Monday, December 9, 2019

Widow's Peak

A censure from the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The Disciplinary Review Board described the violations

respondent was employed as an attorney at the Law Office of Federico Velez, in Newark, New Jersey (the Firm). On February 14, 2009, Velez suddenly died, leaving respondent as the only attorney employed at the Firm. For more than eight years following Velez’s death, respondent continued to practice law, for profit, in association with Velez’s widow, Mary, a nonlawyer. Respondent had obtained a legal opinion, in 2009, from George Conk, Esq., which correctly concluded that the Firm had to either be terminated or sold to an attorney. Rather than follow Conk’s sound advice, and despite his awareness that his conduct was unethical, respondent simply continued the business of the Firm, with Mary, for more than eight years, representing more than 740 clients. Respondent, thus, violated RPC 5.4(d)(1).

Making matters worse, after respondent determined to leave the Firm and join another practice, he sent an improper letter to all of the Firm’s clients. The letter wrongly implied that the clients’ files could not remain with the Firm following respondent’s departure, and further implied that, if the clients did not follow him to his new law firm, their cases would be abandoned. Moreover, respondent created misleading letterhead that gave the impression that the Firm had authorized the content and message of the letter, when that was not the case. Respondent admitted that his motivation, in part, was to solicit the Firm’s clients for his new law firm. The material misrepresentations made in the letters to the Firm’s clients, thus, violated RPC 7.1(a)(1) and RPC 8.4(c).

(Mike Frisch)

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