A Manhattan personal injury attorney who deceived Jamaican officials so he could enter into a bigamous marriage with his long-time mistress in 2004 has been suspended for six months.
A unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled on Feb. 26 that Joseph I. Rosenzweig should be suspended, rejecting a referee's recommendation that he only be given a public censure. Justices Rolando Acosta (See Profile), Dianne Renwick (See Profile), Leland DeGrasse (See Profile), Helen Freedman (See Profile) and Rosalyn Richter (See Profile) were on the panel.
Rosenzweig had argued that his behavior was "highly aberrational," and that it was confined to his personal life and did not affect his law practice. The panel, however, held that even misconduct unrelated to the practice of law could warrant a suspension.
Rosenzweig met Radiah Givens, then a student, in 1995 at New York Dolls, a club where Givens was working as a dancer, according to the referee's report in the disciplinary matter. The two began a long-term affair, with Rosenzweig supporting Givens financially, including buying her an apartment for which he acted as mortgage lender. Rosenzweig was married and had two children.
During a trip to Jamaica in 2004, Rosenzweig and Givens were married by a Jamaican official. Rosenzweig has admitted that he told the official he was single. According to a brief filed by Rosenzweig in the disciplinary case, the wedding was a "symbolic expression of mutual love and commitment." He maintains that the two never intended to live together as a married couple.
Following the wedding, however, the marriage certificate was mailed to Rosenzweig's apartment and discovered by his wife, who demanded that he break off all contact with Givens. He did so, though not immediately, finally severing ties by April 2005, according to his brief.
The relationship became public after Rosenzweig attempted to foreclose on the apartment that he had bought Givens. Though he initially won summary judgment, the First Department reversed and reinstated the case (NYLJ, January 9, 2009). The decision, which recounted the details of Rosenzweig's affair and marriage to Givens, prompted the Departmental Disciplinary Committee to launch a probe and bring charges. The foreclosure action was eventually dropped.
The referee, George Davidson, sustained all the charges and recommended a public censure. Davidson noted that the Jamaican law against bigamy appeared intended to protect spouses from being abandoned.
That rationale did not apply to Rosenzweig, since "the parties to the purported marriage were in Jamaica only briefly, and there was no impact on the Jamaican citizenry," the referee said. "And because the parties to the ceremony did not seek to change their preexisting relationship and Respondent did not intend to end his marriage with his wife, the concerns apparently underlying the bigamy statutes do not appear to be present, or are present only in attenuated form."
Givens testified in the foreclosure case that she had been unaware that Rosenzweig was married and that he had deceived her in various ways. However, Davidson credited Rosenzweig's testimony that she had known all along that Rosenzweig was married with children and that they would never live together.