Fred Kolodner, whose malfeasance as a lawyer already has made him one of the most notorious figures in the annals of Maryland jurisprudence, is under state scrutiny once again.
Four years after his conviction and disbarment for stealing tens of thousands of dollars from clients, Mr. Kolodner, now nearly 70, is facing a complaint from the state of Maryland that he is again practicing law.
The complaint, filed January 30th in Baltimore Circuit Court by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, says Mr. Kolodner has performed the duties of a lawyer while representing clients in personal injury cases. The complaint also alleges that Mr. Kolodner is sending his "clients" to a medical clinic run by his wife -- who in December was convicted in New Jersey of practicing medicine without a license.
The commission, which helped strip Mr. Kolodner of his law license in 1991, has asked the court to order Mr. Kolodner to stop.
In its complaint, the commission says allowing Mr. Kolodner to practice law creates substantial risks to Marylanders. In Mr. Kolodner's case, it is not a hollow allegation.
Since 1990, the Client Security Trust Fund of the Maryland Bar, which is designed to partly reimburse the victims of legal malpractice, has paid more than $210,000 to 34 of Mr. Kolodner's former clients. In the fund's 30-year history, no lawyer has cost it nearly so much.
Much of that money went to finance a conspicuously opulent life-style that included expensive cars and jewelry, a particular weakness for both Mr. Kolodner and his wife Deborah, acquaintances say.
Mr. Kolodner did not respond to requests for an interview for this article. Mrs. Kolodner, who runs the Industrial Medical and Physical Therapy Center, a clinic in the 500 block of St. Paul St., said Wednesday that her husband "is dying" and that she was too preoccupied with patients to talk to The Sun.
In 1992, Mrs. Kolodner opened a similar clinic in Pleasantville, N.J., a small town near Atlantic City. The clinic soon closed, however, when Mr. Kolodner and two others were arrested and charged with practicing medicine without a license.
The charge against Mr. Kolodner was eventually dismissed. Mrs. Kolodner, 39, was indicted under the same charge and in December was sentenced to 18 months probation.
Court records also reveal a bankruptcy, a palimony suit and a conviction for sports betting. Still, as the latest complaint suggests, neither age nor censure has slowed Mr. Kolodner.
Although officials with the Attorney Grievance Commission refuse to discuss the case, their complaint says Mr. Kolodner purports to be working as a "para-legal" for Burton M. Greenstein, a licensed lawyer.
However, the complaint says, Mr. Kolodner has interviewed clients, negotiated settlements with insurance companies and recommended settlements to clients. These actions, the commission claims, constitute the work of a lawyer.
CIn an interview in his office last week, Mr. Greenstein denied that Mr. Kolodner had ever performed the work of a lawyer.
The commission also says that Mr. Kolodner uses individuals known as "runners" to procure accident victims for the law firm, a practice that Assistant Maryland Attorney General Michael Dipietro says violates Maryland's business code.
The complaint also says that Mr. Kolodner has recommended that his clients seek treatment at his wife's clinic, which advertises itself as "Specializing in Accident Cases" and promises "Best Settlements in Area."
The commission's complaint, which is filed against both Mr. Kolodner and Mr. Greenstein, mirrors the experience of Valerie Witherspoon, an assistant nurse from northwest Baltimore who helped prompt the commission's new investigation into Mr. Kolodner.
On December 1, the car Miss Witherspoon, 35, was driving collided with another car on Park Heights Avenue. With her as passengers were her 13-year old son Derek Bell and a friend, Norman Holman.
While waiting for police, Miss Witherspoon was approached by a stranger, she recalls. He told her not to accept blame for the wreck too quickly. "He said I could be right or I could be wrong, but he knew a lawyer who could make me right."
The stranger, who said his name was Bobby Banks, gave Miss Witherspoon a card bearing the name of Mr. Kolodner and Mr. Greenstein.
The card identified Mr. Kolodner as a "paralegal," Miss Witherspoon says. But when she met him the next day at a downtown office, he told her that he was going to be her lawyer, she says.
Mr. Holman, who was present at that meeting, also says Mr. Kolodner referred to himself as a lawyer.
Miss Witherspoon told Mr. Kolodner that she had pain in her back and knee as a result of the accident and that Derek was also in discomfort. Mr. Holman said he was in pain.
Mr. Kolodner said he would file insurance claims for all of them and charge them 28 per cent of the money he recovered.
Mr. Kolodner referred the three to the Industrial Medical and Physical Therapy Center and appeared to take it for granted that they all would need regular physical therapy, she says. "He said whatever you do, don't miss no days because it'll make your case go better," says Miss Witherspoon. "Go at least 15 times."
Miss Witherspoon says Mr. Kolodner never revealed his wife's role in the clinic.
Miss Witherspoon says she frequently saw Mr. Banks at the clinic and he sometimes gave her rides there. When a reporter called Mr. Banks at the clinic, a woman answering the phone said she had never heard of him.
Miss Witherspoon became dissatisfied shortly after Christmas because she hadn't received any money. She had believed that she would receive payment to compensate her for missing work.
Although she was unable to reach Mr. Kolodner by telephone, she says Mr. Greenstein told her that the clinic had been paid but that she would receive nothing more.
In January, she complained about Mr. Kolodner to the Attorney Grievance Commission. Staff attorney Glenn M. Grossman wrote Mr. Greenstein requesting a full accounting of the firm's dealings with Miss Witherspoon and asked for information about Mr. Banks' role with the firm.
Mr. Greenstein last week told The Sun that Mr. Kolodner has worked for him since last July, but as a paralegal, not a lawyer. He said he had known Mr. Kolodner for 48 years and didn't believe he had done anything wrong.
"It's a matter of interpretation of what 'practice law' means," Mr. Greenstein said. "There are numerous paralegals that settle cases; there are secretaries that settle cases -- that's not practicing law."