New York Law Journal

N.Y. Panel Disbars Defense Lawyer for 14 Actions
Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal

A lawyer accused of providing an incompetent defense in a high-profile murder case last year has been disbarred for misleading and stealing from four other clients.

Carlos Perez-Olivo made headlines last November after he allegedly forgot part of his closing argument in defense of Elio Cruz, a waiter who was subsequently convicted in the 2004 shooting of his wife's lover on a Manhattan subway platform.

The Appellate Division, 1st Department, said Perez-Olivo had committed at least 14 acts of attorney misconduct in his representation of four other criminal defendants. The counts included his neglect of cases, his refusal to return unearned retainers and bail money, his use of a non-refundable retainer agreement and his failure to avoid conflicts of interest.

Perez-Olivo did not return a call to his Queens office on Thursday.

In Matter of Carlos Perez-Olivo, M-1520, the unanimous court confirmed a recommendation of disbarment by a disciplinary hearing panel and a referee. In addition to disbarring Perez-Olivo, the court ordered him to pay $10,000 in restitution to the sister one of his clients.

In one of the cases cited by the court, Perez-Olivo took $20,500 to appeal the conviction of a defendant facing incarceration and deportation. His failure to perfect the appeal led to its dismissal, after which he asked his client to "withdraw" her appeal on the grounds that it was frivolous. The client was deported, and Perez-Olivo did not respond to requests for a partial refund of his fees or an accounting of his charges.

In two other cases, he refused to return to clients bail money either given to him to post bond or returned by the court after the resolution of the case. He took $10,000 to post bail for one client who was arrested in Pennsylvania, even though he was not admitted to practice in that state.

Perez-Olivo also was cited for asking a client to sign a retainer agreement stating that a $10,000 "deposit fee" was "non-refundable regardless of the time that I spent on this case or if for whatever reason I am removed from the case."

He was quickly disqualified from representing that client because he also was trying to represent an alleged co-conspirator in the same matter. Perez-Olivo refused to return the $10,000 on the grounds that he had spent 23 hours researching the issue of conflicts of interest.

At the time of Perez-Olivo's representation of Cruz, which was not at issue in his disciplinary proceeding, The New York Times reported that, just before the start of deliberations, a juror in the case wrote a note to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carol Berkman complaining about the lawyer's performance.

The juror, Anne Alexandra Holland, said she was upset that Perez-Olivo ended his summation by reportedly saying, "There is more, but I've forgotten it."

According to the Times, Holland said she feared "for anyone else [Perez-Olivo] is hired to defend." She was replaced as a juror.

Cruz's family said at the time they would appeal his conviction on the grounds of Perez-Olivo's incompetence. The Legal Aid Society, which is handling Cruz's appeal, did not return a call for comment.

A graduate of the University of Puerto Rico School of Law, Perez-Olivo forfeited his license to practice law in Puerto Rico in 2000 after he failed to answer disciplinary charges against him there.

He also had been previously admonished in New York for similar misconduct. The appellate panel said his past disciplinary record was an aggravating factor in favor of his disbarment.

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