Lawyer’s interests were conflicted in comedy club suit against NYC Council member: ruling
A former New York City government lawyer violated conflict-of-interest rules after he represented an iconic comedy club in its lawsuit against a City Council member who accused the night spot of antisemitism, according to an agency ruling.
The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board decision marks the second defeat for Mark Yosef, a former attorney for the city’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection.
First, Yosef’s defamation suit on behalf of Manhattan’s Comic Strip Live was dismissed by a judge. Then, the Conflicts of Interest Board ruled that Yosef had no business filing the lawsuit at all, as he was a city employee at the time.
Local law prohibits a city employee from acting as an attorney against the interests of the city in litigation to which the city is a party. That law applies whether the attorney is paid or not.
In 2022, Yosef represented Comic Strip Live in a lawsuit against City Council Member Julie Menin (D-Manhattan) and a news site that covers her Upper East Side district. At dispute in the case were news articles and Menin’s comments accusing the club of being antisemitic.
The courthouse heckling of the club — which helped launch the careers of Jerry Seinfeld, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock and Adam Sandler — is rooted in its owners’ decision to post a social media message that included hashtags about vaccine mandates and about Nuremberg, a reference that offended some Jewish groups.
The website, UpperEastSite.com, posted a story under the headline, “Iconic Comic Strip Club posts Anti-Semitic, Anti-Vax message on Instagram.”
The article, according to the lawsuit, criticized the Instagram post for drawing a link between COVID-19 vaccination mandates and the human experimentation done on Jews by Nazis in WWII Germany.
After the article appeared, Menin chimed in with a tweet condemning the Instagram post.
“This post is deeply offensive,” Menin wrote at the time. ”As a daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I cannot condemn this strongly enough. No one should draw false equivalencies between COVID-19 mandates and the Holocaust. We must immediately call out hate speech and anti-semitism.”
Menin subsequently published a letter in which she excoriated Comic Strip Live for “antisemitic sentiments expressed in your latest Instagram posting.”
The club sued Menin and the web site over the “defamatory statements,” seeking $1 million in damages. Menin never spoke with them before posting the tweet or publishing the letter, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was dismissed.
Menin, who was once commissioner of the city agency that employed Yosef, said she “can’t even believe that a city attorney ... would not only violate a central ethical tenet but also exercise such poor legal judgement in filing a utterly baseless and frivolous defamation claim against me for $1 million for calling out a clearly anti-Semitic tweet.
“This was always a frivolous case and it is no surprise that it has now been determined to involve an unethical lawyer. Instead of clowning around, he should take practicing law seriously,” Menin said.
Under city charter rules, Yosef could face civil fines of up to $25,000 for representing the club in its lawsuit against Menin.
“However, the Board has concluded that it will not impose a fine for this violation under the circumstances presented here, in particular that you were not paid for your representation of Comic Strip Promotions and that the case you filed has been dismissed,” the ruling said.