, Salem, MA

February 23, 2010

Salem lawyer suspended for handicapped placard misuse

By Julie Manganis

SALEM — Anyone who travels into Boston regularly knows that parking can be a challenge, but one Salem lawyer's solution — using handicapped-parking placards issued to a client's disabled child and his dead uncle — has cost him a lot more than a few parking tickets.

Garrison Stuart Corben, 36, has lost his law license for a year and a day, according to an order from the Supreme Judicial Court released this month.

A petition for discipline filed with the Board of Bar Overseers indicates Corben used one of the placards, issued to the parents of a disabled North Shore girl, for more than two years — until the child's father got wind of the scheme via a letter from the city of Boston's parking clerk in August 2007.

By then, however, Corben had challenged more than a dozen tickets slapped on his Mercedes at expired meters and in handicapped spots all over the city, winning most of those appeals.

And when city officials began to question Corben's claims that he was shuttling the girl to medical appointments, he generated letters purporting to be from the girl — who cannot use her arms and legs, and who is unable to write, sign her name or type, according to the complaint.

Then city officials discovered that Corben had also been using a placard issued to Corben's uncle — who had died in 2002 at the age of 92.

While the placard had expired in 2003, the complaint says Corben altered the sign to make it appear to be valid when he used it in 2007.

Corben was living in Boston at the time, in a Back Bay condo and then in Charlestown.

But for a couple of years, he had lived in Beverly, in the home of the girl's mother, whom he had represented in some matters.

Both of the girl's parents, who are divorced, had been issued placards for the girl so that they could use handicapped parking spots when taking her places. But at some point, the placard issued to the girl's mother disappeared, according to the complaint.

Then, starting in February 2005, Corben began using the placard to defend himself against parking tickets, writing appeal letters that falsely claimed he was transporting the girl to medical appointments.

"I understand that with this placard clearly placed upon the dashboard that no meter fee is due," Corben wrote in one letter to the parking clerk. "Could you please be so kind as to also remove this ticket from my record?"

In another letter, he asks the clerk to remove other tickets given "accidentally" in 2006, claiming that he was taking the girl to a doctor's appointment and physical therapy — neither of which was true. In fact, Corben had no contact with the girl at all after her mother moved out of state in 2005.

He would go on to write more letters challenging other tickets, all of them politely asking that the tickets be dismissed — at least once while his car was on the verge of being "booted."

By April 2007, a city parking official had started taking a closer look at Corben's repeated claims.

"In order to process your dispute we would need a letter signed by (the girl) stating that you were transporting her at the time this violation was issued," wrote Paul Crimmins.

So Corben sent the first of two letters purporting to be from the girl. "Without being a bother, I would also be thankful if you could dismiss this ticket," read one of the letters. After the second letter, the parking clerk sent a letter to the girl saying she would have to appear in person for future appeals. Her father got the letter.

Corben and his lawyer, Arnold Rosenfeld, stipulated to violating a number of ethical rules of conduct for lawyers and agreed to accept a one-year license suspension.

A message left for Rosenfeld yesterday was not returned.

It's not known whether Corben ever used the placards to park near his 100 Washington St. office in downtown Salem.

The Board of Bar Overseers noted that it wasn't Corben's first brush with the disciplinary process — in 2005, he was publicly reprimanded after he admitted to sufficient facts in court on a charge of indecent exposure.