Lawyer Seizes Home as Pay

New York Post
April 22, 2002
By Karen Winner

Divorcee racked up 8 years of legal fees

A New York woman who battled through one of the state’s longest-running divorces now faces losing her home – to her lawyer. Jean O’Sullivan, of Albany, trusted her former divorce lawyer Stewart Schantz so much that she once publicly sang his praises at a state legislative hearing on attorney discipline.

But the Poughkeepsie attorney and his wife are now seizing O’Sullivan’s home to cover his legal fees – even though ethics rules bar divorce lawyers in New York from foreclosing on a client’s primary residence.

O’Sullivan, 68, who lives on $400 a week in alimony, says she has paid Schantz $46,200 for his work on her divorce that took eight years to finalize, from 1986 to 1994, because it went through appeals and an extensive document-gathering process.

Court records show Schantz claims he is still owed $47,176 – an amount O’Sullivan disputes.

“I really think he’d rather trade his [law] license for the keys to my house,” O’Sullivan said.

Schantz couldn’t be reached for comment. But his Poughkeepsie attorney, Peter L. Maroulis, said his client had done nothing ethically wrong.

UN-SETTLING SITUATION:  Jean O’Sullivan, whose divorce dragged on for eight years, now faces losing her Albany home to cover legal fees.

Maroulis dismissed O’Sullivan as a “disgruntled loser” after an April 5 court ruling approved the foreclosure on her home.

“She sang Mr. Schantz’s praises when it suited her, and now that she doesn’t want to pay his bill, she has nasty things to say about him,” Maroulis said.

O’Sullivan said she had given Schantz two mortgages on her home as security for his legal fees. Records show the lawyer had the mortgages transferred to his wife in 1998.

Priscilla Schantz was given the green light to foreclose on O’Sullivan’s home by state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Teresi.

The April 5 court order also ordered O’Sullivan to pay Priscilla Schantz interest and cover the legal fees for her lawyer. O’Sullivan believes she could now collectively owe the Schantzes up to $100,000.

O’Sullivan has taken her case to the state grievance committee that investigates alleged lawyer misconduct, but concedes any resolution probably won’t come in time to save her house.

“I don’t know what is in store for me,” she said.