Disbarred attorney sues over Queens DA inquiry

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By Jennifer Warren

Burton Pugach, a disbarred Forest Hills attorney best known for blinding the mistress who eventually became his wife by commissioning two men to throw lye in her face in 1959, has filed suit against Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

Last month Pugach, who has been working as a paralegal since serving a 14-year jail sentence for the attack on Linda Reiss, said he filed a complaint against Brown to halt the DA’s investigation into his personal finances and to seek his reinstatement to the bar.

DA spokeswoman Mary de Bourbon said Brown would not comment on a pending lawsuit.

Pugach, 74, said the investigation involved inquiries into his bank account and letters to former clients, actions which he contended were damaging to his paralegal business.

But City Corporation Counsel Michael Hess, the attorney for Brown, argued that by granting a stay on the investigation the court would “interfere with an ongoing state criminal proceeding.”

Hess also said the court lacked jurisdiction over the disbarment complaint and that under the 11th Amendment, Brown is immune from lawsuits when he is acting in an official capacity.

The DA’s investigation into Pugach began when an out-of-state woman sent a letter of complaint to the district attorney claiming Pugach had taken $5,000 from her, a legal source said. Only subsequently did the woman learn Pugach had been barred from practicing law, the source said.

While charges have not been filed against Pugach, he responded to the investigation with his own lawsuit for numerous reasons, he said.

“No. 1, to try and undo a grave injustice that was done to me in taking away my license the way they did,” he said in a telephone interview.

Pugach contended the prosecutor inspected his electronic Citibank records without a subpoena or probable cause, and his lawsuit was as much for the general public as for himself.

It was filed “on behalf of every citizen,” he said. “What district attorney has the right to go into someone’s financial records? God help our society if it allows anyone to go into your finances without probable cause, without a subpoena, without anything,” Pugach said.

In a complaint filed on March 6 with the federal court in the Eastern Districtt, Pugach, who is serving as his own counsel, maintains that in 1960 he was indicted for a misdemeanor, not a felony, which does not warrant revoking a license.

Pugach also maintains his arrest resulted from illegal wiretap evidence and that the attorney originally assigned to him — Herbert Seigal — was in fact suing him at the time.

Evoking his 1996 arrest and acquittal for harassing Evangeline Borja, Pugach maintains that the woman was coerced and the charges were fabricated by the Brown and his staff.

“When somebody comes out of jail they’re expected to get a shopping cart and pick up soda bottles,” Pugach said. “I came out and I became very successful. I did well in investing, in paralegal, and there’s a measure of resentment and personal envy.”

In 1959 Pugach hired two men to assault his mistress Linda Reiss. He was convicted of maiming Reiss, and served a 14-year prison sentence for the crime. The couple made headlines when upon Pugach’s release, a blinded Reiss married him.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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