Friday, April 6, 2018
A story of rehabilitation from substance abuse led the New Jersey Supreme Court to admit an applicant to practice in 1990.
The pre-admission record
The evidence produced in the course of these proceedings is consistent with the factual summary that follows. Kenneth Strait, Jr., now thirty-nine years old, began using alcohol during high school. During his senior year Strait drank alcohol and smoked marijuana on a daily basis. During that time he also used cocaine, amphetamines, and barbituates.
While in high school, between March and December 1970, he had been arrested and charged on two occasions with possession of a dangerous weapon and larceny, and charged once with defacing property. He was ultimately convicted of those crimes and sentenced to probation.
Despite his substance abuse and criminal convictions, Strait achieved academic success and was awarded a full scholarship to attend Brown University. His academic career at Brown was short-lived, however, lasting only from September 1970 to June 1971. Strait continued to abuse alcohol and drugs while at Brown, drinking alcohol five to seven times a week, smoking marijuana, and using amphetamines, barbituates, and heroin. In order to support his drug habit. Strait stole from fellow University students. He was charged with and later convicted of breaking and entering, assault with a dangerous weapon, and breaking and entering with intent to commit larceny. In December 1970 he was suspended from Brown University.
In April 1971 Strait was arrested and charged with possession of a narcotic drug and frequenting a "narcotic nuisance," after police had raided the off-campus apartment of an acquaintance where Strait and others were smoking marijuana. In May 1971 Brown University re-opened Strait's file in order to investigate allegations that he had violated the conditions of his suspension. Specifically, it was alleged that he had attempted to procure monies fraudulently from the University through the improper use of vouchers. Strait was dismissed from Brown in June 1971. Thereafter, he left Rhode Island and moved to Louisiana. Criminal charges were still pending in Rhode Island at the time Strait left the jurisdiction, and bail money posted by his stepfather had been forfeited.
Strait remained a fugitive until March 1977. At that time, he surrendered to authorities in Rhode Island, pleaded nolo contendere on all charges, and received one year unsupervised concurrent terms of probation on each of the outstanding charges. Strait explained that his decision to terminate his fugitive status was prompted by his recent marriage to his long-time girlfriend, who had given birth to their son in 1972. Although Strait had described his alcohol and drug addictions as being "active" throughout the intervening years, he had decided to turn himself in to Rhode Island authorities because he was attempting to accept responsibility for his family and "pull [his] life together as best [he] could."
Strait enrolled at the University of Iowa in 1978, and received a bachelor's degree from that school in 1981. While a student there, he became intoxicated on alcohol four to five times a week and smoked marijuana several times a week. Despite his substance abuse, Strait maintained good grades, worked part-time, was president of the Minority Business Students' Association, and was active in other student and community organizations.
After disclosing fully his criminal history in his application, Strait was accepted to Rutgers University School of Law-Newark and began his studies there in September 1981. Strait's years at law school were marked by drug and alcohol abuse, poor academic performance, and a marriage that became increasingly strained. According to Strait, while attending law school he used alcohol to excess on a daily basis and cocaine "whenever [he] could get the money." He received his Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers in October 1984.
The court granted admission
The record establishes by clear and convincing evidence that Strait has demonstrated personal reform and rehabilitation in connection with his addiction to intoxicating substances. From the time that respondent entered the outpatient recovery program at Fair Oaks Hospital approximately one week after his arrest for possession of cocaine, he exhibited a commitment to recover from substance addiction. He has been steadfast in his attendance at AA and LCL, and assists other alcoholics at AA in their recovery programs. The expert testimony advanced during these proceedings is highly favorable with respect to a prognosis for respondent's continued sobriety. Further, the expert testimony establishes a clear causal connection between Strait's alcohol and drug addictions and his prior criminal conduct, which reflected adversely on his character and fitness to practice law.
We also note Strait's record of community service and employment in the legal profession. He has lectured school children and young adults about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. He has also maintained continuous and satisfactory employment with several firms as a law clerk. Strait's application for admission has prompted an outpouring of support from colleagues and former employers who are aware of his history, his recovery, and his present behavior, and who attest to his legal ability and good moral character. Strait's current employer has submitted a letter offering respondent a position as an associate with his law firm on Strait's admission to the bar, and has also volunteered to serve as his proctor.
Based on the evidence in the record establishing that respondent has overcome his dependency on drugs and alcohol, that the addiction was the primary source of his problems with the law, and that his chances for continued sobriety are favorable, we are satisfied that Strait deserves an opportunity to practice law, subject to the conditions prescribed by the Review Panel. Accordingly, we affirm the decision of the Statewide Panel of the Committee on Character.
A Montclair Municipal Court judge has had to deal with legal matters outside his courtroom.
The state’s Office of Attorney Ethics in October of last year filed a formal complaint against Kenneth C. Strait, Jr., who has been the township’s Municipal Court judge since 2013 and is also an attorney with an office in Montclair.
The ethics complaint alleges that Strait in July 2015 double-paid himself $3,000 in fees for a client who he represented in a personal injury matter. The complaint then alleges that the double payment led to him writing a trust account check for $4,060 to another client to try to replace funds taken from that client’s account to make up for the double payment, which Strait claimed to the OAE was done in error.
The complaint goes on to accuse Strait of using the $2,145 to cover “various expenses, including ‘Paychex and a $700 ‘draw made payable to himself.’ ”
The complaint also alleges that in September 2014, Strait took $2,145 from an attorney trust account that he was overseeing for a client, but claimed it was for “fees for a divorce he was to handle.” The complaint notes that Strait was handling a personal injury matter not a divorce for the client in question.
The complaint stemmed from an audit done of Strait’s records.
A disciplinary hearing about the complaint had been scheduled for Sept. 18 but an employee in the Office of Attorney Ethics said that the hearing had been cancelled and was being rescheduled for November.
The OAE's accusations against Strait is not the first time that he has faced disciplinary action from the state. In 2011, when he was then Montclair's municipal prosecutor, Strait was reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court Disciplinary Review Board after he was found to have used the credit card of a client and a longtime friend, and ran it up beyond the $36,000 limit without informing his client.
Strait could be not be reached for comment. A call to Mayor Robert Jackson was not returned for comment.
The court granted the consent on April 2. (Mike Frisch)