Friday, May 11, 2018
The New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department imposed reciprocal discipline of a two year suspension and until further order of an attorney who was permanently barred from New Jersey practice
In February 2016, the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filed a formal disciplinary complaint charging respondent with violating New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct (NJ RPC) rule 3.3(a)(1) (lack of candor to a tribunal), rule 5.5(a)(1) (unauthorized practice of law), rule 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation), and rule 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) stemming from, inter alia, her violating the terms of her pro hac vice admission in New Jersey.
The matter was presented to the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) on a certification of default. The DRB found that most of the facts recited in the complaint supported the charges of unethical conduct, deemed respondent's failure to file an answer an admission that the allegations at issue were true, and, as to sanction, recommended that respondent's pro hac vice privileges in New Jersey be suspended until further order of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
The DRB's findings of fact are as follows. In September 2011, respondent's law school classmate, Sarah M., sponsored respondent's application before the Criminal Division, Union County, for admission pro hac vice in New Jersey so that she could represent Angel R. in a pending criminal matter. The court entered an order admitting respondent pro hac vice counsel for Angel R. and required her to pay the annual registration fee (pursuant to court rules), within 10 days, and to submit an affidavit of compliance. Respondent failed to pay the registration fee and under the terms of the order, the pro hac vice admission self-terminated at the end of the 10-day grace period. Nevertheless, respondent represented Angel R. in his criminal matter from 2011 through 2014. Respondent's failure to pay the annual fee rendered her ineligible to practice law in New Jersey under NJ Court Rule 1:20-1(b).
In June 2012, attorney Sarah M. filed another application to have respondent admitted pro hac vice to serve as counsel for Christian A., the defendant in a matrimonial action. The court issued an order granting respondent pro hac vice admission requiring her to pay the annual registration fee within 10 days and submit an affidavit of compliance. Respondent again failed to pay the registration fee within the time frame provided in the court's order but, nonetheless, she represented Christian A. in his matrimonial matter in 2012 and 2013. In April 2014, respondent finally paid the annual registration fees due for 2011 through 2014.
In addition to representing Angel R. in the criminal matter discussed above, respondent represented him in an earlier workers' compensation matter. In March 2011, respondent sent a letter of representation to the workers' compensation insurance carrier on fabricated letterhead which stated that respondent worked for "The Law Office of Sarah [M.]" but the address listed under Sarah M.'s name was that of respondent. The letter also requested that the carrier send all future correspondence regarding the case to the address listed which, as noted, was respondent's address. Respondent signed the letter as "Amy Gold." Sarah M. did not authorize or consent to respondent's use of her name or letterhead. Further, respondent was not licensed to practice law in New Jersey when she sent the letter of representation to the carrier, nor had she been admitted pro hac vice for the workers' compensation claim.
In January 2012, respondent told Sarah M. that Angel R.'s criminal matter had concluded after he pled guilty, which representation respondent knew to be false because Angel R.'s case was still pending at that time and did not conclude until 2014
Respondent first met Angel R. in January 2010 and the two began a social relationship which quickly turned romantic. When criminal charges for aggravated assault were brought against Angel R. in March 2010, respondent agreed to represent him. In April 2011, respondent obtained a written waiver of any potential conflict of interest.
In August 2012, respondent and Angel R. were married while in Cuba and were married again in September 2012 in New Jersey. In or about 2013, at Angel R.'s request, respondent agreed to file for divorce in order to pose as the fiancee of Angel R.'s cousin, Gorge R., a Cuban national, in order to facilitate Gorge's entry into the United States. Once Gorge's residency in the United States had been established, respondent planned on remarrying Angel R.
In furtherance of this scheme, respondent in March 2013, signed and filed a pro se complaint for divorce. The complaint stated that she and Angel R. had irreconcilable differences, that there was no reasonable prospect of reconciliation, that they lived at separate addresses, and that their marriage should be dissolved.
In fact, respondent's statements were false because the couple did not have irreconcilable differences, they lived together at the time of the divorce, and respondent was pregnant with their first child. Nevertheless, they were divorced in September 2013 and, three months later, respondent gave birth to their daughter.
Soon after the September 2013 divorce, respondent determined that it would be unethical for her to pose as Gorge's fiancee and abandoned efforts to assist him in what would have constituted immigration fraud; instead, she agreed to remarry Angel R.
In New Jersey
On the issue of sanctions, the DRB opined that under New Jersey precedent respondent's misconduct in totem would warrant a significant suspension. New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the DRB's decision by finding respondent guilty of violating NJ RPC rules 3.3(a)(1), [*3]5.5(a)(1), 8.4(c), and 8.4(d), and upon its review of the matter, determined that respondent should be permanently barred from appearing pro hac vice in New Jersey, and directed the OAE to refer respondent's conduct to the AGC. This order forms the basis for this proceeding.
The aggravating factors we have considered include respondent's showing of an utter lack of integrity by misusing a law school friend to twice sponsor her for pro hac vice admission in New Jersey; after she failed to comply with the court's orders, and thereby allowed her pro hac vice status to automatically terminate, she continued to practice law in New Jersey; she lied to Sarah M. about the status of Angel R.'s criminal case; she altered Sarah M.'s letterhead and surreptitiously sent it to an insurer, which act had the potential to harm Sarah M.'s reputation; she filed a pro se divorce pleading with the court which contained false statements as part of a plan to commit immigration fraud which she later abandoned; and she defaulted in both disciplinary proceedings. As noted, while the AGC asserts that respondent failed to promptly advise it of her discipline in New Jersey, the OAE did so pursuant to the court's order. Further, it is entirely within this Court's discretion to impose reciprocal discipline retroactively or prospectively, both of which we have directed.