Tuesday, July 8, 2014
A lawyer who had consented to disbarment in Pennsylvania received a public censure as reciprocal discipline in New Jersey.
While that might seem unusual, there were some rather unusual circumstances
The record in the matter now before us reveals that respondent’s paralegal, Bonnie Sweeten, had intercepted and concealed from respondent the petition for discipline, the equivalent of our formal ethics complaint, sent to respondent by the Pennsylvania ethics authorities. Sweeten explained her actions in an affidavit, the partial contents of which are contained in an August 25, 2009 Joint Stipulations of Fact and Law between respondent and the Pennsylvania disciplinary authorities...
The affidavit of the paralegal admited to concealing the disciplinary matter from the attorney.
However, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court later vacated the resulting suspension and remanded the matter.
Thereafter, the attorney consented to disbarment of her own accord.
The paralegal achieved a level of notoriety by a false abduction claim and embezzling her way to Disney World and then Club Fed, as reported by the Huffington Post.
But no suspension for the attorney in New Jersey based on the Pennsylvania consent for reasons the Disciplinary Review Board ("DRSB") explains
In conclusion, respondent is guilty of two separate offenses each of which would, on its own, warrant the imposition of a reprimand: practicing law while on inactive status and failing to supervise non-attorney staff. In addition, she failed to communicate with a client, used misleading letterhead and business account checks, engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and failure to safeguard client funds. We conclude that a censure sufficiently addresses the totality of respondent’s misconduct.
The Office of Attorney Ethics ("OAE") had sought a suspension with reinstatement conditioned on reinstatement in Pennsylvania, which would be tantamount to disbarment. Remarkably, the attorney did not even see fit to participate in the New Jersey proceedings.
I can understand the position of the OAE, which would not impose disbarment because there is no possibility of reinstatement in New Jersey. OAE's proposed sanction is thus quite reasonable.
The DRB's recommendation makes no sense to me at all. And the court just rubber-stamped it.
It is my experience that an attorney (particularly if represented by counsel) does not consent to disbarment unless disciplinary counsel has the goods. The idea of reciprocal discipline is basically that other jurisdictions respect and enforce a consent unless there is some grave injustice or due process violation.
I don't see any such suggestion here.
I find it quite disheartening that the New Jersey authorities would take a consent disbarment and convert it into no suspension at all as reciprocal discipline.
Notice to all Pennsylvania attorneys who are thinking about engaging in misconduct: join the New Jersey Bar. (Mike Frisch)