Unlicensed NY lawyer spared jail time, given probation

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Prosecutors said Dennis McGrath, 57, of Hamburg practiced law in Eire County for 15 years without a valid law license. For 13 of those years, McGrath collected $164,00 from taxpayers to represent indigent clients in court.

The Hamburg grandfather pleaded guilty in December to second degree grand larceny, a felony, and unauthorized practice of law, a misdemeanor. On Friday, McGrath was sentence to probation.

Ironically, McGrath is a lawyer–in Ohio, and in federal court. He neglected to get his proper credentials to practice law in New York, but no one criticized McGrath’s legal acumen at his Erie County Court sentencing.

McGrath offered a tearful apology to those who trusted him during the 15-year lie he lived and practiced as a New York lawyer.

“I wanted to apologize to, and to thank for my family for all of their support throughout this. I also wanted to apologize to my clients, to my colleagues.”

Assistant Erie County District Attorney, Candace Vogel told Erie County Judge Kenneth Case McGrath admitted taking the money, and signed a Confession of Judgment, agreeing to pay back the $164,845 in restitution.

But McGrath would pay less than a third of that, $50,000 telling Judge Case that is all he has–he has forfeited his retirement, and he is now unemployed.

He collected the $164,000 from 2001 to 2013, representing defendants in the “Assigned Counsel” program–people who couldn’t afford their own attorneys. McGrath’s lawyer, Mark Uba described his client as a steady presence for his two adopted daughters, who was a “stay-at-home” father for a period of time.

“Helping the indigent, the disadvantaged, those without a voice of their own in society–that began as early as law school,” Uba said.

Uba also pointed out McGrath received letters of support from as many as 75 former clients, athletes he has coached, family and friends. Even Judge Case was impressed.

“You have been an exemplary husband, father, friend, coach, and person, except for the fact that you didn’t get permanently licensed to practice law in New York state.”

Case also felt compelled to praise McGrath’s good work.

“Wow, what an incredible person,” Case said. “What have I done, in my life, to make that kind of difference in this world?”

Even though McGrath’s pre-sentence report recommended a “conditional discharge”, which just means staying out of trouble for the next few years, Case said there has to be consequences.

He sentenced McGrath to 5 years probation and 300 hours of community service, noting that because of McGrath’s felony conviction for grand theft, he will likely be disbarred in Ohio and banned from ever practicing law again.

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