Judge Calls Pennsylvania Bankruptcy Lawyer a “Sociopath”
From June of 2010 to June of 2013, Bucks County bankruptcy attorney Jason Mazzei handled approximately 1,300 Chapter 13 cases. Collectively, those cases earned him an estimated $1.7 million in retainer fees — and the attention of several bankruptcy judges, one of whom eventually removed himself from the case after referring to Mazzei as a “sociopath.”
Legal Battle Escalates into Personal Feud Between Judge Agresti and Attorney Mazzei
Jeffrey A. Deller is the Chief Judge for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Western District of Pennsylvania. It was Deller who first noticed unusual financial activity on behalf of bankruptcy lawyer Jason J. Mazzei, who is based in Pittsburgh. Judge Deller — along with several other area bankruptcy judges — had received multiple complaints from Mazzei’s former clients.
Concerned, Deller turned to U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas P. Agresti to request a closer review of Mazzei.
“It has become apparent,” wrote Judge Deller, “that the practices in question may be so ingrained that the only way the courts can address them properly is by having a single judge handle them from a more global perspective.”
In April, Judge Agresti filed a court order which was intended to determine “whether Mazzei should be subject to a disciplinary measure including a suspension from practice in this Court.” Like Deller before him, Judge Agresti noted “serious concern” regarding Mazzei’s financial practices. He pointed in particular to one Chapter 7 case in 2013, in which Mazzei reportedly charged his client legal fees greater than the debts which prompted the client to seek bankruptcy in the first place.
Alarmed, Judge Agresti appointed a neutral third party to probe deeper into the financial goings-on at Mazzei’s firm, Mazzei & Associates, in hopes of uncovering (and remedying) any problem areas. When the investigation into Mazzei & Associates concluded, the expert appointed by Judge Agresti came back with over 30 recommendations.
In particular, Judge Agresti wanted to determine whether Mazzei was deliberately “causing Chapter 13 debtors to refile bankruptcy cases, at least in part to generate additional fees, resulting in clients being overcharged.”
But the conflict between Agresti and Mazzei reached new levels of tension in May, when Judge Agresti reportedly called the embattled attorney a “sociopath” after one particularly heated hearing. Mazzei also claimed that Agresti wrote, “There’s a new world order coming, and you’re the target.”
“Any reasonable person would conclude from Judge Agresti’s actions and comments,” Mazzei subsequently wrote, “that he harbors a bias toward Attorney Mazzei… and the appearance of bias is apparent.”
Judge Agresti conceded a possibility of bias against Mazzei on his behalf, and recused himself from the case in June — but he still remains firm in his characterization of Mazzei as a “sociopath.”
What Red Flags Should You Watch Out For in a Lawyer?
With the judge’s formal departure, Mazzei attempted to appeal Agresti’s former rulings, citing an acknowledged negative bias against his firm. However, even after Agresti’s self-recusal, other judges who took issue with Mazzei’s alleged misconduct remained interested in pursuing the matter — including Chief Bankruptcy Judge Jeffrey A. Deller, who appointed U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Gregory L. Taddonio to take Agresti’s place.
In support of his decision not to drop the case despite the earlier snag with Judge Agresti, Judge Deller wrote that “all of these clients feel that either fees were not earned or that their cases were mishandled or that their case was effectively abandoned by attorney Mazzei.”
Mazzei eventually lost his appeal, primarily because he failed to submit documents in time for a court deadline. U.S. District Judge Nora Barry Fischer had little sympathy for the attorney’s plight, writing, “As an attorney, Mr. Mazzei should be more than capable of meeting deadlines and seeking extensions.”
Mazzei reports that he stopped taking on new clients in 2013. However, he is still licensed to practice, and says his shift away from bankruptcy law is voluntary.
“I’ve been looking to get out for a while,” he stated in May.
It’s a complex (and unusually contentious) story, but whether attorney or judge is ultimately “in the right,” Mazzei’s long legal battle brings up a very good question for those considering Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy: what sort of red flags should you watch out for in a bankruptcy attorney (or indeed, any type of attorney)?
- Lack of transparency. A good attorney will have happy, satisfied clients and should be eager to show off positive testimonials. If he or she is unable or unwilling to demonstrate a strong track record, something may be wrong.
- Poor responsiveness. Part of competence in the legal field is the ability to consistently meet rigid court deadlines (as Mazzei’s lost appeal demonstrates). If your prospective attorney is slow to respond to your phone calls and inquiries — or fails to respond altogether — it could be an indicator of problems to come.
- Bad attitude. You and your lawyer will be working very closely together for a period of months if not years. If you feel uncomfortable disclosing your financial information to him or her, or if your attorney is at all condescending, temperamental, or rude, call someone else. Your lawyer is supposed to respect and support you — not make your life miserable.
If you are thinking about filing for bankruptcy in New Jersey or Pennsylvania, we may be able to help. For a free and private consultation, call the law offices of Young, Marr, Mallis & Associates at (609) 755-3115 in New Jersey or (215) 701-6519 in Pennsylvania, or contact us online.