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Backlash Mounts Against Attorney Whose Racist Rant Went Viral

[caption id="attachment_15538" align="alignnone" width="620"] Video screenshot of attorney Aaron Schlossberg complaining about staff inside a lunch spot in Manhattan.[/caption]   A New York attorney caught hurling a racist rant in a video posted Wednesday may now be facing disciplinary troubles, as a backlash has produced calls for his disbarment, prompted a U.S. Congressman to file a formal grievance, and caused members of the public to write scathing reviews of his legal practice on social media. According to news reports, Manhattan-based lawyer Aaron Schlossberg—whose law firm website touts his language fluency in Spanish—is the man seen in a video that quickly went viral. In the video, a white man who appears to be Schlossberg can be heard berating the manager at Fresh Kitchen after overhearing a conversation in Spanish between other employees. The man accuses them of all being "undocumented" and threatens to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. "I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do is speak English," he said. Now, Schlossberg is facing mounting backlash. The lawyer did not respond to messages seeking comment, nor did anyone else from his office, and ALM could not independently confirm that the man in the video is, in fact, Schlossberg. But multiple news outlets, including the New York Daily News, the Jewish publication The Forward and The Intercept’s civil rights-focused columnist Shaun King, did identify him as the attorney Schlossberg. After the video went viral on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-New York, announced on Twitter that his office would file a formal complaint against Schlossberg with an attorney grievance committee in New York. An online petition also began circulating, calling for a disciplinary review of Schlossberg and his disbarment. At the time of publication, the petition had secured support from more than 8,000 people. Espaillat carried through on his vow Thursday, filing a complaint and sending a joint letter with Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., according to a statement from the congressman's office. "What was witnessed in the vile video from Mr. Schlossberg, which has since gone viral, is [a] humiliating and insulting attack on the more than 50 years of progress that this nation has made since the Civil Rights movement," the politicians wrote to the grievance committee. "There is simply no place for the scourge of racism and the vulgarity of bigotry in our great nation." A call to the attorney grievance committee for New York's First Judicial Department, which would oversee a disciplinary case against Schlossberg since his office is in Manhattan, wasn't immediately returned. Whether Schlossberg will actually face discipline, however, is unclear, according to Stephen Gillers, a legal ethics expert and professor at New York University School of Law. While it is true that lawyers can be disciplined for actions they take outside of court, Gillers said he could not recall any similar incidents that led to discipline. He also said that in most cases, the type of discipline that could apply here would most likely remain private. “I've not heard of discipline for racist rants outside law practice and unaccompanied by violence," Gillers said. "But most discipline is private so the public would not know. Such discipline could have taken place in private, he said. “Whether the lawyer is disciplined will depend on whether he has prior discipline and his defense (‘the meds made me do it,’ for example). If the conduct leads to a conviction, even a minor one, discipline will be much more likely.” Schlossberg does not have any history of public discipline, according to his attorney registration in New York. He was admitted to practice law in New York in 2003 after he graduated from George Washington University’s law school. Gillers also noted that the lawyer in this incident engaged in something that’s arguably protected free speech. But, he said, it’s not clear whether the First Amendment would shield a lawyer in Schlossberg’s situation. For example, former Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman received a public reprimand in 1991 after making what the New York Court of Appeals deemed to be a false accusation about a judge. In that case, Holtzman—who went on to become a U.S. Congresswoman and is now counsel at Herrick Feinstein—was cited under a New York rule of professional conduct that prohibits behavior that “adversely reflects” on a lawyer’s fitness. “Lawyers are disciplined for things they say,” said Gillers. “But the lawyer here may have a stronger First Amendment claim [compared to Holtzman] because he was not attacking the integrity of the court system.” Regardless of whether he faces potential disciplinary fallout, Schlossberg is taking a beating in the court of public opinion. As noted by The American Lawyer's affiliate publication Litigation Daily, Schlossberg’s ratings on websites such as Yelp have taken a significant hit in the wake of the viral video. “His firm had more than 1,100 Yelp reviews by Wednesday evening, virtually all one star, including a few that reviewed him as a Mexican restaurant,” the Litigation Daily wrote in a Thursday morning newsletter. “Another post includes his New York Bar registration number and the disciplinary committee’s contact information. Yelp users also added images to his profile including a pig, a pile of garbage and a bottle of douche.” The Intercept’s King—who helped the video of the Fresh Kitchen tirade go viral by posting it to his Twitter page and seeking insights from his followers on the man’s identity—has been unsparing in criticizing Schlossberg on Twitter. On Thursday, King posted another video from 2016 that, he said, appears to depict the same man accosting and berating a pedestrian on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The pedestrian, a white man from Massachusetts named Willie Morris, posted a video blog about the encounter in October 2016, explaining that he was confronted unexpectedly while walking on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and then was verbally berated by a man who appears to be Schlossberg. Morris said it appeared that the man thought he was not an American. “What country you from? I’m going to call the police,” the man says to Morris in the video. “I’m a citizen here, you’re not. You’re an ugly fucking foreigner, so fuck you.” In addition to Espaillat and the Bronx borough president, King's posts about the racist tirade elicited a response from one other elected official in New York. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams also took to Twitter on Thursday to criticize Schlossberg. "@ShaunKing is right. #AaronSchlossberg IS a bigot and a racist," tweeted Adams. "He’s also a major tool judging by his erratic, nonsensical behavior. This kind of blatant bigotry in the heart of the most diverse city in America is shameful. We must all speak out against hate wherever & whenever!"