Friday, July 25, 2008

More On New Jersey Reprimands

As a follow up to yesterday's post, here is an article on the multiple reprimands imposed by the New Jersey Supreme Court that appeared in the South Jersey Courier Post:

Reprimands issued to 9 lawyers

By ADAM SMELTZ

Courier-Post Staff

The New Jersey Supreme Court has reprimanded nine lawyers who worked at the Tomar law firm, bringing an end to years-old misconduct claims against the now-defunct group.

Judges put three other one-time Tomar lawyers on probation.

As early as the 1960s, the Cherry Hill firm known as Tomar O'Brien Kaplan Jacoby and Graziano allowed its non-attorney employees -- such as secretaries and paralegal assistants -- to receive bonuses for referring cases to the business, attorneys with the firm said.

The state banished that practice by the late 1990s, allowing only trained, educated lawyers to receive financial incentives for identifying potential clients and referring them to their respective firms.

But whether Tomar continued to allow referral-based bonuses for other workers remained a question, according to court documents and attorneys with ties to the firm. The state Disciplinary Review Board started looking into the matter roughly eight years ago, after the firm, in a separate matter, voluntarily reported account problems, Chatham attorney Kevin Marino said.

Marino represents Ronald A. Graziano, who was managing partner at Tomar before it disbanded in 2003. The group specialized in labor law.

"At the time the firm engaged (in the bonus policy), it was not abundantly clear that it was an improper practice by any means," Marino said. "Now the court has cleared up" any ambiguity.

The reprimanded attorneys are Cynthia Ann Brassington, David T. Jacoby, Robert F. O'Brien, Alan H. Sklarsky, Robert M. Capuano, Howard S. Simonoff, Edward N. Adourian Jr., Alfred P. Vitarelli and Charles L. Winne, according to an order handed down Wednesday by the state Supreme Court.

The Disciplinary Review Board had suggested to the court that the Tomar firm be censured and that three attorneys -- Michael A. Kaplan, Charles H. Riley and Graziano -- serve short-term suspensions from the practice of law.

In the order, the court agreed that the misconduct of Kaplan, Graziano and Riley warranted suspensions. But because of "the extraordinary delay" in the case, along with their "otherwise-unblemished careers . . . and their exemplary service to the community," the court declined to impose suspensions.

Instead, it put Kaplan and Graziano on a yearlong probation term. Riley will spend six months on probation.

Also, each attorney named in the matter will reimburse the Disciplinary Oversight Committee for administrative costs and disciplinary expenses, according to the order. It notes that the court found no complaints lodged against the Tomar firm.

Capuano, a former Tomar lawyer from Marlton, said the ethics rules for bonuses are valid.

"It's mainly to protect the public," he said.

At the Tomar firm, though, the more liberal approach to bonuses did no harm to the public welfare, he said. Capuano said the firm acted with no ill intentions.

Marino, the attorney representing Graziano, said his client "is very pleased with the resolution."

"This was an extraordinarily long and arduous process," Marino said. "It's regrettable that so much of the past decade has been consumed with fighting these charges."

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justices Virginia Long, Jaynee LaVecchia, John E. Wallace Jr., Roberto A. Rivera-Soto and Helen E. Hoens joined in the order. Justice Barry T. Albin did not participate, according to the order.

Neither the judges nor the Disciplinary Review Board members normally comment to the press on such matters, a court spokeswoman said.

Reach Adam Smeltz at (856) 486-2919 or asmeltz@gannett.com.

Thanks to a reader for sending this along. (Mike Frisch)

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