ensure that lawyers uphold their unique position as officers . . . of the court . . . . An attorney must conduct himself or herself in a manner that comports with the proper functioning of the judicial system

Justice Cooper ordered that half of the $10,000 sanction go to Ms. Cohen, and the other half to be paid to the Lawyers Fund for Client Protection. The judge stated a sanction was the best option in order to keep the “integrity of the judicial process” given Mr. Zappin’s outrageous conduct despite repeated warnings to no effect. The trial is scheduled to start on November 12, 2015.

Zappin vows to appeal.

Mark Twain once penned that, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”  Zappin is certainly doing his best to prove this adage true and in the process is letting the world know the kind of “man” he really is.

This was no real contest.  Zappin outran the pack like Secretariat winning the Belmont Stakes.  He has demonstrated himself a most worthy recipient of the “Jackass of the Month” award.

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