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February 9, 2012 3:21 PM

Former Cravath Associate's Law License Suspended Over Assault Conviction

Posted by Sara Randazzo

A New York court ruled Thursday that as a result of pleading guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge and serving six months in jail in connection with a 2007 domestic violence incident involving an ex-girlfriend, former Cravath, Swaine & Moore associate Michael Zulandt cannot practice law in the state for the next three years.

Zulandt pleaded guilty in December 2008 to third-degree assault following the altercation, during which, according to court documents, he threw the woman to the floor repeatedly, slapped her in the face, called her derogatory names, and destroyed several of her possessions. 

In suspending Zulandt's law license for three years, a New York state appellate court disciplinary committee ruled that the former Cravath lawyer was guilty of professional misconduct and that his actions called into question his honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer. The penalty is considerably stiffer than the 60-day license suspension suggested by a court referee earlier in the disciplinary process.

After Zulandt entered his guilty plea, he was sentenced to ten months in jail and ordered to pay the victim $8,273 to make up for the damage he caused by smashing her Cartier watch with a hammer, filling her purse with water, puncturing a painting, and damaging a couch with water and oil. Zulandt left jail in June 2009 after serving about six months, according to Thursday's court ruling.

Kelley, Drye & Warren partner James Keneally represented Zulandt in the disciplinary proceedings. A call to Keneally's office was not immediately returned Thursday.

A 2005 graduate of University of Michigan Law School, Zulandt was admitted to the New York bar in December 2006. It is unclear where Zulandt has worked since the incident and when he left Cravath. (Several online directories and a 2007 press release link Zulandt to Cravath. A firm spokeswoman declined to comment.)

In earlier disciplinary hearings, according to Thursday's filing, Zulandt admitted that he "always had a temper" and had pushed the ex-girlfriend to the ground during an August 2006 argument. He also said he began to attend therapy to address his anger problems following the incident that led to the assault charge. A therapist who has treated him testified during the disciplinary process that the violence was "the result of an intermittent explosive disorder," according to the Thursday filing.

In choosing to escalate the suspension from the suggested 60 days to three years, however, the court found that Zulandt "engaged in a calculated pattern of cruelty that was not the product of the intermittent explosive disorder described by the expert" but the sign of a problem that called for Zulandt to spend more time away from the law.

The court decision also noted that in any disciplinary action, the purpose is not to "punish" the attorney, but to "protect the courts and public from attorneys that are unfit for practice."

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With a result this bad, what was the point of paying Kelley Drye?

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