Sues Chase Bank For $5M

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She says Sandra Ahn, the Chase lawyer she initially had dealings with, accused her of turning the matter into a "racial" issue. Ahn also told her she was only "after money" Murray says, and offered $7,500. "I found this offer insulting," she adds. Murray eventually filed a $5 million lawsuit against JPMorgan Chase Bank. Documents show that Chase bank branch manager, Keith C. Goggin, had already taken responsibility for the deposit mistake. Goggin is no longer a Chase employee and bank officials wouldn't provide details.

Banking institutions are expected to help their clients but an African American lawyer and former prosecutor says Chase Bank caused her much pain and suffering after a clerk made a mistake in depositing a check. The bank's error--if indeed it was a mistake, the lawyer says--ruined her life, and destroyed her private law practice.

It all started when Katherine A. Murray, a Queens-based attorney, instructed Chase Bank to transfer funds into a client sub account from a Trust master account when one of her clients wanted to cash out. A few days later, Murray says, she got the shock of her life--the check she issued to her client had bounced from here to Timbuktu.
Confused, Murray says she rushed back to the Chase branch at 257 Beach 116th Street, in the Rockaway Park section of New York. A quick review revealed that a bank clerk, Mary Nolan, had transferred the money into a wrong account, Murray says. The bank sorted the matter and Murray's client finally got his money on April 19, 2002. That should have been the end of it--but for Murray, it was just the beginning of a nightmare.

When the bank sent Murray's client the standard "notice of insufficient funds" dated April 11, 2002, the bank also alerted the Lawyer’s Fund For Client Protection, a state agency, as required by law. A part of the state law dealing with client protection,  Part 1300 Sec. (F) reads, "The Lawyers Fund for Client Protection shall hold each dishonored check report for ten business days to enable the banking institution to withdraw a report provided by inadvertence or mistake; except that the curing of an insuffiency of available funds by a lawyer or law firm by the deposit of additional funds shall not constitute reason for withdrawing a dishonored check report."

So, even though Chase had cleared up things with Murray's client, no one from the bank informed the Lawyer's Fund within the 10 day period about Chase's own mistake. After the 10 day period elapsed, the Fund, as required, reported the matter to the New York Grievance Committee which is empowered to act against lawyers breaching ethical conduct. Murray, unaware of what she calls the bank's incompetence, was stunned for a second time when she received a letter dated May 10, 2002 from Grievance informing her of their investigation. The probe lasted nearly six months and Murray and investigators exchanged "numerous letters and phone conversations," she says. "It never would have come to this had the bank simply done the right thing."

The case was ultimately dismissed on October 8, 2002, but in the meantime, the damage had been done, Murray says. "I lost most of my clients. It's a small community and somebody put out the word that I was involved in something. People know it. People don't come to me anymore. I am now looking to set up a practice in the Bronx instead."
Murray says after she posted the "for sale" sign on her house, some of the messages she received were troubling. "Someone left a message saying he is interested in buying the house. He heard about 'the attorney who lives in it. He is sorry about what happened to her.' Where is all this knowledge coming from?"

She says what hurt the most was Chase Bank's reaction when she complained about the damage to her reputation and business, and her health problems from the stress associated with the ordeal. She says Sandra Ahn, the Chase lawyer she initially had dealings with, accused her of turning the matter into a "racial" issue. Ahn also told her she was only "after money" Murray says, and offered $7,500. "I found this offer insulting," she adds. Murray eventually filed a $5 million lawsuit against Chase bank.

Asked by The Black Star News if indeed the problems all started after a Chase employee, Nolan, had deposited funds into the wrong account, Ahn, the Chase lawyer says, "That allegation is the subject of a lawsuit in Queens County now pending." When asked to confirm whether Chase officials had written to Grievance admitting to the mistake and whether she had offered $7, 500 to Murray, Ahn also declined comment, referring to the lawsuit. "My understanding is that there should be no comment," she says. Separately, Michael Fusco, a Chase spokesman wouldn't comment or even verify the authenticity of documents related to the case that implicate Chase officials.

Yet, documents show that Chase bank had already taken responsibility for the deposit mistake. A letter dated May 15, 2002, by Keith C. Goggin, who was then the Chase bank branch manager and addressed to Colette Landers, assistant counsel at Grievance reads in part "..our branch mistakenly credited another account held by Ms. Murray...Since the credit went into the wrong account, Ms. Murray's account was not paid since the funds were not available at the time the check was presented for payment."

Goggin is no longer a Chase employee and bank officials wouldn't provide details. Nolan, the clerk who allegedly deposited monies into the wrong account has retired, a Chase employee said. "Any statement that they were terminated is absolutely false," Fusco, the spokesman, noted, referring to Goggin and Nolan. He declined to elaborate or to provide forwarding contacts.

At the end of the day, what outcome does Murray want? "I want to know that something like this doesn't happen to someone else--not on the basis of color," she says. "There is no amount of funds that takes my name out of that Grievance Committee. I have neighbors who believe I did something or must have done something," wrong, she adds.

 
The next court date on the case is December 15.

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