A prominent Westhampton Beach attorney was reprimanded by the State Supreme Court Appellate Division earlier this month on grounds that he purposely misrepresented the size of a cement business in the village when filing a deed during the late 1990s on behalf of a former client.
According to a written opinion issued on January 9 by the Grievance Committee for the 10th Judicial District, James N. Hulme, a partner with Kelly & Hulme, P.C., on Mill Road, was censured due to “acts of professional misconduct” outlined in an April 8, 2011, petition filed against him in the State Supreme Court. The petition charged that while Mr. Hulme was representing Josephine Carnevale, the owner of Speonk Materials Corp. and J.R.C. Land Co., both located on Hazelwood Avenue in Westhampton Beach, Mr. Hulme incorrectly included a 23-foot-wide strip of land that has been owned by the village since 1931 in both the deed and description of the business. Ms. Carnevale still owns the property.
It is unclear who filed the petition against Mr. Hulme, but the petitioner was represented by Robert A. Green of Hauppauge, records show. Mr. Green, who did not return calls this week, serves as the chief counsel for the Second Judicial Department of the New York State Lawyers Fund For Client Protection, an organization that handles cases of misconduct involving lawyers.
In its decision to censure Mr. Hulme, the Appellate Division validated the three charges that had been filed against him: that he engaged in conduct adversely reflecting on his fitness as a lawyer; that he engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; and that he engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
In 2002, the error in the deed prompted East End Concrete & Stone Products Inc., also known as East End Ready Mix, which has been leasing the land in question, to sue Ms. Carnevale for not providing the correct amount of space as guaranteed in the contract. At the time that East End Ready Mix began leasing from Ms. Carnevale, it was believed that the strip of land was included in the lease, based on the deed filed by Mr. Hulme. The company had been using the space until being notified that it had to move trucks and other cement mixing equipment from the space.
In 2007, while the lawsuit was still being decided, Mr. Hulme was fired by Ms. Carnevale. The petition does not say why he was relieved of duty.
When reached last week, Mr. Hulme declined to comment on the court’s decision to censure him, stating that the incident was in the past.
“I really don’t have a comment about it,” said Mr. Hulme, who also sits on the Westhampton Beach Board of Education and is a former president of the board. “It is what it is.”
The transfer of ownership to the strip of land dates back to December 28, 1931, when the former owners of the property, Alanson N. Rogers and Isabel J. Rogers, gave it to Westhampton Beach Village, according to the written decision. After the transfer, which was never officially filed with the Suffolk County Clerk but was on file with the Village Clerk’s office, the property had several other owners, each having to accept the provision that they did not own the strip of land closest to Hazelwood Avenue.
Records also show that back in 1986, some 10 years before he would refile the deed, Mr. Hulme, on behalf of Ms. Carnevale, submitted a petition to the village requesting that it forfeit the title of the strip of land. A few months later, at the end of 1986 or the early part of 1987, Mr. Hulme withdrew the petition, according to the document. Up until 1990, Mr. Hulme repeatedly met with representatives of the village to negotiate the return of the property to Ms. Carnevale, and said on several occasions that the municipality would not comply.
In October 1997, court records show, Mr. Hulme filed two correction deeds with the Suffolk County Clerk’s office charging that past deeds for the property had been incorrect and that the strip should be included in the deed. That deed was used when negotiating the contract with East End Ready Mix.
While confirming that all three charges filed against Mr. Hulme are valid, the written opinion also notes that the incident in question took place 15 years ago, and that Mr. Hulme has accepted blame for the error. The decision also notes that Mr. Hulme had impressive character references and that this is the only blemish on his 25-year legal career.
“It is something that happened a really long time ago,” Mr. Hulme said. “It is completely resolved. Now I am moving forward.”
In 2011, Mr. Hulme’s partner, Westhampton Beach Village Justice Robert A. Kelly, was also reprimanded by the state—he was admonished on three charges—after he represented clients who had applications before the village’s Building and Zoning Department—which enforces local building codes, and which Mr. Kelly’s court has jurisdiction over. Mr. Kelly has served as village justice since 1996.