‘Inspiring’ Day On Judicial Panel for Ziff Law partner Christina Sonsire

New York State Court of Appeals.

New York State Court of Appeals.

Christina Sonsire called Sept. 12 “one of the most interesting and inspiring days in my legal career.” That was the day our Ziff Law attorney and 11 of the other top trial lawyers in the state interviewed seven candidates for the New York State Court of Appeals, the top court in the state, in Albany,

“The finalists were so intellectually outsanding that at times we were almost in awe of their answers,” Christina said.

Christina Sonsire.

Christina Sonsire.

The panel of trial lawyers, assembled by the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers, advised Gov. Andrew Cuomo on his selection of a new justice following the day of interviews Friday.

Beyond respect for the great judicial minds, Christina also brought home some lessons that helped her immediately in her practice.

“Several candidates were sitting appellate-level judges, and listening to them talk about what is most persuasive to them or what they look for in cases when they are deciding appeals was incredibly helpful,” she said. “I was coming back to the office to write an appeal on a case and the discussion is very much on my mind as I begin to draft it.”

She sees similarities in working with juries and appellate judges.

“When you are talking to members of a jury, you want to give them something to take back with them to the jury room so they can fight for your client when you are not there,” she said. “You want to give them facts, data and arguments they need so that when they go back to the jury room to discuss the case, they might fight for your client.

“Appellate work is very similar. Instead of a jury, you have a panel of appellate judges, and you have to give them enough facts and be as persuasive as you can so they fight for your client when the sit together to decide the case.”

Lawyers across the state have taken note of Christina’s skill as a trial lawyer. Christina is a member of the board of the New York State Academy of Trial Lawyers and was appointed to the judicial panel by Academy Executive Director Michelle J. Stern.

Christina was selected because of her strong record as a plaintiffs’ attorney, primarily in medical malpractice cases. She has also lectured extensively across the state.

And Christina was the ONLY trial lawyer on the panel chosen to represent the Elmira, Corning, Ithaca and Binghamton region.

The state Commission on Judicial Nomination announced the judicial finalists in a letter to Cuomo on Sept. 3. Cuomo then asked the Academy and other state bar associations to screen the candidates and make a recommendation.

Cuomo is expected to soon announce his selection.

The committee will meet again later in the fall to interview candidates for another position soon to open on the top court.

“It was a great honor to be named to this committee and meet so many professionals with great legal experience. I am sure every time I go to Albany for a meeting, I will come back with new ideas and strategies that will help my clients at Ziff Law.”

Thanks for reading,

Jim

_________________________________

James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 


Brazen Lawyer’s Jury Intimidation Was Outrageous And Chilling, Says NY and PA Malpractice Attorney

Judge Deborah Karalunas

State Supreme Court Justice Deborah Karalunas

The latest New York Law Journal has an amazing story about misconduct by an insurance company lawyer in a Syracuse dental malpractice case.

It’s a chilling true story that will shake up lawyers and citizens eligible for jury duty alike.

Here are the stunning details, according to the Journal:

State Supreme Court Justice Deborah Karalunas in Onondaga County rejected a six-person jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant, citing jury intimidation.

Here’s why: The judge said Scott Greenspan, a lawyer monitoring the trial for the insurance company defendant in the case, “violated the sanctity of the jury” during the 15-day trial because he “continuously followed and monitored the jurors when they went to lunch, when they took smoking breaks and when they rode the elevator.”

The case, Varano vs. Forba, is the first of 32 cases to go to trial involving Small Smiles Dentistry. According to the complaint, a boy, when he was 3 and 4 years old, was forced to endure dental procedures from fillings and extractions to root canals, usually without anesthesia and restrained at times.

The judge learned of the misconduct shortly after the unanimous verdict was read on Oct. 9.

The judge was thanking the jurors and asking if they had any questions, and one of the questions that came up was, who was stalking them throughout the trial?

The jurors identified Greenspan and the judge confronted him in open court. According to the court record, she said:

“The jurors described for me their interactions with you, Mr. Greenspan. They used the word you were creepy, that you were very seedy, that you were in the elevator with them frequently, that you followed them to various places where they had lunch. … Without characterizing the behavior as stalking,” she said, Greenspan’s conduct was considered misconduct.

Scott Greenspan

Scott Greenspan

Greenspan does not directly represent a party in the case. Forba Holding, parent company of several Small Smiles clinics but is now in bankruptcy, settled a $24 million federal claim in 2010 for performing unnecessary procedures on children to receive Medicaid benefits. Greenspan, a partner at Sedgwick in New York, is counsel for the National Union Fire Insurance Co., Forba’s insurer. He said he was asked to monitor the trial by AIG Claims, National Union’s claims representative.

The judge added:

“This is not a matter of an isolated elevator conversation, cake for juror appreciation day or expressions of condolence. This is a case where jurors over a 15-day period believed they were stalked, videotaped and closely monitored by a person they believed worked for defendants. This is a case where jurors performing their civic duty were made to feel bothered and scared. …”

Greenspan told the judge: “I had no instructions whatsoever to talk with the jury or have any interaction with the jury at all. I have been doing this for 18 years … and no client would be worth interfering with a jury.”

The defense claimed that if the misconduct prejudiced the jury at all, it would have been against the defense.

But the judge said: “The jury verdict for the defense is a stronger indication that the perceived intimidation was successful. The jurors perceived that a ‘creepy’ man was following them, and one juror said he/she felt scared. The jury also believed that their stalker worked for the defendants. By returning a verdict in favor of the defendant, the jury could be assured that their stalker would be satisfied.”

The plaintiff’s lawyer, Patrick Higgins, said, “The whole thing was very disturbing. I just think the judge’s decision is well-reasoned and based on sound precedent. We are looking forward to getting back in the courtroom.”

This is one of the most disturbing accounts from a trial that I have ever read.  If there is one thing all lawyers should agree upon, it is that jurors are to be treated with the utmost respect. Our system of law simply cannot function in any other way.

Attorney Patrick Higgins is a true professional and an outstanding litigator with whom I have worked closely in the past. I can’t imagine how challenging it was for him to try a case of this magnitude amid the backdrop of such egregious conduct.

I try to hold my cynicism at bay, but conduct like is disheartening to say the least.

Thank you for reading,

Christina Sonsire
[email protected]

 

 

 

 


Ziff Law’s Christina Sonsire Wins $2.1 Million Medical Malpractice Award For 7-Year-Old Girl

Attorney Christina Sonsire of the Ziff Law Firm has won a major medical malpractice verdict in an Otsego County court for a 7-year-old girl who suffered a birth injury.

Christina Sonsire.

Christina Sonsire.

The girl and her parents were awarded $2.1 million by a jury Tuesday evening at the conclusion of a three-week trial. Christina was the trial attorney representing the family.

The jury of three men and three women determined the settlement in the Supreme Court of Otsego County in Cooperstown. Justice Donald Cerio presided over the case.

Attorney John Pollock of Binghamton represented the defendants, Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, Bassett Healthcare and certified nurse midwife Patricia Brown.

Here is Christina’s report on the trial:

The jury found that the midwives at the hospital did not provide appropriate prenatal care for the girl’s mother and midwife Patricia Brown caused the injury by pulling too hard on the baby’s head during delivery. As a result, the child has suffered a permanent injury to the nerves in her neck and has limited mobility in her left arm.

The case has national significance because the verdict involves an injury called Erb’s palsy, in which a newborn suffers paralysis in an arm during an abnormal or difficult childbirth or labor.

Attorneys across the country were paying attention to this trial because the defendants claimed this injury happened before the girl was born. The case will have significance in all future litigation of this type of case.

Renowned Long Island attorney Joseph Lichtenstein, of Mineola, N.Y., who was hired to represent the family and brought Christina in to try the case, praised Christina’s work in the courtroom.

“Ms. Sonsire brings a unique combination of talent, intelligence and drive to her work as a trial lawyer, as well as an acute sensitivity to issues involving women and birth trauma,” Lichtenstein said. “She was able to present this highly complex case in a way the jury could fully understand. She is truly remarkable.”

Christina worked day and night for more than a month to earn this incredible verdict. It goes to show you that when you combine hard work, intelligence and fearlessness, great things can happen. We are so happy for this little girl, who deserves compensation for the injuries inflicted upon her by medical personnel. She was lucky to have Christina as her attorney.

Thanks for reading!

Jim

_________________________________
James B. Reed
NY & PA Injury & Malpractice Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
Office: (607)733-8866
Toll-Free: 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529)
Blogs: NYInjuryLawBlog.com and
            NYBikeAccidentBlog.com

 

 

 


Elmira Accident Attorney Warns: No Smart Phones in the Jury Room!

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The use of smart phones grows everyday.  What used to be the size of a brick (with about the same reception) is now smaller than a wallet and capable of handling multiple e-mail accounts, surfing the web, performing google searches, browsing documents and even doing legal research.  Through e-mail and mobile social networking sites like facebook and twitter – we can instantly have access to friends and relatives and their expertise.  While that kind of power is a wonderful tool to have in everyday life, there is one place where instant access to information is banned:  the jury room.

In the jury room, jurors are supposed the weight the evidence they hear from the witness stand, apply it to the law as relayed to them by the judge, and render a verdict.  Outside information and influence is strictly prohibited.  The courts have traditionally been very slow to respond the existence of new technology, but in recognition of the prevalence of smart phones and their instant access to information, the Courts have now amended their instruction to juries about discussing the case with others.  That instruction is found in New York’s Pattern Jury Instructions at PJI 1.11 as follows:

PJI 1:11. Discussion With Others – Independent Research
In fairness to the parties to this lawsuit, it is very important that you keep an open mind
throughout the trial. Then, after you have heard both sides fully, you will reach your
verdict only on the evidence as it is presented to you in this courtroom, and only in this
courtroom, and then only after you have heard the summations of each of the attorneys
and my instructions to you on the law. You will then have an opportunity to exchange
views with each member of the jury during your deliberations to reach your verdict.
Please do not discuss this case either among yourselves or with anyone else during the
course of the trial. Do not do any independent research on any topic you might hear about
in the testimony or see in the exhibits, whether by consulting others, reading books or
magazines or conducting an internet search of any kind. All electronic devices including
any cell phones, Blackberries, iphones, laptops or any other personal electronic devices

must be turned off while you are in the courtroom and while you are deliberating after I

have given you the law applicable to this case. [In the event that the court requires the jurors                                                                                                                                                                                        to relinquish their devices, the charge should be modified to reflect the court’s practice]
It is important to remember that you may not use any internet services, such as Google,
Facebook, Twitter or any others to individually or collectively research topics concerning
the trial, which includes the law, information about any of the issues in contention, the
parties, the lawyers or the court. After you have rendered your verdict and have been
discharged, you will be free to do any research you choose, or to share your experiences,
either directly, or through your favorite electronic means.
For now, be careful to remember these rules whenever you use a computer or other
personal electronic device during the time you are serving as a juror but you are not in the
courtroom.
While this instruction may seem unduly restrictive, it is vital that you carefully follow these
directions.

So – if you are called to serve on a jury, please be ready to heed the judge’s instructions.  Failure to do so will result in you being removed from the jury, and may require a mistrial, which means the lawyers would be required to re-try the case.  Also, don’t be surprised if the judge asks you to surrender your smart phone!

Thanks for reading,
_______________________________

Adam M. Gee, Esq.

NY and PA Injury Attorney

The Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William Street
Elmira, NY  14901
Phone: (607)733-8866
Fax: (607)732-6062
Email: [email protected]
www.zifflaw.com

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The National Institute for Trial Advocacy — a Worthwhile Investment

Shortly after I joined Ziff Law, Jim Reed, the firm’s managing partner (and frequent poster on this blog,) told me to sign myself up for the two-week National Session on Building Trial Skills offered by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA). “And by the way,” he remarked, “the program is located just outside Boulder, Colorado.”

‘Nuff said. As a former resident of Denver and Missoula, Montana, I am a true lover of the mountains and was ecstatic about the chance to spend some time savoring mountain life. Oh, NITA looked pretty cool as well.

I had no idea at the time that I was about to embark upon a career changing — if not life changing — voyage. Seriously. Two weeks at NITA equaled, for me and I suspect most of my classmates, at least five years of real world trial experience. Unfortunately, as most practitioners recognize, cases are not tried nearly as often today as they were fifty years ago. Increased pressures to settle matters quickly or engage in Alternative Dispute Resolution — such as mediation or arbitration — has created a professional atmosphere in which young attorneys wait years or even decades before ever getting a chance to see a case through to verdict. (The one notable exception is in the area of criminal law, where cases are tried on a somewhat more frequent basis.) (Watch an interview with The Honorable Jim R. Carrigan, one if NITA’s founders.)

I was fortunate to have tried a number of cases as a prosecutor before participating in NITA’s National Session. However, the skills and confidence I gained from NITA are unparalleled. I had an opportunity to test myself against some of the best up-and-coming attorneys in the country — and even the world! The faculty was comprised of seasoned practioners with practical, focused advice on how to become the very best trial lawyer possible, and the lecturers offered insight into cutting edge legal trends and technology emerging from all ends of the globe. (Read NITA’s Blog.) Continue reading


$1,200,000 Settlement in Chemung County Supreme Court

I was honored to be selected as local trial counsel by Buffalo attorney Mark Cantor for a Chemung County Supreme Court jury trial conducted this week before Judge Robert Mulvey. The case did not settle until the end of the first day of trial when the jury had been selected and after opening statements by both the plaintiff and defense lawyers.

This was a very interesting case involving a young man from Gillett, PA who was severely injured when he was caused to fall 12 feet on to a concrete floor when a defective wooden railing collapsed.

As we all know, railings are there for a reason– they are supposed to keep people from falling from elevated areas. In fact, railings are so important that OSHA regulations require railings to be able to withstand 200 pounds of lateral force. Well guess what? A railing cobbled together with 2X4’s and plain nails is NOT sufficient and does NOT properly protect a worker who is required to work at an elevated height.

In this case, a couple simple carriage bolts costing less than a dollar each would have made all the difference between a healthy young man and a crippled young man who has endured 7 surgeries in an unsuccessful attempt to repair his back, neck, shoulder and knee injuries.

Jury selection took the better part of the day and the jurors represented a wide spectrum of folks from Chemung County: a young school teacher from Elmira, a Burger King Manager who lives in Chemung County but works in Pennsylvania, a young woman who works in the Chemung County Family Court, etc.

As a trial lawyer, I am always impressed and appreciative of the willingness of folks to serve on a jury. I know most folks groan loudly when receiving the Jury Summons and they all hope and pray that they do NOT get selected to sit on the jury. However, I have noticed that during the process of jury selection, a subtle transformation begins to occur– people start to understand the importance of our right to a jury trial and they take their job as jurors very seriously. Jurors hate being dragged away from their jobs and families but they respect the power and privilege of their role in peacefully resolving a dispute between two parties.

The trial was expected to last at least two weeks and many witnesses were scheduled to testify including several doctors from Elmira, NY, and Buffalo, NY, a vocational rehabilitation expert from Syracuse, NY, an OSHA expert from Buffalo. Plaintiff’s medical proof would have established that the injured worker’s lifetime medical care and lost wages (he is totally disabled from his former work as a truck driver) would have exceeded $2M. The defense intended to call its own safety expert and a doctor from Binghamton, NY.

Prior to trial, the parties were nowhere close to settling the case but Judge Mulvey, working with the lawyers and the insurance company representatives, was finally able to get the parties to agree on a settlement for $1,200,000.

Thanks for reading,

Jim Reed
NY and PA Accident Lawyer
[email protected]