A disbarred attorney who claimed he was the sole heir to a $40 million fortune has failed to establish that two Newburgh attorneys committed legal malpractice that caused his claim on the estate to be dismissed.
The malpractice lawsuit concerns the estate of Roman Blum, a Holocaust survivor and real estate developer who left behind no heirs or surviving family members when he died in 2012 in Staten Island at age 97.
He had apparently filed no will, leaving the largest unclaimed estate in New York history and creating widespread publicity about his estate. Hundreds of people called or wrote to Surrogate Court in Staten Island, claiming to be his long lost relatives.
Two wills were produced, including a purported 2006 last will and testament submitted by Anthony J. Allegrino II.
Surrogate Court dismissed Allegrino’s probate petition in 2016 for failure to submit proper documents proving his connection to Blum and failure to prosecute his case. The court also questioned the legitimacy of the signature on the will.
Allegrino blamed his lawyers, Martin A. Cohen and Bruce Dunn of Newburgh, as well as the Ruskin Moscou Faltischek law firm on Long Island.
On Feb. 8, U.S. District Judge Philip M. Halpern dismissed Allegrino’s 2019 lawsuit against the lawyers.
It was Allegrino’s “failure to take any steps to protect his own interests,” and not legal malpractice by his attorneys, that resulted in the Statin Island court dismissing the purported will.
In that will, Blum bequeaths everything – his real estate, financial accounts, personal property – to Allegrino, of New Windsor. He nominates attorney Vincent Geraci, of Newburgh, as executor, and if Geraci was unable to act, then Allegrino.
The will is silent on Blum’s relationship to Allegrino, or the motive for giving him everything.
Allegrino, who now lives in Beverly Hills, California, claimed that he was distantly related to Blum. He submitted a photo of Blum with his grandmother, Thelma Kaylin, in an envelope postmarked in 1970.
He claimed he had had a direct relationship with Blum and had received “substantial gifts” from him.
He stated that he had nothing to do with preparing the will and was out of the country when Geraci completed it.
Geraci died in 2011.
Allegrino hired Cohen and Dunn in 2013 to file the will in Surrogate Court, Staten Island, and to handle the proceedings.
In 2015, the county’s public administrator challenged the will. Four months later, Cohen and Dunn withdrew as Allegrino’s attorneys, and the court granted Allegrino time to find new counsel.
Allegrino claims that he later paid Cohen and Dunn $25,000 to “finish up the case.”
He accused them of not showing up in court on numerous occasions, particularly on April 26, 2017, not filing documents, and not deposing witnesses.
But for their legal malpractice, he claims, he would have prevailed and would have been named sole heir to the $40 million estate.
Cohen and Dunn disputed the allegations, and contended that Allegrino had presented a doctored agreement for their services.
The authenticity of the agreement was not a factor in Judge Halpern’s ruling, but he found it “dubious to say the least.” He noted that Allegrino had been admonished and disbarred in 2005 by the California Supreme Court, in part for “unilateral addition of terms to executed retainer agreements.”
Even if the court assumes that Allegrino had retained Cohen and Dunn and that they had failed to appear in Surrogate Court on a critical date, Halpern ruled, there was no clear causation between alleged negligence and unfavorable outcome.
Citing legal precedents, Halpern said that bald speculation cannot support a claim of legal malpractice. Moreover, he ruled, Allegrini failed to submit papers or support his position for at least five months.