BY DALIP GRECA/DIELLI/
In the year 2000, Ylber Albert Dauti was a student preparing for the bar exam in New York, with no credit history, pleading with realtor Viktor Gjonaj to rent him an apartment. In the year 2019, attorney Dauti successfully handles five actions in four different courts that enable his former benevolent landlord, Viktor Gjonaj to save one million dollar and preempt the seizing of his business assets and freezing of his bank accounts.
“Meeting the student who became a lawyer has changed my life forever and has prompted me to invite interested Albanian businessmen to start a foundation that opens the doors for students from Albania and Kosova,” says Viktor Gjonaj.
The story starts back in the fall of 2000. Ylber Dauti was a newcomer from Albania intent on pursuing a dream: completing his law school studies, passing the bar exam and becoming a lawyer. As many immigrants before Ylber had found out, the beginning can be unforgiving. With no support from any one and no credit history to secure an apartment, he walked up and down the Bronx streets day in and day out and knocked on the doors of real estate offices, from morning till night only to hear the same line: due to his lack of credit history the realtors could not do much for him.
Viktor Gjonaj remembers seeing a young man walk in the office on the Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. “I must admit that Ylber’s story sounded more like a fairytale,” he says. “I came here to become a lawyer, Ylber stated as he stood in front of me. I need to rent an apartment but I have no credit history.” For my part, Viktor says, I couldn’t help smiling with myself. I could even hear my inside voice saying “What is this guy thinking? He has come from across the ocean, with no family here and is set on being a lawyer! We are born and raised here, with access to anything we desire and with family that looks after us, and still deem it difficult to dream so big. It was hard for me to grasp that someone with no connections, who probably could not find his way around New York City or even the college campus, who has nothing and no one, stands in front of me believing that he will be a lawyer. I remember thinking to myself: He is no ordinary fellow, I will say that much about him! I recall handing him the keys to an apartment. “Here are the keys, I said, but if you don’t become a lawyer, you and I will have a problem! I was only teasing, comments Viktor who gets a little emotional while speaking a beautiful Albanian that he has learned at home from his parents who immigrated here from Montenegro. In truth, the law school goals sounded like a pipe dream to me yet his determination to get himself there gave me reason to be hopeful….”
This was how I rented a unit to a young man. In my view, it wasn’t a very big deal. I simply took him at his own word. Although he had no credit history I was impressed with his honesty and his confidence in becoming a lawyer,” wraps up Viktor.
Attorney Dauti interject by saying “Viktor is being modest. I am grateful that he trusted me with the rental without any credit history. He took my word for it. I had visited several real estate offices only to be turned down due to lack of credit history. What’s more, with my student status, my social security card was invalid without an authorization from immigration, which made the realtors less confident that I would be able to make monthly rent payments. One rainy day, as I walked tired and worried about the apartment situation, at the entrance of a building on Gun Hill Road in the Bronx, there was a sign that said Gjonaj Realty. In my head, I thought, God willing, they are Albanians and will believe that I will be good with payments as a tenant. I walked in. I made sure to clear up the issue right at the start: Don’t ask for credit history because I don’t have one. If you place your trust in me, as one Albanian to another, on my word of honor, if you agree to rent the apartment, I will pay. I waited. Sitting across the desk, Viktor thought about it for a moment then he smiled and asked suspiciously: You wanna be a lawyer? He repeated the question a second time. -Yes! – I answered. – That is why I am here. He handed me the keys in good faith.”
It is Viktor who picks up at this point in the conversation. “After the initial encounter, we didn’t see much of each other. I was busy with office work, and he with school. A year later, the young man comes back to the office: “Here are the keys! I am moving out! I passed the bar exam. Thank you for the apartment. I will not forget it.”
We were filled with joy for the young man who became a lawyer and that we had rented the apartment when he needed it. We said our goodbyes. None of us could have imagined that one day we will be in a dire situation and that the lawyer would save the day while most people told us to follow the order and pay up one million dollar before the daily interest percentage kicked in.
ATTORNEY DAUTI FIGHTS LEGAL BATTLES IN FOUR COURTS
In 2010 Gjonaj Realty of the Gjonaj family was sued for one million dollars by a plaintiff. Right after receiving the lawsuit papers, Viktor sends them out to the insurance agent. Gjonaj Realty pays the insurance which, as a rule, assesses and covers the damage and assigns the legal team or lawyers to represent their client. Instead of sending the paperwork to the proper insurance company, the insurance agent mails the papers to the wrong address. As a result, no insurance lawyer is assigned to Viktor’s case. Under these circumstances, the court convenes and orders (in absentia) that Gjonaj Real Estate must pay the plaintiff the amount of one million within 30 days. Upon being notified of the court’s judgment Viktor contacted the insurance company that refuses to make the payment to the other party. The insurance company claimed that they had not received a timely notification regarding the allegations brought by the plaintiff and were not provided with the opportunity to have legal representation and defend against plaintiff’s claims. Under the law, it is the insured’s obligation, in this case Viktor’s obligation, to forward the lawsuit documents directly to the insurance company and not the insurance broker. Due to this lapse, which Viktor had repeated four times, he would have to make a payment of one million to the plaintiff within 30 days, (otherwise) failing to do so would result in freezing of the bank accounts and seizing of the company’s assets. Viktor got in contact with a few lawyers in New York who all said that this “was a done deal” and that all that was left for Viktor to do was to pay one million dollars to avoid the nine percent interest penalty on the one million dollars judgment. Multiple lawyers had advised Vikto that the court judgment cannot be reversed. What were his options? No lawyer would take his case. In the middle of it, Viktor remembered the young tenant who wanted to become a lawyer. He contacted the attorney at law Ylber Dauti. And the lawyer jumps in the story: “There was very little time! When Viktor reached out to me, there was a ten day window before the freezing of his bank accounts and seizing of his assets. As soon as Viktor brought the judgment papers along with the case folder to the office, it was imperative for me to act fast in order to meet the legal deadlines for fighting the court ruling.
Within ten days, I proceeded in three fronts:
- Filed a Motion with the Court to review the judgment and reopen the case arguing that Viktor had assumed (by mistake) that the insurance broker would mail the papers to the right address
- Filed a Notice of Appeal
- Started a lawsuit against the insurance broker
The attorney Ylber Dauti presented the arguments to the Judge who had issued the judgment that entitled the plaintiff to one million dollar. Judge agreed to reopen the case in order to allow Viktor’s legal defense do its job. It was the first victory! Equipped with the Judge’s new order, the attorney pressured the Insurance Company to take the case and represent Viktor. The argument was made that the reopening of the case means that in the proceedings Viktor is entitled to legal representation which must be provided to him by the insurance company. The insurance company’s claim of prejudice was no longer valid because the Court had agreed to reopen the case. Fortunately, the Insurance Company agreed to take the case and assign a team of lawyers to represent Viktor… An excellent outcome which meant that Viktor did not owe anything to the plaintiff and all legal fees would be covered by the insurance company.
-Does the struggle end here? – I asked attorney Dauti.
-I thought it did! – he answered. I thought I was done with the case, however, plaintiff appealed the judge’s order to reopen the case. The Appellate Division of First Department (Manhattan) reversed the lower Court and modified the lower court’s decision. The Court reasoned that because Viktor did not follow proper procedure for notifying his insurance company in a timely fashion and given fact that he had repeated the same mistake four times, he should not be given the benefit of the doubt and be excused for the default. It is worth-noting that the ruling was partly in our favor, because the Court ruled that there should be a new trial on damages as the record before the Court was not sufficient to justify a judgment of approximately one million dollars. Therefore, a new trial would have to be held to determine the amount of damages. The ruling is one of the lengthiest decisions issued by the Appellate Division of First Department (33 pages) which includes the arguments by a panel of four judges, three of them concurring with partial disagreement and one dissenting.
At this point the legal battle becomes even more complicated. As soon as the insurance company received the Decision of the appellate Court, it filed a Declaratory Judgment action in Westchester County Supreme Court, seeking the Court to declare that they no longer needed to defend and indemnify Viktor in the underlying action. The Westchester Court ruled in favor of the insurance company and ordered Viktor to find and hire a lawyer for his legal defense since the insurance company was no longer obligated to defend and/or indemnify him. There was only one option for Viktor. He goes back to the offices of Ylber Dauti with a handful of legal papers.
The attorney is well aware of the time constraints. With only a month’s notice, the lawyer moved fast to cover four areas in thirty days.
“It was a tall order,” he says and lists the following:
- I filed a Motion with the Westchester County Supreme Court to Review and Reverse its prior decision
- I filed a Notice to Appeal with the Appellate Division of Second Department in Brooklyn
- I re-filed in Bronx County Supreme Court the action against the insurance broker which mailed the initial paperwork to the wrong address and not to Viktor’s insurance company.
- I took over the defense of the underlying action brought in Bronx County Supreme Court by plaintiff who had initially won the million dollar judgment because in light of the Appellate Court’s Division for First Department a new trial would be held to determine the amount of damages to be paid by Viktor to the plaintiff.”
A series of intricacies and complicated legal maneuverings in four different court houses in New York State unfolded for five years. In February of this year, at the eve of the jury trial to determine the damages that Viktor would pay to the party who had sued him for over one million dollar, the plaintiff’s lawyer stipulated to withdraw all claims against Viktor and his company in return for assignment of rights to pursue Viktor’s action against the insurance company and the insurance broker.
“There cannot be a better outcome,” explains the lawyer, “because it is not subject to appeal. Viktor does not owe a penny to the plaintiff who was initially awarded one million dollars. Secondly, there is no need for Viktor and his company to pay legal expenses to defend and pursue actions in four different courthouses: in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Westchester courts.”
A sigh of relief can be heard as Ylber Dauti finishes the story of an exceptional legal battle that span five years and four different courthouses. He feels relief and contentment in fulfilling a moral obligation that started with Viktor Gjonaj’s good deed.
VIKTOR GJONAJ to start a Foundation to help students from Albania and Kosova…
In the end Viktor concludes, to be honest, just as I had doubts nineteen years ago that Ylber would ever manage to become a lawyer when he walked in my office asking to rent an apartment, I was doubtful that he could ever win my case five years ago when I walked into his office with my case after numerous lawyers had advised me that this was “a lost case”. I admit it was a long shot. Still, I thought, if Ylber managed to become a lawyer in less than a year after he came to America, he might be also able to deliver more miracles.
Meeting with the former student/currently lawyer has impacted my life to a great extent. It has prompted me to discuss with other Albanian businessmen in America the possibility of creating a foundation to help students from Albania and Kosova so that when they come here – they have a door to known on instead of wandering the Bronx streets looking for a place to rent – like the young Ylber did many years go. My own personal experience with attorney Dauti has inspired me to be helpful and do more good deeds because I have learned that you may think you are taking a risk by renting a unit for five hundred dollars a month to a tenant without a credit history – but then, it happens that later that former tenant becomes a lawyer who saves you over one million dollars.
ALBANIAN LAWYER YLBER DAUTI AMONG THE LEADERS IN THE LAW
“This was the first time that a Jury and Judge in New York State had to render a verdict and decision on a civil action where plaintiff was still in immigration proceedings at the time of trial.”
Currently Mr. Dauti is an attorney licensed to practice law
in several parts of the World. He is admitted to the Bar of the State of New
York and he is also admitted to practice law before the United States of
America Federal Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. Additionally,
he has passed the respective bar exams and is a duly licensed attorney-at-law
law in Albania, and he is a duly licensed Solicitor of England and Wales
(non-practicing). He is a graduate of University of Tirana Law School (JD
equivalent), Central European University (LLM in International Business Law)
and University of Connecticut School of Law (LLM in US Legal Studies).
Mr. Dauti is a member of the International Bar Association, American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, Association of the Bar of the City of New York, The Law Society of England and Wales, and The International High IQ Society.
Prior to founding The Dauti Law Firm, P.C., Mr. Dauti was a Trial Attorney, for five years.
Mr. Dauti has been Trial Counsel on civil matters that have
created legal precedent in the State of New York. Numerous favorable court
decisions and jury verdicts on matters where Mr. Dauti has acted as Trial
Counsel have been published in New York Law Journal and Jury Verdict Reporter.
In June 2009, New York Law Journal (most prestigious legal publication in the
United States) published on its front page, an article titled “Jury May
Consider Immigrant’s Status in Damages” written by Daniel Weise, senior
editor of New York Law Journal, where he analyzes the decision of a Supreme
Court Judge in a case where Mr. Dauti was the Trial Counsel for plaintiff and
the Jury awarded a seven-figure verdict to his client even though the client
was subject to deportation at the time of the work-related accident and at the
time of trial he was still in immigration proceedings. This was the first time
that a Jury and Judge in New York State had to render a verdict and decision on
a civil action where plaintiff was still in immigration proceedings at the time
Gotham Gazette (New York City newspaper) published an article titled “Political Intrigue in a Civil Action” written by the Honorable Emily Goodman, Judge of New York State Supreme Court, where she described the odyssey and drama that unfolded during the jury trial where Mr. Dauti was lead Counsel for plaintiff and the Jury awarded a seven-figure verdict in favor of Mr. Dauti’s client despite the client’s immigration status.
Mr. Dauti has successfully argued various matters before the Appellate Courts. Million and multi-million dollar awards and verdicts won by Mr. Dauti have been published by Verdict Search and New York Law Journal and ranked amongst the top New York verdicts and awards for the last ten years in a row: 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Mr. Dauti is a life member of Million-Dollar and Multi-Million Dollar Advocate Forums, where less than 1% of US lawyers have achieved the required professional results to qualify for membership and have become members. Additionally, Mr. Dauti – due to his extraordinary achievements – has recently been selected by his peers as a member of New York Super Lawyers/Rising Stars, an honor bestowed upon only 2.5% of the New York Lawyers.
According to the annual publication of the New York Law Journal/Verdict Search Report of December 23, 2013, Mr. Ylber Dauti secured the largest award for one of his clients in the Premises Liability category in the State of New York for the year 2013. He also secured the largest award in the year 2012, for another client in the same category, thus, making him the first attorney in New York to have secured the largest awards for two years in a row in such category, since New York Law Journal/Verdict Search Report started publishing the annual rankings. He is one of the 100 Top Attorneys on America and one of the Top 100 Civil Lawyers as per rankings of The National Trial Lawyers Institute.
Source: Top 100 National Trial Lawyers, 2013 Issue
In June 2014 the story of Mr. Dauti’s litigation of an Automobile Accident involving Serious Injuries was reported by Dielli’s Chief Editor Dalip Greca since the case involved a Kosova Albanian woman, who had no family in the States. The story describes the plight of the victim who was disabled, diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and how her case had been dragged on for five years by an American law firm. “Within one year, thanks to Mr. Dauti’s highly professional representation, the client was awarded ten times the amount she was previously offered to the lawyer who was representing her before Mr. Dauti took over her case.” (Dielli, June 2014 page 26-27)
Mr. Ylber Dauti’s name is listed consistently in the New York’s Leading Personal Injury Lawyers published by New York magazine. The Leaders in the Law section for 2018 included Mr. Dauti in the Top New York Verdicts/Settlements for the tenth year in a row with million and multi-million dollar awards.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF VERDITS/SETTLEMENT INVOLVING ALBANIAN CLIENTS:
$8.2 million award on a Premises Liability action
$4 million award on a Medical Malpractice action
$3 million award on a Construction Accident action
$2.7 million award on action against New York City Transit Authority
$2.3 million award on a Construction Accident action
$2.25 million award on a Construction Accident action
$2 million award on an action against the Government of United States
$1.8 million award on a Motor Vehicle Accident action
$1.8 million award on a Construction Accident action
$1.75 million award on a Business Liability action
$1.7 million award on a Construction Accident action
$1.35 million award on an Elevator Accident action
$1.3 million award on a Construction Accident action
$1.2 million award on an Elevator Accident action
$1.175 million award on a Motor Vehicle Accident action
$1.1 million award on a Motor Vehicle Accident action
Source: Dielli Newspaper
Mr. Ylber Dauti is a frequent guest speaker and lecturer on International Business Law at prestigious Universities in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has recently returned from a Japan Lecture Tour at Kyushu University Faculty of Law, one of the top universities in Japan. Mr. Dauti has conducted Lecture Series for International Students at the Tilburg University in the Netherlands that provide guidance on the drafting of contracts and more specifically international legal contracts.(Translated from Albanian to English by Rafaela Prifti)