As the Ethics Committee is no doubt aware, Gironza’s Ethics Complaint centered on Peter Cedeno’s representation of Gironza during his divorce and Cedeno’s improper attempts to solicit Gironza’s ex-wife Catalina Gironza (“Catalina”) to engage in a sexual relationship at the expense of dutifully and zealously representing Gironza’s best interests during the proceedings. Thereafter, Peter Cedeno effectively represented Catalina through another attorney in further divorce proceedings adverse to Gironza, thereby creating an irreconcilable conflict of interest.
In rebuttal to Cedeno’s statement of “facts” Gironza preliminarily states that his initial Complaint clearly lays out the allegations of malfeasance and that Cedeno has failed to rebut those allegations in his Answer. Notwithstanding same, this reply will serve to provide the Committee with further information even more clearly establishing that Peter Cedeno used his position as Gironza’s divorce attorney to pursue his own interests at Gironza’s expense in attempting to engage Catalina in a sexual relationship.
Gironza was aware when he retained Cedeno that he would be responsible for some amounts of child support payments by virtue of the salary disparity between himself and Catalina. However, Cedeno failed to account for all the factors which underpin the child support calculation, thereby leading to a higher payment for Gironza. Specifically, Gironza maintains 50% custody of his children meaning his children live with him for half of the time. Cedeno did not account for Gironza’s 50% physical custody of the children in formulating a child support payment. Notably, Gironza observed a clear shift in Cedeno’s behavior and attitude following Cedeno’s interactions with Catalina. As outlined below, Cedeno stopped zealously advocating for the best possible child support terms for Gironza once Cedeno met Catalina at Court and began to pursue a sexual relationship with her.
Prior to the Court appearance, Cedeno and Gironza met at the Wilens and Baker offices. During this meeting, Cedeno indicated that he would “try his best” to secure Gironza the best possible terms for the separation, including the child support payment. However, after Cedeno met with Catalina at the Court appearance, Cedeno changed his demeanor and tone regarding the child support payments, presumably because he was now impermissibly seeking to acquire a good deal for Catalina to serve his own self-interest in bedding her. Cedeno pressured Gironza to accept the inequitable child support terms, and now indicated that child support was “statutory” and therefore he could not do anything to improve the terms for Gironza. Of course, this is in direct contravention of Cedeno’s prior assertion that he would “try his best” to secure Gironza favorable terms. This change in tone is consistent with Cedeno’s attempts to engage Catalina in a sexual relationship and his desire to pursue that goal by forsaking his duty to his client. Cedeno was so transparent in his attempts to become intimate with Catalina that, following the Court appearance, Catalina remarked to Gironza that she felt like Cedeno “was my attorney more than yours.”
Additionally, by virtue of his employment at Wilens and Baker, Gironza was privy to certain company policies. It was against Wilens and Baker policy to allow communications with adversaries, particularly pro-se adversaries, through any means other than the main company office phone line. Specifically, Wilens and Baker had a policy against providing personal cell phone information to pro-se adversaries for contact purposes. Wilens and Baker also had a policy against contact through electronic means other than e-mail, such as Facebook or LinkedIn.2 Therefore, Cedeno’s assertion that he would provide this information to “most” opposing counsel and pro-se litigants is untrue as it would have been in contravention of Wilens and Baker policy.
Gironza also strongly disputes Cedeno’s assertion that he never attempted to engage in an intimate dinner date with Catalina in Queens. In fact, Catalina relayed Cedeno’s request to Gironza in detail. Specifically, Cedeno sought to take Catalina to the Forrest Hills area of Queens because Cedeno had some connection to the area and supposedly knew of a restaurant establishment that Catalina would have enjoyed.
Cedeno further admits that he and Julio Portilla, Esq. (“Portilla”) worked together at Wilens and Baker before both leaving Wilens and Baker to set up separate law firms which shared the same office space and secretary. At the time, Portilla apparently focused his legal practice on Bankruptcy Law. It is unclear when or if Portilla began to devote any efforts towards the practice of Family Law. While Gironza worked with Protilla at Wilens and Baker, Portilla practiced almost exclusively in Bankruptcy Law. Moreover, Cedeno claims that his secretary set up an initial meeting with Catalina (presumably without performing any sort of conflict check) and that he did not recognize Catalina at the meeting. Cedeno’s story of an innocent mistake notwithstanding, it was Cedeno who directed Catalina to retain Portilla for subsequent divorce proceedings despite the apparent conflict of interest. Cedeno endeavored to have Portilla represent Catalina in order for Cedeno to continue his well-established attempts to engage Catalina in a sexual relationship.
Finally, the August, 2012 Order disqualifying Portilla as counsel for Catalina apparently utilized the easiest means of disqualification, namely that Portilla used to work at Wilens and Baker which represented Gironza in his divorce. As the Ethics Committee is no doubt aware, Courts generally will use the simplest means to resolve a dispute. In that case, as the Court attorney was likely disinclined to engage in an ethical investigation to determine whether Cedeno was effectively representing Catalina, it utilized the simplest means of disqualifying Portilla and did not actually determine whether Cedeno was representing Catalina through Portilla. Instead, the Court merely recited Portilla’s representations and did not actually hold that Cedeno had no involvement with Catalina’s representations. Gironza now asks the Ethics Committee to do what the Court did not and investigate Cedeno’s unethical behavior in utilizing Portilla to represent Catalina in violation of Cedeno’s ethical obligations as an attorney.
In conclusion, Cedeno’s self-serving Answer is undermined by the facts and circumstances of this matter, including his change of demeanor upon meeting Catalina. In addition, Cedeno’s
truly bizarre explanation that he encourages all pro-se adversaries to contact him for business purposes via Facebook is belied by the policies and procedures in effect at Wilens and Baker at the time of the incident in question. Finally, Portilla’s sham representation of Catalina in order to allow Cedetio to skirt ethical rules is a shocking display of impropriety which is clearly evidenced by the circumstances leading to Catalina’s “representation” by Portilla.
Of course, we or Mr. Gironza are available at the Ethics Committee’s convenience to discuss these matters further as necessary.