Monday, October 21, 2013
The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected the proposed three-year suspension of its Disciplinary Review Board and disbarred an attorney who had aided a client's concealment of assets in his divorce.
The client had been a close friend since college. They were
avid sports fans, who attended Rutgers football games and were fantasy football partners for "many, many years."
The misconduct took place during the friend's second divorce. The attorney charged no fee, but provided advice in aid of the client's desire to shield his money from his wife's equitable distribution entitlement. After discussing alternatives (that included blowing the money in Atlantic City), the attorney agreed to hide $11,000.
Three checks were deposited in the attorney's personal savings account rather than his firm escrow account. There was disagreement later about the client's understanding of the situation, although the client was an accountant by trade. The checks were payable to cash with one notation for "fantasy football" and two for "legal fees."
The client expected that an order of equitable distribution would be paid from the $11,000 and he would get the balance.
When the litigation resulted in an order to pay the ex-wife $5,000, the attorney failed to do do.
Eventually, the client/friend complained to the bar.
The story told in the DRB report is a sad one indeed.
The attorney was admitted in 1993 and was a partner in an Edison law firm. He functioned well until around 2008, when he began to experience problems with his ability to do his work.
He began to resort to lies to conceal his inactions. The firm dealt with the initial complaints as an aberration. However, the deceptions unraveled when a client complained about a settlement and a firm partner noticed that the false release given to the client was from the Acme Manufacturing Company.
The attorney broke down when confronted.
At the hearing, the attorney testified that he suffered from a "perfection complex" that had rendered him unable to complete his work tasks. He also testified about his own divorce, weight gain and inability to sleep during the period in question.
He was later diagnosed with and treated for depression.
The special master had recommended a one-year suspension. The DRB raised the proposed sanction but rejected a finding of knowing misappropriation.
The court order found that the evidence supported a finding of knowing misappropriation. (Mike Frisch)