Thursday, June 20, 2024

Convictions Draw Disbarment

The Tennessee Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney

In this case, an attorney appeals the recommended sanction of disbarment after three criminal convictions. The attorney was convicted by a jury of two counts of subornation of aggravated perjury and one count of criminal simulation, all Class E felony offenses and serious crimes under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, section 22. All three criminal convictions arose out of the attorney’s conduct in representing a client. In the ensuing disciplinary proceedings, a Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panel recommended disbarment. The attorney appealed the hearing panel’s decision to the chancery court, which affirmed. The attorney appealed to this Court. On appeal, the attorney argues the hearing panel should have reviewed similar cases of attorney misconduct where a suspension was imposed, and that he should be suspended based on the sanction imposed in those cases. Under Tennessee Supreme Court Rule 9, Board of Professional Responsibility hearing panels and trial courts considering attorney discipline promote consistency in the imposition of sanctions by anchoring their decisions on punishment to the American Bar Association Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions. Rule 9 does not give either hearing panels or trial courts authority in attorney disciplinary cases to base recommended attorney disciplinary sanctions on a review of sanctions imposed in comparative cases. The Supreme Court’s more expansive perspective from seeing the broad swath of attorney disciplinary matters in the entirety of the State—whether appealed or not—puts it in the best position to consider comparative cases for the sake of uniformity of punishment throughout Tennessee. In this case, considering the nature of the attorney’s misconduct, no comparable case convinces us that suspension, rather than disbarment, is the appropriate sanction. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the chancery court and the decision of the hearing panel and impose the sanction of disbarment.

The conduct involved Respondent's representation of a client in a family law matter and issues surrounding notarized affidavits

Pamela Denise Van Burkleo hired Mr. Doll in 2010 to represent her in divorce and post-divorce proceedings against her ex-husband, who was in Texas. The criminal convictions underlying the discipline in this case arise from Mr. Doll’s representation of Ms. Van Burkleo in the post-divorce proceedings.

By the time the events underlying the criminal convictions arose in 2013, Mr. Doll had been representing Ms. Van Burkleo for several years. In early 2013, Ms. Van Burkleo had concerns about her children visiting with the ex-husband, so she asked Mr. Doll to file an emergency petition to restrict his parenting time. On March 1, 2013, an emergency ex parte petition was filed in the Williamson County circuit court on behalf of Ms. Van Burkleo, to prevent her ex-husband from exercising his visitation with their children. Id. at *5. Affidavits from each of their two teenage sons were attached to the petition. Id. The emergency petition had an oath by Ms. Van Burkleo appended to it, as part of the petition. Id. Ms. Van Burkleo’s signature on the oath was notarized by Mr. Carter [who provided support in Respondent's office], and Mr. Doll signed the petition as her attorney.

After further proceedings

On July 13, 2015, the District Attorney General obtained grand jury indictments against Ms. Van Burkleo and Mr. Doll. Id. at *1. Counts 1 and 2 alleged that Ms. Van Burkleo committed aggravated perjury when she testified falsely under oath that a notary public witnessed her sign an affidavit in support of her emergency petition for a temporary restraining order against her ex-husband. Id. The indictment also alleged that Ms. Van Burkleo testified falsely during the show cause hearing to determine the authenticity of her notarized signature. Id. Counts 3 and 4 of the indictment alleged that, on June 18, 2013, Mr. Doll committed subornation of aggravated perjury with regard to the same emergency petition. Id. Count 5 alleged that Mr. Doll committed criminal simulation on March 1, 2013 by forging Ms. Van Burkleo’s signature on the oath on the petition. Id.

The charges were tried

On May 17, 2017, at the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted Mr. Doll of two counts of suborning aggravated perjury and one count of criminal simulation. Id. at *1. The trial court sentenced him to two years of probation.

The conviction was affirmed on appeal. (Mike Frisch)

June 20, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Without Authority

A summary of a public reprimand on the web page of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers

The respondent was retained by a client in April of 2022 to defend two ongoing summary process actions filed by the client’s landlord for back rent and possession. During the course of representation of the client, the respondent determined that the client had no viable defenses to his failure to pay rent. The matters were scheduled for trial by the court. The respondent notified the client of the trial date as well as the requirement that he appear for the trial. The client did not appear for the trial. Given the client’s failure to appear for trial, the respondent was convinced that settlement of the matter was the best outcome for the client based upon the facts and determined that a default judgment would be a worse outcome than a settlement for a sum certain because a default would subject the client to fees and interest. The respondent agreed to settle the claims at the time of trial without the client’s authority to settle the matters. The following day, after learning of the settlement, the client filed a pro se motion seeking relief from the judgment entered against him. The court scheduled the client’s motion for hearing, the respondent failed to appear at the hearing and the court dismissed the motion.

In aggravation, the respondent had a history of prior discipline. In 2016, the respondent received a six-month suspension, and stayed for two years with an accounting probation. The underlying misconduct, however, was unrelated to the misconduct at issue. Instead, the prior misconduct related primarily to the respondent’s real estate conveyancing practice and occurred between 1998 and 2014. Thus, the prior discipline had minimal weight in the sanction analysis based on the totality of circumstances.

(Mike Frisch)

June 20, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Florida Supremes: It's OK To Call Yourself Conservative

The Florida Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded a county judge

At issue are two distinct acts that occurred during now-Judge Woolsey’s first electoral campaign for judicial office, in 2022. First, Judge Woolsey approved a social media post that misleadingly suggested she had raised $100,000 from third parties, when the announced figure included a $50,000 loan from Woolsey herself. Second, Judge Woolsey left the following recorded voicemail message for a voter: “Hey, sorry I missed you. My name is Casey Woolsey and I am calling because I’m running for County Court Judge here in St. Johns County. So, I just wanted to introduce myself and ask if you would consider voting for me when you’re filling in your mail-in ballots. I am a conservative, and my website is . . . .”

The JQC found, and the parties stipulated, that Judge Woolsey’s approval of the misleading social media post violated Canon 7A(3)(e)(ii). Among other things, that canon prohibits judicial candidates from misrepresenting facts about themselves.

The court rejected a stipulation of misconduct

The JQC further found, and the parties stipulated, that Judge Woolsey violated Canon 7 by referring to herself as “a conservative” in a campaign-related voicemail. Canon 7 prohibits judges and judicial candidates from engaging in “inappropriate political activity.” To explain its finding on this point, the JQC reasoned: “When Judge Woolsey asserted that she was a ‘conservative,’ she inserted partisan politics into a judicial election in a county where its residents are overwhelmingly registered as Republican and voted overwhelmingly for Republican candidates in 2022.” The stipulation adds: “Judge Woolsey has expressed remorse and regrets that describing herself as a ‘conservative’ called into question the impartiality and integrity of the non-partisan judicial elections.”

We do not agree that Judge Woolsey’s voicemail violated Canon 7. The statement “I am a conservative” is not partisan, either inherently or (as the JQC believed) when made during an election campaign in a predominantly Republican community. Nor is the statement inconsistent with “the dignity appropriate to judicial office” or with “the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary.” Canon 7A(3)(b). To describe oneself as a “conservative” does not signal bias (pro or con) toward anyone or on any issue. Nor does it reasonably call into doubt the fairness of any future judicial proceeding involving the candidate. In political and legal discourse, “conservative” is an indeterminate word of many meanings and connotations. Even if we assume that a candidate might use the word “conservative” to associate herself with certain unstated views or personal dispositions, this Court has already observed that “our judicial code does not prohibit a candidate from discussing his or her philosophical beliefs.” In re Kinsey, 842 So. 2d 77, 88 (Fla. 2003).

(Mike Frisch)

June 20, 2024 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Suspension For Non-Cooperation

The Indiana Supreme Court has suspended an attorney

the Court ORDERS in DI-87, DI-88, and DI-89 that Respondent be suspended from the practice of law for noncooperation with the Commission, effective immediately. Pursuant to Admission and Discipline Rule 23(10.1)(c)(3), the suspension in each case shall continue until the Executive Director of the Disciplinary Commission certifies to the Court that Respondent has cooperated fully with the investigation or until further order of this Court, provided there are no other suspensions then in effect

Morgan County Correspondent reported on allegations

 A former county attorney and Martinsville City Council member is facing a slew of felony charges following an Indiana State Police (ISP) investigation that alleges he bilked more than $160,000 from multiple clients, including Morgan County.

Last Thursday morning, James Kent Wisco, 43, of Martinsville, turned himself into the Morgan County Jail, where he was formally booked and released on $5,000 bond.

According to the jail book-in log, Wisco was charged with theft, official misconduct, as state charges, and counterfeiting as a federal charge.

According to a press release sent out by ISP last Thursday, Wisco is facing 22 charges, including 13 Level 6 felony counts of theft, seven Level 6 felony counts of counterfeiting, one Level 5 felony count of corrupt business influence and one Level 6 felony  count of official misconduct.  

Due to Wisco’s previous capacity serving as county attorney and as a Martinsville City Council member, along with being attorney for other government entities, a special prosecutor was requested to oversee the ISP investigation, according to Morgan County Prosecutor Steve Sonnega.

All county judges have reportedly recused themselves from hearing the case so a judge from outside the county will have to be appointed to preside over Wisco’s case.

While Wisco’s case remains sealed as of press time and unavailable for public view, the Correspondent obtained a copy of the probable cause affidavit (PCA) in this case. 

Probable cause affidavit 

The reported PCA is based on ISP Det. Tim Denby’s investigation, which began in December 2023. 

According to the PCA, on Dec. 6, 2023, Denby was given information against Wisco related to “criminal complaints of theft and forgery.”

Denby said “multiple clients” had contacted the county prosecutor’s office about paying Wisco for representation in cases but not receiving what was awarded in settlements.

One client who allegedly did not receive the money awarded to them by a court was Morgan County. According to the PCA, Wisco received a check for around $11,700 that was supposed to have been given to the county. Despite telling county officials he was going to forward the funds, the county has not yet received them.

Another case involved a divorce settlement from October 2023, in which $15,000 was placed into a trust account, intended for his client. Wisco twice wrote checks for the amount, and both bounced. His client never received the money. 

Denby, along with another ISP detective, visited the law office of Foley, Peden and Wisco on Dec. 12, 2023, where Martinsville municipal judge Mark Peden explained that he and Ralph Foley owned the building, but Wisco “kind of took over the control for paying the utilities and getting the mail,” according to the PCA. 

Peden went on to say that in June 2023, his assistant notified him that she was no longer receiving bank records for the trust account. 

The bank contacted Peden with copies of six checks “payable to Jim Wisco” in the month of June, totaling $7,500, with Peden’s signature stamp on them. A seventh for $3,529 was made out to client. Peden stated he was the sole signor for the account, and he had not authorized those checks.  

His assistant said she first noticed she had not received bank statements in May 2023. 

In order to forge the checks, the assistant said Wisco “had to go into her office desk drawer to get the Mark Peden signature stamp and then had to go into her office file cabinet to get the checks,” according to the PCA. 

Another case involved three siblings who were beneficiaries of their father’s estate. A check for $15,810 was to be split among them, but the siblings never received the monies owed. 

Another complaint alleges Wisco collected a $2,077 check from another attorney for malpractice insurance to use the law office building, but that policy was never paid nor was the attorney notified by Wisco.   

The final complaint, going back to Jan. 2, 2024, was when the proceeds from a house sale — totaling $108,838 — were to be split between a divorced couple. Neither former spouse received their allotment. 

After interviewing the alleged victims, Denby interviewed Wisco at his office on Feb. 20, when — “after being advised of his rights” — he allegedly confessed to taking funds from six clients totaling around $164,000.

After interviewing Wisco, Denby filed his case with the special prosecutor, who is Jefferson County Prosecutor David Sutter, according to Sonnega.

Cases filed and pending

The criminal charges are not the only cases filed against Wisco, however. 

The company holding the mortgage on Wisco’s home on East Harrison Street in Martinsville has filed to foreclose on him.

The company is alleging Wisco has not paid on his home for nearly a year and still owes around $210,000 on it.

Discover Card has filed suit against Wisco for an unpaid account. Discover is alleging he owes around $15,000 on the account.

According to My Case, there are also three disciplinary cases filed against Wisco with the Indiana Supreme Court. According to records, the notices were sent to Wisco’s office on Morgan Street, which has since been closed and the building sold. According to the information in the three cases, Wiso is supposed to show cause why he should not be suspended from the practice of law.

(Mike Frisch)

June 20, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Domestic Violence Suspension

A  retroactive suspension of six months has been imposed by the South Carolina Supreme Court

Respondent was admitted to practice law in South Carolina in 2013, and he has no prior disciplinary history. On January 19, 2022, Respondent was arrested and charged with first-degree domestic violence, a felony. Respondent failed to self-report his arrest to ODC. On October 4, 2022, the Seventh Judicial Circuit Solicitor informed ODC of Respondent's arrest. Respondent was placed on interim suspension on October 7, 2022.

On December 12, 2022, Respondent pled guilty to second-degree domestic violence, a misdemeanor. Respondent was sentenced to a determinate term of time served (one day) and was required to pay court costs of $128.13, which he paid on May 2, 2023. As part of his sentence, Respondent is prohibited from possessing, transporting, receiving, or shipping a firearm or ammunition. The facts supporting Respondent's guilty plea indicate that in Spartanburg County, on January 14, 2022, Respondent assaulted his wife, striking her in her head and face multiple times, leaving visible injuries. Respondent's three minor children, ages nine, six, and three, witnessed Respondent's assault of their mother, and Respondent's nine-year-old son ran to a nearby home for help.

Respondent's position

In his affidavit in mitigation, Respondent expresses regret and remorse and explains that since the incident, he has completed approximately 125 hours of therapy and counseling services, including a program on Domestic Violence and Healthy Relationships with a certified anger management specialist. He also states that his divorce is now final, and that he has unsupervised visitation and shares joint legal and physical custody of his three children. Respondent asks that any period of suspension be made retroactive to the date of his interim suspension and without the requirement that he appear before the Committee on Character and Fitness prior to any reinstatement to the practice of law.

The court

We find a definite suspension of six months is appropriate as a sanction for Respondent's misconduct in committing criminal acts and failing to self-report his arrest to ODC. Accordingly, we accept the Agreement and suspend Respondent from the practice of law for a definite period of six months, retroactive to October 7, 2022, the date of his interim suspension.

The court ordered conditions as part of the sanction. (Mike Frisch)

June 20, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fleecing Veterans Draws Disbarment

The South Carolina Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney

Respondent provided legal and escrow services through her law firm, Upstate Law Group (ULG), in connection with an illegal structured cash flow business wherein the investor (buyer) purchased future payments of a veteran (seller). Respondent represented the buyers in these improper transactions. The future payments came from either a pension, paid to the veteran by the Defense Finance Accounting Service, or disability benefits, paid to the veteran by the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, these payments were unassignable pursuant to federal statute.

As a result of Respondent's involvement in the illegal structured cash flow business, on or about September 7, 2017, ODC received a news article about a federal lawsuit against Respondent for inducing veterans to sell their retirement benefits or disability benefits for a lump sum. On or about February 1, 2019, ODC received a complaint from a life insurance agent whose clients had stopped receiving payments pursuant to their veterans' contracts. On or about May 12, 2020, ODC received a complaint from a South Carolina lawyer representing veterans who had assigned their military benefits in exchange for payments and who Respondent sued when they defaulted on the contracts to sell their military pensions.

In 2018, the Securities Division of the Arizona Corporation Commission filed an enforcement action alleging that the income stream investments involved in Respondent's scheme were unregistered securities that were prohibited by federal and state law. Respondent and ULG were among the named parties, and both Respondent and ULG were ordered to pay restitution totaling $2,943,438 plus administrative penalties totaling $560,000.

In a separate civil action, on January 1, 2021, the federal district court in South Carolina entered an order permanently restraining Respondent from brokering, offering or arranging purported sales of pensions and disability benefits; any related collection activity; and engaging in any financial services business in the state of South Carolina. The federal court also entered a judgment against Respondent and the other defendants, jointly and severally, in the amount of $725,000.

On May 1, 2023, Respondent pled guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 371, admitting she participated in a conspiracy with objects of mail and wire fraud.

Sanction

We find disbarment is the appropriate sanction for Respondent's egregious misconduct. Accordingly, we accept the Agreement and disbar Respondent from the practice of law in this state.

Stars and Stripes reported on the crimes

A South Carolina attorney who used her law firm to orchestrate a $31 million fraud scheme targeting veterans and the elderly faces up to five years in prison after pleading guilty this week to conspiracy.

Candy Kern, 55, carried out a nationwide scam from 2012 to 2021 that took advantage of cash-strapped veterans and clients who were seeking a secure retirement investment, the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday, the same day as the plea agreement.

The scheme offered veterans cash in exchange for temporary rights to their pensions and disability payments, usually until their loans were repaid with interest. Kern was the managing partner at the law firm and “served as the banker, legal counsel, and debt collector” in the scheme, which bilked victims out of $31.4 million, according to the DOJ.

Despite knowing that the contracts were illegal, Kern and her associates persuaded retirees to fork over the money lent to the veterans, saying the payments would eventually yield returns, the Justice Department statement said. She filed lawsuits against those who defaulted, even though the contracts were void.

Over time, some veterans realized that the pension assignments were illegal and stopped paying, according to the statement.

This led to the collapse of the scheme after more than eight years.

Kern and an undisclosed number of associates pocketed over $1.4 million, the DOJ said.

“This elaborate scheme preyed upon and exploited some of our most vulnerable populations, and when it collapsed, it left thousands of veterans in financial ruin and scores of retiree-investors without adequate resources to retire,” Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s civil division, was quoted in the statement as saying.

Kern surrendered her law license in 2021. As part of her plea deal, she agreed to help prosecutors in their ongoing investigation.

“It is reprehensible that a former member of the South Carolina state bar would participate in such a scheme and use her standing as a lawyer to give victims a false confidence,” Adair Boroughs, the U.S. attorney for the District of South Carolina, said in the statement.

The date of Kern’s sentencing was not provided in the statement. Besides prison time, she also faces a $250,000 fine.

(Mike Frisch)

June 20, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Mule Of Judicial Discipline

A judge's grant of a motion to recuse violated ethics rules by his comments passing on the truth of the allegations and should lead to a public reprimand as recommended by the Florida Judicial Qualification Commission.

In the words of the song, it happened once before

There is an old expression that states, ‘there is no education in the second kick of a mule.' In this case, the Commission believes that the Respondent has demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to comply with the clear directives of Rule 2.330, in spite of previously being cautioned about the same issue. Such studied indifference to following the law is anathema to the integrity of the judiciary and a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. It is the Commission’s hope that the discipline imposed in this case will remind Judge Milian, and indeed all judges, of the imperative to preserve the integrity of the judiciary by complying with the law and applicable Rules. A judge ought not poison the well by casting aspersions, planting doubts, or posing questions about the veracity of an allegation or truthfulness of a litigant or their attorney expressly where the applicable rule prohibits it. To the extent that there are such questions about an attorney, the concerned judge has a remedy in referring the attorney to a professionalism committee or making a referral to The Florida Bar.”

Judge Milian was candid in his appearance before the Investigative Panel and he has forthrightly acknowledged and admitted that his conduct should not have occurred.

CBS News Miami had the story. (Mike Frisch)

June 19, 2024 in Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Mandatory Arbitration Of Departing Lawyer Fee Disputes

A staff report on the web page of the Ohio Supreme Court

The Ohio Board of Professional Conduct has issued an advisory opinion clarifying the application of a rule that mandates the arbitration or mediation of fee disputes between lawyers.

The Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct direct the arbitration or mediation of fee disputes between lawyers who are not in the same firm and agree to jointly represent a client.  These arbitration or mediation services are provided by bar associations.  In Advisory Opinion, 2024-04, the Board concluded that the conduct rule does not mandate the arbitration or mediation of fee disputes that arise between a law firm and a lawyer who has departed the firm.  The Board suggested that lawyers and their former law firms may voluntarily submit to an arbitration or mediation process to resolve these types of fee disputes.

(Mike Frisch)

June 19, 2024 in Billable Hours, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Fictitious

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit vacated an order of dismissal and remanded a civil action 

The Ministry of Defence of the State of Kuwait entered three contracts with Joseph M. Naffa and his fictitious law firm, Naffa & Associates, LLP, under which Naffa and his firm were to provide legal advice to the Ministry’s Defence Attaché Office in Washington, D.C. Naffa also represented the Ministry in transactions related to its real estate purchases in Virginia. Unbeknownst to the Ministry, Naffa was not authorized to practice law in the United States, and Naffa & Associates, LLP was not a real law firm. Naffa did not disclose these facts or correct anyone who referred to him as a lawyer when he provided legal advice and services to the Office.

The Ministry eventually became aware that Naffa was not authorized to practice law in the United States and that he kept a credit meant for the Ministry from one of the real estate transactions. The Ministry subsequently sued Naffa and Naffa & Associates, LLP alleging that Naffa breached their agreements when he provided legal services despite not being authorized to practice law in the United States as, it says, the contracts required; and that he converted its funds from the real estate transaction. The district court dismissed the Ministry’s claims under Rule 12(b)(1), and the Ministry now appeals.

The only issue ripe for our review is whether the Ministry pleaded damages sufficient to meet the amount in controversy requirement. We conclude that the district court erred in dismissing the Ministry’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because the complaint contains sufficient allegations to invoke the court’s diversity jurisdiction. Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s jurisdictional decision, vacate all other determinations the court made, and remand the case for further proceedings.

The Ministry had sought a law firm to assist in various matters and awarded the contract to Naffa

The agreement remained effective for three years and the Office paid Naffa $45,000 each year.

But

At the end of 2019, the Office asked Naffa to produce documentation demonstrating that he was licensed to practice law in the United States. In response, Naffa presented his American Bar Association card and several graduate school degrees claiming that he was a licensed attorney, and that the Bar Association card was his license. At some point thereafter, the Office investigated and learned that Naffa never passed a bar exam, was not licensed to practice law anywhere in the United States, and never established “Naffa & Associates, LLP” as a legal entity.

Attempting to uncover any further dishonesty, the Office audited one of the real estate transactions that Naffa represented it in. The Office discovered that Naffa instructed the closing agent on that transaction to disburse a credit to him that was meant for the Office. Naffa did not disclose the credit to the Office, and the version of the purchase contract he submitted to the Office’s accountant did not show the credit or the payment to Naffa. Naffa eventually returned the full amount of the credit to the Office.

A complaint was filed with the District of Columbia Committee on Unauthorized Practice

After investigating, the UPL Committee concluded that (1) Naffa did not engage in the unauthorized practice of law because he served as in-house counsel for the Office and other offices in Kuwait’s government, and (2) the Office did not have a reasonable expectation that Naffa was an attorney because the Defense Attaché who hired Naffa knew that Naffa was not authorized to practice law in the United States. J.A. 101–03. The Committee explicitly took “no position on any other matter in dispute between the parties.” J.A. 103

In total, the Office paid Naffa $635,000 throughout the duration of the parties’ contractual relationship — $135,000 under the first agreement, $280,000 under the second agreement, $170,000 under the third agreement, and $50,000 for representing the Office in various real estate transactions.

Evidence of damages

The district court below did not heed the Supreme Court’s advice. Instead, the district court erroneously considered Naffa’s potential defenses and evidentiary issues and concluded that any damages that the Ministry could recover after accounting for those defenses would fall below the statutory minimum. In doing so, the court improperly and prematurely assessed the merits of the Ministry’s breach of contract claim despite explicitly cabining its analysis to the jurisdictional issue. See J.A. 199 (district court’s opinion stating “because the Court begins and ends with the jurisdictional challenge, the Court need not address the latter argument”). That was legal error.

Conclusion

The district court erroneously concluded that the Ministry’s claims did not meet the statutory amount in controversy and dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Because we conclude that the Ministry sufficiently pleaded an amount in controversy above the statutory minimum, we reverse the court’s jurisdictional determination, vacate all other determinations it made, and remand for further proceedings.

(Mike Frisch)

June 18, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Brief Overdue

A discipline summary on the web page of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers

The respondent was charged with varied misconduct in a four-count Petition for Discipline. The Hearing Committee Report reflects that it found misconduct in all four areas. First, for over three years, and despite having taken a Trust Account Training Program, the respondent failed to keep IOLTA-compliant records in violation of Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.15. She also failed to cooperate when bar counsel investigated her conduct. Second, in the course of representing a divorce client, the respondent was found to have committed numerous violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, foremost among them intentionally misusing unearned retainer funds, failing to return the unearned fee, and refusing to send her client an invoice. In the third count, the respondent was found to have again intentionally misused unearned retainer funds, but this time she returned the unearned amount to the client.

Count Four concerned the respondent’s representation of a subcontractor enmeshed in a dispute with another subcontractor. The respondent was found to have engaged in extensive misconduct that included routinely ignoring her client’s questions about the status of the case and her fees, and intentional misuse of unearned retainer funds without deprivation.

The Hearing Committee found significant aggravation, including the respondent’s lack of insight into or appreciation of basic ethical obligations. It specifically noted that she routinely missed deadlines, and failed to follow BBO rules and orders. It recommended a two year suspension.

The Hearing Committee Report was served August 8, 2023. Neither party appealed. On September 11, 2023, the Board voted to adopt the report and recommendation of the Hearing Committee and to recommend a two-year suspension from practice. Its vote was served on the parties by email on September 21, 2023. On October 11, 2023, the respondent filed a Motion to File Notice of Appeal Late, claiming she had not seen the emailed Hearing Report, and was unaware of the Hearing Committee’s decision or the need to file an appeal. The motion was allowed, and the respondent was given until November 13, 2023 to file her brief. She subsequently filed six more requests for additional time, all of which were allowed. The final Order gave her until January 22, 2024 at 5:00 P.M. to file her brief. She missed this deadline, and an Information was filed with the SJC.

The respondent’s hearing before the SJC was scheduled for March 29, 2024. She requested additional time and was given until May 31, 2024. On that date, she filed a Motion to Remand to the Board, for its consideration of her appeal. Bar counsel objected. After the hearing, where the respondent appeared and represented herself, Justice Georges denied her request for remand. On June 3, 2024, Justice Georges imposed a two-year suspension, effective immediately.

(MIke Frisch)

June 18, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

"I Don't Want To Pay Taxes"

The North Carolina Court of Appeals remanded a bar discipline matter for a renewed sanction determination

Mark Key (“Defendant”) appeals, and the North Carolina State Bar (“Plaintiff”) cross-appeals, from an order of discipline entered by the Disciplinary Hearing Commission of the North Carolina State Bar (“DHC”) suspending Defendant’s law license for five years and allowing him to seek a stay of the balance of the suspension after three years if he complies with certain conditions. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm in part, dismiss in part, and vacate and remand in part.

The attorney was charged with tax-related offenses, client misconduct, mortgage fraud, misconduct during the grievance proceedings and 

Defendant represented a client charged with felonious restraint, and the matter came on for trial in Wake County Superior Court on 11 June 2019. During the State’s direct examination of a witness, Defendant continuously raised the same objection that had been previously overruled. Defendant repeatedly attempted to elicit testimony from a witness on cross-examination that the trial court had previously ruled inadmissible. Defendant became angry and raised his voice at the trial court in the presence of the jury. At that point, the trial court ended the proceedings for the day.

After the jury left the courtroom, the trial court said, “Mr. Key let me tell you something. . . [.]” Before the trial court could finish the statement, Defendant stood up, aggressively pointed his finger, and said, “Let me tell you something. . . .” The trial court instructed Defendant to sit down and informed him that it could initiate contempt proceedings against him based on his misconduct. The trial court gave Defendant the opportunity to apologize, but he did not do so. Due to Defendant’s misconduct in the presence of the jury, the trial court entered an order declaring a mistrial on 17 June 2019.

He appealed all the misconduct findings.

Taxes

Defendant stated during his interview with Plaintiff, “I don’t want to pay taxes.”

Me too, today in particular.

Conclusion here

Defendant’s extensive history of failing to timely file and pay his income taxes, coupled with his statements to Plaintiff, constitutes substantial evidence to support a finding that Defendant willfully failed to timely file and pay his state income taxes. Finding of Fact 33(b) is therefore supported by substantial evidence.

For the reasons stated above, the DHC did not err by finding and concluding that Defendant committed multiple tax-related crimes in his capacity as owner of The Key Law Office and in his individual capacity.

The employee tax and trust account violations were also sustained.

Client related allegations

These findings of fact support the DHC’s conclusion of law that, “[b]y providing confidential information to the lawyer he sent to represent T.M. at the May 2019 hearing, who was not a member of Defendant’s law firm, Defendant revealed information acquired during the professional relationship in violation of Rule 1.6(a)[.]” Accordingly, the DHC did not err by concluding that Defendant violated Rule 1.6(a).

...the DHC did not err by concluding that Defendant violated Rule 1.16(a) and (d).

The misconduct findings relating to the mistrial, mortgage fraud and in the disciplinary process were affirmed.

Sanction

the DHC erred by failing to consider Defendant’s commission of multiple felonies in imposing the appropriate discipline...

Plaintiff argues that “the DHC abused its discretion by suspending Defendant’s license to practice law rather than disbarring him, when suspension was inconsistent with prior cases and not reasonably related to the protection of the public, the profession, and the administration of justice.” (capitalization altered). Because we have determined that the DHC erred by failing to consider Defendant’s commission of multiple felonies and bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceedings in imposing the appropriate discipline, we do not address Plaintiff’s argument.

Thus

The DHC did not err by finding and concluding that Defendant engaged in misconduct, and we dismiss the arguments that are not properly before us. However, because the DHC failed to consider Defendant’s commission of multiple felonies and bad faith obstruction of the disciplinary proceedings in imposing the appropriate discipline, we vacate the portion of the order of discipline suspending Defendant’s law license and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

(Mike Frisch)

June 18, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Fashionable Use

A fashion model who asserted claims against Ralph Lauren Corp. and HBO had the dismissal of the case affirmed by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department

Plaintiff, a fashion model, alleges that she was featured without her permission in Very Ralph, a documentary film about designer Ralph Lauren. Plaintiff also alleges that she was featured, again without her permission, in the trailer for the documentary, which aired on HBO’s cable TV network and internet streaming services. As relevant to this appeal, plaintiff commenced this action against HBO, alleging that it knowingly, and without her consent, used her image in the film for advertising and trade purposes in violation of Civil Rights Law §§ 50 and 51

No liability

Plaintiff, who acknowledges the film is a “documentary about Ralph Lauren,” fails to allege any facts to support her conclusory assertion that the film is a disguised advertisement for defendant Ralph Lauren Corp. Further, plaintiff does not show that the matters as to which she claims to need discovery – any Ralph Lauren/HBO agreements, including profit-sharing agreements, regarding the film – would advance her position, as it is the “content” of the work, rather than a defendant’s profit from it, that bears on whether “a newsworthy use, as opposed to a trade usage” is at issue for
purposes of section 51 (Stephano, 64 NY2d at 184-185; see Ward, 10 Misc 3d at 654).

Supreme Court also properly dismissed the action as against HBO on grounds that, to the extent the film uses plaintiff’s image, it does so in an “isolated,” or “fleeting and incidental” manner. Such uses, “even if unauthorized, are insufficient to establish liability” under section 51

(Mike Frisch)

June 18, 2024 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

No Stay For Criminal Charges

An interim suspension of an attorney had been ordered by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

this Court denies respondent’s request to hold this disciplinary proceeding in abeyance until the conclusion of the criminal proceedings against her in Suffolk County. “A criminal defendant does not have a right to stay a related disciplinary proceeding pending the outcome of trial” (Matter of Chaplin v New York City Dept. of Educ., 48 AD3d 226, 227 [1st Dept 2008]).

Accordingly, the AGC’s motion should be granted, and respondent suspended from the practice of law effective immediately and until further order of this Court. The AGC’s request for the appointment of a receiver should also be granted.

Patch reported on criminal charges

A Huntington lawyer was indicted for a second time after she was accused of stealing $150K from a third client, Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said Wednesday.

Daphna Zekaria, 54, of Syosset, was charged with second-degree grand larceny. Zekaria was
previously arrested and arraigned on a separate indictment in December 2023 after she was accused of stealing more than $200K from two other clients, the DA said.

"Attorneys occupy unique positions of trust within our community," Tierney said in a news release. "My office will not tolerate attorneys abusing that trust to unlawfully enrich themselves at the expense of others."

Zekaria, represented by Brian J. Griffin, pleaded not guilty.

"We are in the process of reviewing the indictment and supporting documents and have no further comment at this time," Griffin told Patch.

In the second indictment, in August 2021, Zekaria, a partner at the Huntington law firm of Sokolski and Zekaria, P.C., was hired to represent a woman in her divorce and, later, for the sale of her marital home, investigators said. Between Dec. 29, 2021, and March 4, 2022, Zekaria received approximately $150K, which were the proceeds of the sale of her client’s home, authorities said. Zekaria was to hold the funds in her escrow account and disperse them when the client’s divorce was finalized, officials said. Instead, Zekaria used the funds for personal and business expenses, the DA said.

In the first indictment, in December 2021, Zekaria was hired by a New York State Lottery winner, and promised to hold a portion of her client’s money in the firm’s escrow account and invest an additional portion on his behalf, prosecutors said. Instead of holding the money or investing it, Zekaria did neither, instead making large transfers of money to other people, which she would not have been able to had her client’s funds not been deposited into her account, investigators said.

Zekaria collected a total of $230K from the lottery winner in three separate transactions, the DA said.

Additionally, in March 2023, Zekaria was retained by an elderly Manhattan woman to assist her in contesting eviction proceedings, officials said. Zekaria took $17,500 from the woman to represent her but performed no legal work on her behalf, authorities said.

After the woman requested her money back 13 days after providing the payment, Zekaria had spent the woman's money on LIPA payments and credit card bills, the DA said.

Zekaria was arraigned Tuesday on the new indictment. Zekaria was released on her own recognizance while her case pends because her charge is considered non-bail eligible under current New York State law. Prosecutors cannot ask for bail and judges cannot set bail. She is due back in court on June 12.

She had previously surrendered her passport at her arraignment on the first indictment.

June 18, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Disturbance

A two-year reciprocal suspension has been ordered by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department for sanctions imposed in Florida

The pertinent facts in this matter arise from respondent’s practice of law in Florida, where he was licensed as an attorney on May 13, 2016. By order entered December 21, 2023, the Supreme Court of Florida suspended respondent from the practice of law for two years based on criminal convictions in state court.

The Attorney Grievance Committee (AGC) relates that, on December 17, 2022, several Oviedo Police Department officers responded to a disturbance in progress in which a suspect pulled a gun on another person. When the reporting officer arrived on the scene, several officers were talking to two people, and another officer was securing a person later identified as respondent. The reporting officer asked respondent where the gun was, and respondent indicated its location. From a black backpack lying next to respondent, the reporting officer recovered a 9-millimeter handgun with a full 24-round magazine and a round in the chamber. According to the police report, a witness saw respondent “walking from his home back towards the crime scene with the black backpack.” The reporting officer watched surveillance video, which showed respondent trying to strike the victim with his vehicle. Respondent appeared to be intoxicated and had a suspended concealed weapon license.

Respondent was arrested and charged with possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis, a first-degree misdemeanor (Fla Stat Ann § 893.13 [6] [b]); battery, a firstdegree misdemeanor (Fla Stat Ann § 784.03 [1] [a] [1]); unlicensed carrying a concealed firearm, a first-degree misdemeanor (Fla Stat Ann § 790.01 [2]); aggravated assault, a third-degree felony (Fla Stat Ann § 784.021 [1] [a]); and aggravated battery, a seconddegree felony (Fla Stat Ann § 784.045 [1] [a] [2]). All charges relating to cannabis and aggravated battery were dropped, and an additional aggravated assault charge was added, as well as a charge for improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon or firearm, a first-degree misdemeanor (Fla Stat Ann. § 790.10).

Respondent denied brandishing a weapon. He claimed that the victim blocked the roadway while loading a trailer onto his truck. When respondent stopped his vehicle, the victim approached and threatened to kill him. By contrast, the victim stated that respondent drove into the area “brazenly” and stopped 20 feet in front of him. The victim asserted that respondent exited his vehicle, chest bumped the victim, and threatened to kill him, using vulgar language. Respondent returned to his vehicle and pulled out a gun, which he used to strike the victim in the head. Respondent then pointed the gun at the victim’s head, jumped into his vehicle, and attempted to hit the victim. He succeeded in striking the victim with the vehicle’s side mirror.

Criminal charges

Respondent pleaded no contest to the remaining aggravated assault charge and the charge for carrying a concealed firearm, both of which are third-degree felonies. Adjudication was withheld on these charges, and respondent was sentenced to 60 months of probation. Respondent pleaded no contest to the remaining first-degree misdemeanor charges of improper exhibition of a dangerous weapon or firearm and battery. He was adjudicated guilty of these charges and sentenced to two days in jail, with a two-day credit for time served.

(Mike Frisch)

June 18, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Not A Faithless Servant

The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department imposed a one-year suspension for fiduciary breaches outside the practice of law

On July 11, 2022, the Attorney Grievance Committee (the Committee) sought to obtain a finding that respondent was guilty of professional misconduct in violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC)(22 NYCRR 1200.0) rules § 8.4(c) and § 8.4(h) based on adverse findings against respondent at trial in a federal civil action in the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, wherein the jury determined that respondent, while employed as the corporate secretary of an oil company, and not as a lawyer, breached his fiduciary duty to his employer with respect to two separate matters.

In the first matter the plaintiff alleged that respondent as corporate secretary, and in his capacity as trustee of the affiliated oil company’s security trust, during the period the corporation was attempting to shield its assets from seizure by the Russian Federation, withdrew $500,000 from the trust funds and invested them for three years in his own name in a private equity hedge fund. Respondent did not tell the trust protector that the assets were invested in respondent's name. The protector upon discovering that the investment was in respondent's name, demanded a return of the funds to the trust account. Respondent returned the funds and was removed as trustee. Respondent's investment in the hedge fund almost doubled in value and plaintiff did not seek compensatory damages.

In the second matter respondent approved a "finder's fee" payment of $2.6 million from a Swiss bank to an oil company employee for help in securing an arrangement with the bank to hold some of the oil company’s assets. After respondent approved the "finder's fee," the employee loaned respondent $1.2 million to purchase a house in the Hamptons. The plaintiff alleged that the "finder's fee" was a kickback to respondent in the nature of a loan but did not seek compensatory damages from respondent because the matter was settled with the bank.

The jury awarded the plaintiff $5.00 in nominal damages which was reduced to $3.00 on appeal. Notably, respondent was never charged with committing a criminal offense, and there was no finding that he was guilty of conversion. The jury also determined that respondent did not act with evil motive or intent, or with reckless disregard or callous indifference to the plaintiff's rights when he breached his fiduciary duty, and that he was not a "faithless servant."

In the bar proceeding

At the hearing before the Referee, respondent acknowledged that his breach of fiduciary duty in the two matters reflected poor judgment on his part. Respondent  stated that in the first matter, as trustee, he was authorized to make the investment, however the private equity hedge fund would not allow the investment to be made in the security trust's name. Respondent acted on the advice of his friend that was the private equity hedge fund's employee and made the investment in his own name. Respondent claimed that the trust protector was informed, the investments were reported on the k-1 tax forms to the trust accountants and on the security trust’s tax returns, and he never made any money from these investments, which were highly lucrative as they almost doubled in value.

Respondent stated that in the second matter he had authority to approve the “finder’s fee,” as the sole director of the entity, and that it was the bank that suggested the fee. At the time he did not view the loan from the employee that received the "finder's fee" as a gift or a kickback. Respondent also produced promissory notes and proof of interest payments on the loan to demonstrate it was not a kickback.

There was significant mitigation, Respondent had not practiced law for 20 years

the Committee's motion pursuant to the Rules for Attorney Disciplinary Matters (22 NYCRR) §1240.8 (b), to disaffirm the Referee's Report and Recommendation should be denied, the report and recommendation to impose a one year suspension from the practice of law confirmed, and respondent is suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year, and until further order of this court. Any conditions regarding respondent’s reinstatement are to be addressed at the time respondent applies.

(Mike Frisch)

June 18, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 17, 2024

Hospital Scheme Leads To Proposed Consent Disbarment

An Illinois attorney had moved for consent disbarment after a conviction described by the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois

The former Chief Operating Officer of an Illinois hospital has been sentenced to a year and a half in federal prison for illegally pocketing more than $620,000 in hospital funds.

ROBERT SPADONI was an attorney who worked as a Vice President and COO of the hospital.  From 2013 to 2021, Spadoni orchestrated a scheme in which he approved payment of invoices to a vendor company that purportedly provided the hospital with administrative support and compliance services.  In reality, the vendor company – Medical Education Solutions, Inc. – had been established by Spadoni for the purpose of executing the scheme.  Spadoni’s family member opened a bank account in the company’s name and steered the hospital’s payments into it.  Spadoni concealed the fraud scheme by paying $1,500 a month in cash to another hospital employee to actually provide the administrative and compliance services.

As a result of the fraud scheme, Spadoni obtained approximately $622,500 in payments from the hospital.  Spadoni used the money for his own benefit, including restaurant meals and hotel stays, as well as transferring $225,805 into a 401(k) account he controlled.

Spadoni, 59, of Darien, Ill., pleaded guilty earlier this year to a mail fraud charge.  In addition to the prison term, U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly on Tuesday ordered Spadoni to pay $622,500 in restitution to the hospital.

(Mike Frisch)

June 17, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

All In The Family

A conflict of interest has resulted in a partially-stayed suspension with three months served and probation, approved by the Colorado Presiding Disciplinary Judge

Beginning in 2022, Wells assisted a client to amend the client’s trust. The amendment named the client as primary trustee, Wells’s brother as successor trustee and power of attorney, and Wells’s brother’s employer, a bank, as secondary trustee. In February 2023, Wells drafted a restated trust for the client. The restated trust included Wells’s niece as a beneficiary and named an organization co-founded by Wells’s other brother as a potential beneficiary. Around this time, the relationship between the client and the trustee bank soured, and Wells drafted an amendment to the restated trust, removing the bank as a trustee.

Throughout the representation, Wells never advised his client in writing of the conflicts created by including his family members in the trust instruments. Nor did he obtain the client’s written informed consent to the conflicts. In addition, the client resided in Kansas, but Wells, who is not licensed to practice law in that state, took only preliminary steps to associate with a Kansas lawyer. Though the trust documents stated that the Kansas lawyer reviewed them, the lawyer in fact did not review the documents, and Wells did not consult with the lawyer about the matter. Even so, Wells wrote a letter to his client, misrepresenting that he performed work on her matter through an association with the Kansas lawyer. Around this time, Wells withdrew from the matter, assisted the client in finding new counsel, and refunded the client’s fee.

(Mike Frisch)

June 17, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

It's Over

The United States Court of Appeas for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a civil suit brought by the U.S. government under the Foreign Agents Registration Act

Federal law requires those lobbying American officials on behalf of foreign principals to register as foreign agents. The Department of Justice believes that Stephen Wynn acted as an unregistered foreign agent for the People’s Republic of China in mid-to-late 2017. The Department filed suit in federal court to force him to register. Because, even accepting the government’s allegations as true, Wynn long ago ceased acting as a foreign agent, he has no present obligation to register. For that reason, the district court properly dismissed the government’s suit for failure to state a claim.

Allegations

The government’s complaint alleges that, in May 2017, the former finance chair of the Republican National Committee, Elliot Broidy, met with the now-former Vice Minister for Public Security in the People’s Republic of China Sun Lijun, foreign national Low Taek Jho, hip-hop artist Prakazrel Michel, and businessperson Nickie Lum Davis. On behalf of the People’s Republic of China, Sun asked the attendees to lobby then-President Trump and his administration to cancel a certain Chinese businessperson’s visa or to otherwise remove that person from the United States.

The next month, Broidy enlisted casino owner and realestate developer Stephen Wynn to help fulfill Sun’s request. Wynn agreed and, in the ensuing months, Wynn contacted then-President Trump and a number of Trump administration officials and advocated for the Chinese businessperson’s removal. Wynn raised the issue with administration officials and the former President both in person and over the telephone. His efforts, however, bore no fruit. In October 2017, Wynn informed Sun that he had pressed the issue to the best of his ability and that he could not help any further. The government does not allege that Wynn engaged in any lobbying on behalf of China after that date.

In May 2018, Wynn got a letter from the Department of Justice advising him to register as a foreign agent. Wynn refused, disputing the government’s conclusion that he was required to register and requesting that the Department reconsider its determination. For four years, Wynn exchanged letters with the government over the dispute. He never registered under FARA.

Too late to litigate

Under binding circuit precedent, any duty Wynn had to register as a foreign agent under Section 612(a) ended when his alleged representation of a foreign principal terminated. Because Section 618(f) allows civil suit to remedy only ongoing or imminent Section 612(a) violations, we affirm the district court’s dismissal.

(Mike Frisch)

June 17, 2024 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Inappropriate Would Be A Significant Understatement"

An  Alberta Law SocietyHearing Committee found that an attorney had engaged in misconduct in all charged citations except to false information and forgery charges (citation #2)

The following citations were directed to hearing by a Conduct Committee Panel on December 13, 2022, and amended on August 21, 2023:

1)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha acted in an inappropriate manner with his students and employees and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

2)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha was involved in the false information and forgery contained in a Revocation of Power of Attorney document and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

3)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha filed a Revocation of Power of Attorney document at the Land Titles Office that he knew was false and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

4)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha commissioned an Affidavit of Execution he knew to be false and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

5)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha failed to provide his clients, A.E. and M.E., with thorough, conscientious, and diligent service and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

6)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha failed to provide his client, S.Co., with thorough, conscientious, and diligent service and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

7)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha failed to provide his client, B.T., with thorough, conscientious, and diligent service and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

8)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha provided false information to his client, B.T., regarding the status of her matter and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

9)   It is alleged Hardeep S. Sangha breached Rule 119.21 of the Rules of the Law Society of Alberta when he withdrew funds from trust prior to sending a billing to the client and that such conduct is deserving of sanction.

Inappropriate behavior

The SOAF and the exhibits entered at the Hearing describe a series of incidents between Mr. Sangha and individual articling students which involving yelling, swearing, making highly inappropriate and personalized comments and demeaning behavior. The SOAF also related similar inappropriate, threatening, intimidating, abusive and highly unprofessional comments to a legal assistant. In both cases, Mr. Sangha was involved in a power imbalance which he exploited in attempting to manipulate or intimidate individual members of his firm.

Exhibit 5.3 contained extensive text exchanges between Mr. Sangha and some of the staff in question, and particularly C.R. While the admissions in the SOAF were very concerning, the details in the text messages provide ample evidence of the particularly erratic behaviour exhibited by Mr. Sangha which shows him vacillating wildly between praise, condemnation and threatening behaviour. Describing these exchanges as inappropriate would be a significant understatement. They are not only unprofessional but shocking in the violent nature of some of the actions Mr. Sangha requested as demonstrations of loyalty.

A hearing will be set for sanction and other pending issues. (Mike Frisch)

June 17, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Censured

An attorney admitted in 2016 was censured by the New Jersey Supreme Court for practicing while administrately suspended as described by the Disciplinary Review Board

During his period of ineligibility, respondent represented a juvenile in a criminal matter pending before the Honorable Phillip J. Degnan, J.S.C. Specifically, on July 5, 2022, respondent advised Judge Degnan’s chambers that “he had recently discovered an issue with his license that prevented him from appearing that date,” and requested an adjournment, which Judge Degnan granted. On July 13, 2022, respondent requested another adjournment in the same matter, which also was granted.

During a July 21, 2022 conference call before Judge Degnan, respondent entered an appearance in the juvenile matter, despite his administrative ineligibility. During that conference, Judge Degnan asked respondent whether the issues with his license had been resolved. According to the complaint, respondent represented that his “licensing issues either had been resolved or were going to be resolved in short order.” Respondent then requested another adjournment.

That same date, Judge Degnan confirmed that respondent remained ineligible to practice law and advised respondent’s client of the same.

On August 23, 2022, respondent regained his eligibility to practice law after making a payment to the Fund. However, on September 12, 2022, the Court again declared respondent administratively ineligible to practice law for his failure to register his IOLTA account.

There were also recordkeeping issues

Following a review of the record, we find that the facts set forth in the complaint support most, but not all, of the charges of unethical conduct. Respondent’s failure to file an answer to the complaint is deemed an admission that the allegations of the complaint are true and that they provide a sufficient basis for the imposition of discipline. R. 1:20-4(f)(1). Notwithstanding that Rule, each charge in the complaint must be supported by sufficient facts for us to determine that unethical conduct has occurred.

The record clearly and convincingly demonstrates that respondent violated RPC 1.15(d) by failing to comply with the recordkeeping requirements of R. 1:21-6 in numerous respects. Specifically, the OAE’s audit revealed that respondent failed to; (2) properly designate his ATA and ABA; (3) maintain ATA and ABA receipts and disbursement journals; (4) maintain a client ledger card identifying law firm funds for bank charges; (5) maintain monthly, threeway reconciliations and running checkbook balance; and (6) maintain ATA and ABA records for a period of seven years. Further, respondent made improper, electronic transfers to his ATA. Moreover, between April and July 12, 2022, in connection with his law practice, respondent failed to maintain an ATA and ABA.

Sanction

On balance, consistent with disciplinary precedent and considering that respondent allowed this matter to proceed as a default, we conclude that a censure is the appropriate quantum of discipline necessary to protect the public and preserve confidence in the bar. Further, we recommend that the Court impose the conditions that respondent submit proof to the OAE, within thirty days of the Court’s disciplinary Order, that he (1) corrected his recordkeeping deficiencies, and (2) updated his firm’s financial institution information.

(Mike Frisch)

June 16, 2024 in Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink | Comments (0)