In a rare case of its kind, the former chief judge of the New York State unemployment insurance appeals board has filed a lawsuit claiming he lost his job for raising complaints about the law firm Raff & Becker. Allegedly, William Rold, who served as the Chief Judge of the board from 2007 to 2010, had objected to a proposal for increasing the number of audits performed by Raff & Becker. Rold claims the unemployment law firm had been billing the state for unnecessary audits of unemployment cases for decades. And that his job was terminated after he objected to the practice.
According to the lawsuit, state officials in league with Raff & Becker allowed the law firm to create backlogs in unemployment appeals, and submit monthly bills up to $ 90,000 for essentially unnecessary work. Apparently, the audits conducted by the employment law firm “mostly diverted judges’ time and generated attorneys’ fees.”
Raff & Becker had represented the plaintiffs in two class action suits that were settled in 1983 expanding the due process rights of unemployment claimants and allowing them to call and cross-examine witnesses. Consequently, the employment law firm was appointed by a judge in 1983 to monitor the compliance of the settlement made to ensure due process to claimants of unemployment benefits.
However, according to the lawsuit, the work of the employment law firm consisted mainly of random case audits and writing detailed letters to administrative judges. Rold claimed an average judge could resolve three cases within the time and effort it took to properly respond to a single letter from Raff & Becker.
The lawsuit also claims that Raff & Becker netted $5.3 million in such monitoring fees between 1995 and 2003 upon audits, which could be initiated when a claimant is denied unemployment benefits.
In December, the federal government sued Raff & Becker, former Atty Gen and current Governor Andrew Cuomo, former state labor commissioner Patricia Smith, and appeals board chairman Leonard Polletta on behalf of Rold. The complaint was unsealed last week.
The lawsuit states, “The resources diverted to do the proposed audits could instead have reduced the backlog by one-third, if the judges were resolving new cases instead of reconsidering old ones.”
However, the law firm says Rold is merely disgruntled and his claims are against three decades of stipulations duly vetted by state officials and approved by federal courts. Raff of Raff & Becker maintains, “What you have here is someone who felt he knew better than the commissioner of labor, the attorney general, and the comptroller about how system should be managed.”
The case is United States of America v. Raff & Becker, District Court for the Eastern District of New York, No. cv-11-6374.