Litigants, take heed: If you’re not happy with your attorney’s performance, you may want to be careful about how you express your dissatisfaction.

Steven Sladkus, a founding partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas, is pursuing a defamation and slander suit against a former client who is suing him for legal malpractice and who allegedly told his business partner in a face-to-face conversation that Sladkus is a “shitty lawyer” who gives bad advice, among other negative comments.

The ex-client, Melaine Englese, allegedly made the remarks three years after Sladkus represented Englese and her husband in a court battle with a building owner over toxic mold and other alleged construction defects in a newly constructed condo they purchased on East 57th Street that resulted in a $1.725 million payout to Englese in 2012.

Englese alleges in her legal malpractice suit against Sladkus, filed in June 2015, that if their case had gone to trial, she could have gotten more than $3 million out of the deal, but that Sladkus allowed a statute of limitation for adding the building’s sponsor as a party to the case to lapse, which subjected Englese to a “poor settlement” reached through a JAMS mediation.  

A few months after Englese filed suit, she ran into William Suk, an architect with a business relationship with Sladkus, in an elevator in Suk’s apartment building in the Yorkville section of Manhattan.

There, Sladkus alleges, Englese launched into a “vicious diatribe” to Suk about Sladkus’ performance in the legal spat with her building owner. Among other things, the complaint said, Englese asserted that Sladkus caused her and her husband to lose money in a settlement negotiation; that Sladkus took advantage of the client during negotiations because she was in the last trimester of her pregnancy and her spouse was ineffective in the settlement talks, and that Sladkus “threatened” them into taking the settlement.

Sladkus alleges the “diatribe” cost him profit and business opportunities and that he is entitled to at least $1.5 million in punitive damages.

Moving to dismiss the slander suit, Englese argued that Sladkus did not provide a full statement of Englese’s conversation with Suk and that he editorialized the exchange. She also argued that her allegedly defamatory statements to Suk were opinion and that they were protected by the First Amendment.   

On Wednesday, Acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Carmen St. George pared down a number of Englese’s claims—that she allegedly called him a shitty lawyer who gives poor advice is “clearly opinion,” the judge said.

But the alleged statements that Sladkus lost Englese a lot of money in her settlement and that he threatened them into taking the settlement speaks to Sladkus’ competence as an attorney, and thus Sladkus has made a claim for defamation per se, St. George said.

St. George also presides over Englese’s legal malpractice suit against Sladkus, which is still pending.

Ethan Kobre, who is also with Schwartz Sladkus, represented Sladkus. He said he respected St. George’s decision but declined to comment on the case further and also did not provide additional information when asked if Suk memorialized the conversation with Englese that contained the allegedly slanderous statements.  

Mark Weissman of Herzfeld & Rubin represents Englese. He did not respond to a request for comment.