Tuesday, June 14, 2022

A Second Storm

The New Jersey Supreme Court has issued a show cause order rather than summarily adopt a proposed censure for misconduct in the wake of Superstorm Sandy

It is ORDERED that Scott Garyt Hunziker show cause before this Court on September 13, 2022, at a time to be determined by the Court, in the Supreme Court courtroom, Hughes Justice Complex, Trenton, why he should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined...

From the report of the Disciplinary Review Board

By way of background, on October 29, 2012, Superstorm Sandy devastated New Jersey. Over two million people lost power, and approximately 346,000 homes were damaged, 22,000 of which were rendered uninhabitable. As a result, many homeowners filed claims with their insurance companies and sought the assistance of licensed public adjusters and law firms.

The Voss Law Firm, P.C. (the Voss firm) specialized in representing policyholders as plaintiffs in actions against insurance companies that had denied coverage under their policies. On December 12, 2012, the Voss firm, which Bill Voss, Esq., solely owned, rented commercial space in Toms River, New Jersey and began representing New Jersey policyholders who had suffered property damage from Superstorm Sandy.

According to respondent, due to the increasing number of local commitments; property inspections; mediations; settlement conferences; and other litigation-related activities, the Voss firm deemed it to be in their clients’ best interests to retain New Jersey local counsel to serve as lead attorneys on the Superstorm Sandy matters. Thus, in March 2013, the Voss firm placed an advertisement on Craigslist, seeking local counsel to work on the New Jersey cases.

Respondent was listed as  counsel "pro hac vice pending" on complaints filed before his November 2013 admission in New Jersey; he was the managing partner of the Voss firm.

Legal disaster followed the natural one

The nature and degree of the mishandling of the Voss firm’s Superstorm Sandy cases was so extreme that, ultimately, both a federal and a state court imposed sanctions on respondent and Levasseur. 

In one matter

On February 20, 2015, Judge Fall issued an Order to Show Cause concerning eighty-three cases in which Levasseur and respondent were representing plaintiffs.  The order gave a detailed history of the lawyers’ conduct in those matters.

According to Judge Fall, the Voss firm had been listed as plaintiffs’ counsel in at least eighty-three pending Superstorm Sandy cases, all of which had been “the subject of repetitive applications to the court by defense counsel for failure to respond to discovery requests.” On February 13, 2015, the court held hearings in respect of twenty-eight motions to dismiss with prejudice for failure to answer interrogatories and to reply to requests for the production of documents, in addition to eight orders to show cause in respect of discovery issues. Further, the court had scheduled four more motions to dismiss with prejudice, which were returnable on February 20, 2015.

In the disciplinary case

...the parties stipulated that respondent had violated RPC 1.3 by his mishandling of the New Jersey state and federal cases, which resulted in their dismissal and the imposition of sanctions in both state and federal courts; RPC l.4(b) by failing to notify the New Jersey clients of the status of their cases until Judge Fall intervened; RPC 5.5(a)(l) by signing complaints in New Jersey federal and state courts and identifying himself as plaintiffs’ counsel when, at the time, he knew that he was not admitted to practice in either New Jersey state or federal courts, either on a pro hac vice basis or as a member of the New Jersey Bar; and RPC 8.4(d) by mishandling the Superstorm Sandy cases, which required the intervention of both New Jersey federal and state courts.

Blame

We reject respondent’s attempts to evade responsibility for what amounted to a nearly total lack of representation of the clients in the matters detailed herein. First, he was the managing partner of the Voss firm. Although he claimed that Levasseur was lead attorney, the truth is that the Voss firm was lead counsel, and respondent admitted that the Voss firm monitored each file and provided clerical and legal support. Critically, respondent asserted that he supervised four Voss firm attorneys, who “were involved in the demand, pleading and discovery stages of each matter’s individual path through the litigation process.” He admitted, as Judge Walls observed, that the Voss firm received notifications of deadlines in the federal and state cases. Yet, for some reason, respondent and the Voss firm were content to abdicate all responsibility for the Superstorm Sandy cases to local counsel, and now seek to absolve themselves on that basis. Judge Walls and Judge Fall did not distinguish respondent’s role from Levasseur’s. Neither do we.

Having recently issued a significant opinion on misappropriation and reinstatement, it appears that the New Jersey Supreme Court is taking a more active role in attorney discipline. (Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2022/06/from-the-report-of-the-disciplinary-review-board-by-way-of-background-on-october-29-2012-superstorm-sandy-devastated-new.html

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