A Chappaqua lawyer has been disbarred for mishandling funds for an incapacitated nursing home client.
Five appellate court justices ruled on Oct. 11 that Steven B. Cottler had committed professional misconduct.
An attempt to contact Cottler for comment was unsuccessful. The telephone number for his Valhalla office was not in service.
The disciplinary action began in 2015, after Cottler stopped paying the patient’s bills at Bainbridge Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the Bronx. The nursing home petitioned Bronx Supreme Court to appoint a guardian to protect the patient’s interests.
The court agreed, finding that Cottler had breached his fiduciary duty. He had been collecting $700 per month to carry out his duties when he was entitled to only $500 per month. He failed to explain why the nursing home bills had remained unpaid for many months.
The court also notified the local attorney grievance committee of its findings.
The committee found that Cottler had used a trust account for personal and business expenses. When the committee tried to examine Cottler under oath, he repeatedly asked for delays and he did not submit files that had been requested.
Cottler responded that it was always his intention to cooperate but he had been hospitalized four times for respiratory and cardiac problems.
Before practicing law, he said, he had a long career as a nursing home and hospital administrator. He had devoted his law practice to helping clients with Medicaid, long-term care, wills, guardianships and nursing home issues. He described his approach to caring for the elderly as “hands-on” and said he had faithfully served the incapacitated patient for many years.
The appellate court suspended Cottler’s license in February and authorized a disciplinary proceeding.
Notwithstanding his “good intentions and his various hospitalizations,” the court ruled, Cottler posed “an immediate threat to the public interest.”
The grievance committee filed several formal charges: He had used his trust account for personal purposes, did not ensure that adequate funds were on deposit, made improper cash withdrawals, commingled personal funds with trust funds, collected excessive fees, failed to account for guardianship funds and failed to cooperate with the investigation.
Cottler did not respond to the charges.
The five-judge panel ruled that the committee had established the charges and Cottler had defaulted by not responding.
Cottler also has struggled with paying personal income taxes. Five federal tax liens have been filed against him in Westchester County for $341,266 from 1999 through 2015. One tax lien, for $19,556, has been satisfied.