Friday, May 3, 2019
In a reciprocal discipline matter, the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board described a pattern of misconduct that led to a three-year Pennsylvania suspension
Despite her knowledge that she was ineligible to practice law in Pennsylvania, respondent appeared before four judges over the course of five months in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. She was immediately challenged on her first appearance when the ADA assigned to the matter questioned respondent about the status of her law license. Instead of admitting her ineligibility, she insisted that her inclusion on a list of ineligible attorneys was an error. In so doing, respondent violated RPC 3.3 (a)(1), RPC 5.5(a)(1 ), and RPC 8.4(c). Respondent also used her Pennsylvania attorney registration number on court filings and falsely asserted on letterhead used in correspondence with the court that she was licensed in Pennsylvania, in violation of both RPC 7.1(a) and RPC 7.5(a). Despite warnings, respondent persisted in her conduct until Judge Joseph finally ordered her to cease representation, removed her as counsel, and ordered her to report her conduct to the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board. The delay caused by respondent’s repeated attempts to practice in the Court of Common Pleas disrupted the court and its services, a violation of RPC 8.4(d).
Making matters worse, after Pennsylvania authorities initiated disciplinary proceedings, respondent buried her head in the sand, failed to answer the complaint, failed to appear at her prehearing conference, and failed to attend her disciplinary hearing, even after requesting and receiving a continuance of the original date. Although this conduct would otherwise violate RPC 8.1 (b), the OAE did not allege a violation of that RPC in its motion. In sum, respondent brazenly and knowingly practiced law while ineligible to do so in Pennsylvania, and misrepresented her status to the ADA and the court. Additionally, respondent failed to report her Pennsylvania discipline to the OAE.
Sounds pretty bad but here's the kicker
The [Office of Attorney Ethics] recommends the imposition of a censure or a three-month suspension.
...we determine to impose a one-year suspension.
Despite a persistent indifference
We note that respondent’s lax attitude in respect of her duty to cooperate has extended to this matter as well. Specifically, the OAE’s motion originally was scheduled for our consideration at our July meeting. The day before that hearing, respondent submitted to the Office of Board Counsel (OBC) an "emergent" request for adjournment. In support of her request, she noted that she was "in the throes of a serious family medical emergency," but declined to submit documentation in support thereof in the absence of assurances of confidentiality. Her request was granted, and due to our August recess, the matter was rescheduled for our September 2018 meeting.
Nonetheless, despite such a lengthy adjournment, late in the afternoon on the day before the September 2018 hearing, respondent faxed yet another "emergent" request for another adjournment, this time explaining that she was responsible for the care of her ill mother, who had been living with her since June and who needed her constant attention. Thus, she maintained that she could not leave her mother alone to attend our hearing the following morning.
OBC telephoned respondent and left her a message indicating that her matter would proceed as scheduled and inviting her to participate by telephone. When respondent’s matter was called, we attempted, on the record, to reach her by telephone. However, we were able to reach only her voicemail. Notably, respondent’s voicemail greeting indicated that we had reached the "Wright Law Firm," which we found troubling, because respondent has been suspended from the practice of law in New Jersey since September 8, 2017 and in Pennsylvania since September 1, 2000. Thus, in context, we considered respondent’s requests, along with her failure to participate, at least by telephone, to be disingenuous, at best, and a deliberate attempt to avoid her responsibilities vis-a-vis the disciplinary process, at worst.
A good reason, no doubt to cut the sanction by 1/3.
The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed. (Mike Frisch)