By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
IT'S HARD TO MAKE A LIVING IN A town where your name is mud. Especially when you're a lawyer whose last name happens to be Goldberg.
Attys. Steven and Michael Goldberg have found that out the hard way. They are linked by blood and surname to Richard Goldberg, another medical malpractice attorney with offices in Canfield.
Richard Goldberg is serving a federal prison sentence for bilking clients out of millions of dollars they should have received in lawsuit settlements.
He is scheduled for trial on state charges next month.
Steven, 41, and Michael, 40, are second cousins to Richard Goldberg, though they never worked out of the same office or had any professional affiliation with him.
That didn't keep clients from avoiding them like the plague after Richard Goldberg's indictment in May 1999. Their phones stopped ringing, their client pool dried up and their thriving medical malpractice business nearly evaporated right before their eyes. All because of their last name.
Some clients, fearing that the Goldberg name would not play well in front of a jury, picked up their files and took their business elsewhere.
"I was shocked at how fast and how hard the fallout came," said Steven, a 12-year trial lawyer.
Atty. Albert J. Ortenzio, a longtime Mahoning Valley lawyer who shares office space with Michael and Steven Goldberg, said it's a shame.
"I would not have these guys in my office if I didn't think they were the best," Ortenzio said. "I won't ruin my reputation for anyone."
How bad it became: The Goldbergs said their business dropped so far and fast that they had to lay off nearly their entire staff because they couldn't afford to pay them. They considered folding their tent and moving to a new town for a fresh start, but opted to stick it out here.
"Some people said we should change our last name, but we will never do that," Michael said. "We wouldn't insult our father by doing that."
Instead, they decided to stay put and try to rebuild their practice; a challenge, given the fact that they shun paid advertising.
"We believe in getting our work through word-of-mouth," Michael said. "Advertising, in this field, has come at the expense of professionalism."
They worked hard on the few cases they had, and tried to rebuild the credibility that their second cousin cost them. Nearly three years after the Goldberg scandal hit, Steven and Michael feel they're finally turning the corner.
"We are no longer victims of Richard Goldberg," Steven said. "In our minds, we are survivors."
Still, both admit it's going to take a while to fully overcome the negative professional impact created by their name association to Richard Goldberg.
When they stand before prospective jurors in a courtroom, as they did last week while successfully defending Youngstown policeman Christopher Lombard, the first thing they do is establish a distance between themselves and Richard Goldberg.
"We have to go in there and make sure that jurors don't hold our last name against our clients," said Michael, an 11-year trial lawyer. "It's distasteful for us, but we have to do it every time we walk into a courtroom."
And while they have suffered because of their name, the Goldbergs said they're not the only lawyers impacted by the misdeeds of a colleague.
Effect of corruption: In the wake of a public corruption scandal that's seen numerous Mahoning Valley lawyers and judges fall under the weight of criminal charges, more and more people are hiring lawyers from Cleveland, Pittsburgh and other areas because they think they'll get better and more honest representation.
"That's not true and it's not fair," said Steven. "There are a lot of very, very good trial lawyers right here in this community. I think the public needs to give the Mahoning and Trumbull County lawyers a chance again."