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New York AG Turns on Client

A Court of Claims judge denounced a highranking lawyer in the Attorney General's office after she threatened and attempted to intimidate a claimant's expert witness_who happened to be the former New York State Commissioner of Correctional Services.

Former Commissioner Thomas A. Coughlin III was slated to be an expert witness in a claim being brought by a state prisoner, Dherise Robinson. She alleged that she was attacked and injured by another prisoner at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility on November 14, 1995. Ms. Robinson contended that the attack resulted from the negligence of the Department of Correctional Services (DOCS).

Judge Francis L. Collins of Saratoga Springs imposed a $500 sanction on June Duffy, a bureau chief in the New York City litigation unit of the office of the Attorney General, for what he termed a "sad chain of events."

Anthony Annucci, counsel to DOCS, called Mr. Coughlin at the request of the Attorney General's office, to advise him that if he testified against the state the Attorney General would have to review indemnification issues. Ms. Duffy, the court said, instigated the threatening call to Mr. Coughlin, though she did not make the call.

Mr. Coughlin is presently facing a $750,000 judgment in a case under appeal. The case involves a state prisoner, David McClary, who was locked in solitary confinement for four years. A federal jury in Rochester awarded Mr. McClary damages against Mr. Coughlin and other officials. Under Public Officer's Law § 17, indemnification requires the approval of the Attorney General.

"In the court's view, the communication with Mr. Coughlin on the eve of trial was not motivated by concerns arising out of an attorney/client relationship, but rather was motivated solely to prevent Mr. Coughlin from testifying on claimant's behalf," Judge Collins wrote.

Source: New York Law Journal

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