The state’s highest court disbarred an attorney who is licensed in Maryland but based in New York. The Court of Appeals decision is harsher than the two-year suspension the lawyer received in his home state.
Attorney Jon A. Lefkowitz pleaded guilty in New York to criminal facilitation in May 2016 after he sent fake court documents to a prosecution witness in a mortgage fraud case.
“(Lefkowitz)’s conduct flies in the face of the basic tenet of upholding the integrity of our justice system, and constitutes an abuse of the administration of justice,” Judge Michele D. Hotten wrote for the unanimous court in an opinion published Friday.
Maryland’s high court found Lefkowitz violated the Maryland Attorneys’ Rules of Professional Conduct based on the actions that led to his misdemeanor criminal facilitation conviction, the opinion states.
Lefkowitz, who could not be reached for comment Tuesday, was admitted to the Maryland Bar in July 1994 but said that he “‘do(es) not practice law in Maryland, and never did, and probably never will,’” the opinion states.
In New York, Lefkowitz entered into a plea and cooperation agreement, waiving his right to appeal the guilty plea. He also acknowledged that his license to practice law “may be negatively impacted” and agreed to fully cooperate with any investigation conducted by the New York Attorney General’s Office, among other stipulations under the agreement, the opinion states.
Lefkowitz got into trouble by meddling in a case involving his cousin Alexander March and March’s wife, Sima, who were indicted in 2011 in a mortgage fraud case. The couple was in Canada and fighting extradition to New York, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.
Lefkowitz admitted to New York authorities that he created fake documents that looked like subpoenas signed by a New York Supreme Court justice on his cousin’s behalf; he also did not enter his appearance as March’s lawyer, the Court of Appeals opinion states.
The fake documents asked the recipient, a grand jury witness who testified against the Marches, to answer a written questionnaire under oath; in so doing Lefkowitz sought to undermine the witness’ earlier testimony, according to a news release from the New York Attorney General’s Office.
The subpoena had not been witnessed or signed by a judge and was not given to the clerk’s office before it was sent to the grand jury witness, the opinion states.
“The conclusion that the respondent’s conduct constituted a knowing, direct, and intentional interference in the judicial process is inescapable as he admittedly attempted to assist his cousin in evading extradition,” the New York Supreme Court found, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.
Lefkowitz, who was suspended from practicing law in New York in July 2018 for two years, promptly notified the Maryland Bar of his suspension, which led to disciplinary proceedings in Maryland, according to the Court of Appeals opinion.
Lefkowitz asked the Court of Appeals to impose a reprimand or to order a suspension concurrently with the New York suspension, including time he already served on his suspension. His New York license will be eligible for reinstatement on or after March 23, 2019, the opinion states.
However, the Maryland Court of Appeals felt disbarment was appropriate.
“While (Lefkowitz) was suspended from the practice of law in New York for two years, we do not agree that such a sanction is ‘extreme,’ particularly given the nature of his conduct. Nor do we believe (…) that (Lefkowitz) is truly remorseful for his actions,” the court said.
Bar Counsel Lydia E. Lawless declined to comment Tuesday on the court’s decision.
The case is Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland v. Jon A. Lefkowitz, Misc. Docket AG No. 29, September Term 2018.