Thursday, October 7, 2021

Bumpy Road Leads To Unexplained Destination

When I was a disciplinary prosecutor, New Jersey had a reputation for being especially tough on lawyer misconduct.

That reputation likely had its genesis in In re Wilson, a 1979 decision which held that the presumptive sanction for intentional misappropriation is disbarment.

A recent decision of the New Jersey Supreme Court reducing the proposed sanction of the Disciplinary Review Board shows the distance travelled since those halcyon days of yore.

The DRB explains the allegations

This matter was before us on a recommendation for a private reprimand (now an admonition) filed by a special master. The formal ethics complaint charged respondent with having violated RPC 1.15(a) and the principles of In re Wilson, 81 N.J. 451 (1979), and In re Hollendonner, 102 N.J. 21 (1985) (two instances) (knowing misappropriation of client and escrow funds); RPC 3.3(a)(1) (false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal); RPC 8.4(b) (commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer – misapplication of entrusted property, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:21-15); and RPC 8.4(c) (two instances) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).

For the reasons set forth below, we determine to recommend to the Court that respondent be disbarred.

A 69 page report details the reasons for the unanimous recommendation.

The court's terse disposition

And the Court having considered the briefs of the parties and the arguments of counsel and having concluded from its review of the record that respondent had negligently, and not knowingly, misappropriated funds, in violation of RPC 1.15 (a), and that the additional charges of unethical conduct (RPC 8.4(b) and RPC (c)) therefore should be dismissed;

And the Court having determined that a six-month suspension from practice is the appropriate quantum of discipline for respondent’s unethical conduct...

Thus a case travels from proposed admonition to proposed disbarment to a six-month suspension with little to no guidance or analysis as to why. (Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


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