New York lawyer who billed for porn won't collect

NEW YORK Thu Jan 5, 2012 7:08pm EST

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A law firm that fired one of its attorneys who billed clients for pornographic movies and escort services is off the hook for a $600,000 discrimination judgment, a New York appeals court ruled on Thursday.

An administrative law judge at the State Division of Human Rights awarded James Hazen $50,000 from his former employer, Hill Betts & Nash, after Hazen claimed he suffered from bipolar disorder. A subsequent order from the departmental commissioner granted Hazen an additional $550,000 in lost pay.

In its ruling, the appeals court said the administrative law judge had ruled "incomprehensibly," and that the law firm had no indication that Hazen suffered from bipolar disorder at the time of his termination in 2006.

"All that was before (Hill Betts & Nash) when it terminated the petitioner ... was that he had charged more than $21,000 in hotels and other personal expenses to the corporate credit card and tried to bill HBN's clients for personal expenses," Justice James Catterson wrote in the ruling.

Those "other expenses" included alcohol, escorts and porn, according to court documents.

The court faulted Hazen for claiming he turned to hotel stays and escorts only when he suffered from bouts of mental illness considering that he also acknowledged booking the rooms weeks in advance.

"The only way to credit the testimony that his disorder caused him to engage in such behavior, is to accept the preposterous notion that he was able to predict his mental state weeks in advance and plan accordingly," Catterson wrote.

Even if his mental illness led to his actions, "a petitioner's disability does not shield him from the consequences of workplace misconduct," the ruling said.

William Roth, Hazen's attorney, said his client had not decided whether to appeal.

(Additional reporting by Leigh Jones; Editing by Edith Honan and Daniel Trotta)

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