Monday, April 15, 2024

"Mastery Of Legal Doctrine"

The New Jersey Supreme Court has censured an attorney for assisting in the unauthorized practice of a disbarred lawyer.

From the letter opinion of the Disciplinary Review Board

The stipulated facts are as follows. In 2011, respondent retained Litigation Support Services, Inc. (LSS) to assist her with a personal legal matter against a former partner. LSS was a division of LDZ Litigation Services, Inc., and both companies were run by Leonard T. Bzura, a former New Jersey attorney who was disbarred by the Court, effective October 5, 1995, following his criminal conviction for theft by deception, misapplication of entrusted property, and related crimes. In re Bzura, 142 N.J. 478 (1995). Bzura was the President and CEO of LSS.  Through LSS, Bzura offered legal support services exclusively to lawyers, and not to the public.

He told it was no problem so long as he did not share office space, directly represent clients in court and was paid on a per diem basis.

Caveat emptor

Respondent, thus, treated LSS as a vendor and incorrectly believed the business relationship between her law practice and LSS was permissible under the Court Rules. However, she admittedly failed to conduct any independent research to determine if retaining a legal services business run by a disbarred attorney, whether for personal or client matters, violated any Court Rules.

Respondent stipulated to the violation

respondent violated RPC 5.5(a)(2) by retaining LSS and Bzura to furnish various legal services to her in connection with her law practice. Bzura admittedly prepared legal documents and provided respondent with legal advice and written opinions regarding specific legal issues, including, ultimately, in connection with her client matters. Although respondent stated she did not employ Bzura to act in the capacity of an attorney, she acknowledged that she valued Bzura’s “knowledge and experience,” and appreciated his “mastery of legal doctrine.” It is evident from both respondent’s admissions to the OAE and the billing statements that respondent retained Bzura to provide legal services and further utilized Bzura’s expertise as a former attorney. Respondent, thus, improperly assisted Bzura in the unauthorized practice of law despite being aware, at the time she retained the services of LSS, that Bzura was a disbarred attorney. Consequently, she violated RPC 5.5(a)(2).

Saved by a clean record and full cooperation

On balance, the Board determined that the mitigating factors were sufficiently compelling to warrant a decrease from the three-month baseline quantum of discipline in this case. Thus, the Board determined that a censure is the appropriate quantum of discipline necessary to protect the public and preserve confidence in the bar.

The court order indicates that Respondent has retired from practice. (Mike Frisch)

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