Irving J. Pinsky, the lawyer who made national news by filing a notice of a claim against the state Dec. 27 for $100 million on behalf of a girl who survived the Newtown school massacre — and then withdrawing the claim, days later, amid public outrage — was suspended from the practice of law in Connecticut in 2003 after a finding that he acted unethically in representing a client who had been in a car accident.
Pinsky, of New Haven, was suspended for a year on May 2, 2003; after applying for reinstatement, he was restored on Dec. 15, 2006, to status as an attorney in good standing.
The flurry of news reports about Pinsky in recent weeks made references to his past suspension but gave few details. The Courant filed a Freedom of Information Act request for records on the Statewide Grievance Committee's 2001 disciplinary case against him.
The records show that Pinsky failed to meet a statutory deadline for filing a court action on behalf of his client, a young woman named Mia Griffin, in connection with her 1989 automobile accident in Massachusetts.
But he aggravated that problem by paying her thousands of dollars in what a Superior Court judge said appeared to be an effort to "avoid the disciplinary consequences of his ethical lapses," according to case records.
Pinsky said in an interview last week that "I disagreed completely and totally" with the decision in the case, and that he had been unable to get a jury trial. But he said that he had moved on from that point without further problems, adding: "It's 21 years ago — please."
Pinsky said that although he has withdrawn the recent notice of the claim on behalf of the Newtown girl, he might pursue it again as time goes on. He said that his interest is in ensuring that schools are made safe from attacks such as the one on Dec. 14 by Adam Lanza in which 20 first-graders and six female staff members were shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Pinsky would not identify the girl he said he represents, or her parents.
The disciplinary case against him was argued in 2001 before Superior Court Judge Jonathan Silbert by Michael P. Bowler, who is the statewide bar counsel. Imposition of the suspension was delayed until 2003 by Pinsky's unsuccessful appeal.
According to testimony and evidence, Pinsky had Griffin sign a blank piece of paper on Sept. 16, 1994, a day that he paid her several thousand dollars, and later filled in the space with language releasing him from "any matter from the auto collision of Jan/21/89 in Mass + any matters from legal representation or misrepresentation from that time to now. … No admission of liability has been made by Attorney Pinsky but I have spoken to other lawyers and am happy with the settlement share received copy of agreement and I am not taking this under duress."
"And you signed that release?" Griffin was asked during a court hearing.
"No, I signed a blank piece of paper," she answered.
About a year later, in September 1995, Griffin filed a grievance against Pinsky, and months later he met with her "and gave her money in exchange for a statement to be provided to the local grievance panel investigating the complaint to the effect that she no longer had any complaint about him," according to the court decision.
Case documents indicate that Pinsky ultimately paid Griffin $11,000, which his lawyer said was more than she might have rightfully expected for her minimal injuries. The partial payments along the way were characterized as advances against the final settlement for her damages, rather than an attempt to dissuade her from initiating a grievance.
Pinsky's position was that "he has more than adequately compensated Griffin for her troubles, and the release is nothing more than an effort to memorialize that fact," the judge noted in his decision.
But that argument was rejected.
The judge noted in his decision that Pinsky's lawyer had said in a legal brief that Griffin "makes out like a bandit" in the matter — or, in other words, that she had been paid "a sum far in excess of the value of her underlying case."
But the judge said "rather than exonerating him from the charge of dishonesty and deceit," the "clear implication" of Pinsky's "overcompensating his former client is that he was trying to convince her to pursue her complaints against him no further."
The judge cited a "perception that the payments he made were undertaken less as an effort to right a wrong he had done her and more as an attempt to try to avoid the consequences of his disciplinary lapses."
"Where is the dishonesty, deceit or misrepresentation in paying someone full value for a release?" argued Pinsky's lawyer, Max F. Brunswick, in the appeal. "This case is unprecedented because the complainant has suffered no loss."
Jon Lender is a reporter on The Courant's investigative desk, with a focus on government and politics. Contact him at email@example.com, 860-241-6524, or c/o The Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115 and find him on Twitter@jonlender.