W. ROBERT CURTIS, M.Ed., M.S., M.P.H., Sc.D., J.D.
In 1987, W. Robert Curtis founded Curtis & Riess-Curtis, the first law firm in the United States to limit its practice to plaintiff's legal malpractice. It held that distinction for 15 years. Curtis & Associates, a successor firm, likewise limits its practice to representing clients injured by attorneys.
Beginning in 1987, Mr. Curtis carried his ideas about client empowerment from health care and human services into the judicial system.
Not always welcomed with open arms by his 'brothers and sisters' before the bar, Mr. Curtis' law firms have touched much of the common law effecting the distribution of power between attorney and client while 'high-lighting' the obligations of honesty from every attorney.
Overall, the Curtis firms have attempted to shift the New York common law toward greater -- and more honest -- disclosure to clients, and toward greater control by clients over their own lives and over their, often life-changing, attorney-client relationship.
The thrust of the firms work includes the following problem areas:
- Suing attorneys who encourage their clients to lie in order to 'win.'
- Conceptualizing and seeking compensation for the damages caused by sexual contact between professional and client.
- Imposing 'white collar crime' statutes on judges including obtaining a civil RICO conviction against a sitting judge.
- Stopping attorneys who use the judicial system to maliciously prosecute or coerce a client into making an unwelcomed and unwanted decision.
- Prosecuting attorneys who have stolen client funds.
- Holding attorneys accountable because of their conflicts of interest.
- Suing an attorney for using deceit through an expert witnesses.
- Holding an attorney accountable for practicing law with diminished capacity or with psychological impairment.
- Suing an attorney for deceiving the court.
- Pressing for full disclosure to and consent by the client when settling a case.
- Prohibiting attorneys from withdrawing their services without good cause when the real good cause is for their own economic benefit.
- Expanding the right of a client to terminate the attorney-client relationship at any time 'with' or 'without cause' (an articulated good reason).
- Stopping attorneys from avoiding liability for their mistakes based on the defense of "professional judgment."
- Expanding the right of a client to seek punitive damages before a jury against an attorney for outrageous conduct.
- Opening the secrecy surrounding ethics complaints against attorneys.
- Requiring an attorney to fully disclose to his client a referral relationship to another attorney and fully disclose the referral fee to be paid for making the referral.
- Recognizing psychological pain and suffering as a damage for which a client should be compensated when a attorney makes a serious mistake.
- Obtaining penalties against an attorney for creating false evidence.
- Preventing an attorney from making himself judgment-proof by transferring his property to the name of his wife (or husband) and saving money by not carrying malpractice insurance.
- Introducing criminal activity as evidence into a civil malpractice case.
- Stopping lower courts from dismissing or limiting serious claims against attorneys in order to protect the reputation of the judicial system.
Some of these problem areas have been addressed successfully by the Curtis law firms. Others await work .
As indicated above, the practice of law is Mr. Curtis's second career.
His first career began in 1966 when he accepted the position of principal psychologist at Massachusetts' infamous correctional facility, Bridgewater State Hospital. He was among a cadre of professionals brought in to change the institutional environment revealed by Fred Weisman's film 'Titcut Follies.'
Several years later, Mr. Curtis moved to the Commonwealth's Department of Mental Health where he first worked as a clinician, then as area director, and finally as the state's first non-M.D. director of a state hospital. During this period Psychiatric Annals published several of his papers.
While in public service, Mr. Curtis earned three master's degrees: one in psychology from Boston University; a second in behavioral sciences; and a third in public health (the last two from Harvard University).
In 1978, Mr. Curtis was awarded a doctorate of science in health service administration from Harvard University. He currently holds -- while not practicing in the field -- a license in psychology. While in Massachusetts, Mr. Curtis served Governor Michael Dukakis in the Executive Office of Human Services, leading the effort to reorganize and consolidate the delivery of human services across the Commonwealth. He was awarded several substantial federal grants and appointed as the Principal Investigator for the United States Department of Health and Human Services for projects that studied the possible transfer to other states of the technology he had developed in Massachusetts. See for exemple Public Interest and State Management of Human Services .
Much of this scientific investigation was carried out by Medicine, Law & Management (then "SMRI"), a non-profit organization that continues to assist in the publication of works related to empowering clients of lawyers.
Recruited by New York State in 1978, Mr. Curtis served Governor Hugh Carey as the Director of the Willowbrook Consent Decree Office, a political unit set up by the state following Geraldo Rivera's expose of Willowbrook State School. There he managed the state's litigation complying with the terms of the Willowbrook Consent Decree that were being enforced by United States District Court Judge John R. Bartels.
In 1980, Mr. Curtis co-founded The New England Journal of Human Service. He worked as its co-editor and co-publisher until 1989. The editors routinely interviewed leading figures in the field of human services.
Mr. Curtis concluded his career in health and human services by teaching full-time for seven years at the New School for Social Research as an associate professor.
While teaching at the New School University, Mr. Curtis crossed Fifth Avenue to attend Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law where he studied as a Jacob Burns Scholar.
Initially admitted to practice law in the federal and state courts of Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C., Mr. Curtis now limits his practice to New York State, and to clients who have been injured by lawyers practicing in New York.