On rule to show cause why a report of the Board of Bar Examiners should not be confirmed.
For the rule, Robert K. Bell.
Before Justices Parker and Heher.
The opinion of the court was delivered by
HEHER, J. On April 4th, 1929, an order was entered suspending John F. X. Ries as an attorney and counselor of this court. The action was founded upon a report made to the court by the Grievance Committee of the Atlantic County Bar Association, on March 23d, 1929, certifying that an investigation of his professional conduct had revealed his unfitness to practice law. Ries did not have notice of that inquiry. He had then fled the jurisdiction; and his whereabouts were unknown. On January 11th, 1927, the Grand
Jury presented to the Atlantic County Court of Oyer and Terminer an indictment charging him with perjury. A nolle prosequi was entered on June 3d, 1940, and in the latter part of the following November, he returned to the state. During all this time he was a fugitive from justice.
On February 5th, 1942, Ries filed a petition with this court setting forth his "explanation" of the subject-matter of the findings made by the local grievance committee, and praying the vacation of the order of suspension from practice. Thereupon, an order was entered directing that "the allegations and statements of fact" contained in the grievance committee's report "be considered as charges of unprofessional conduct," and that the committee's report and Ries' petition for reinstatement be referred to the Bar Examiners for "investigation, hearing and report to the court thereon, with recommendation." The examiners held a hearing on notice. The Board found that it had been proved "beyond reasonable doubt" that Ries was "guilty of illegal practice, attended with fraud and corruption, and committed against the obvious rules of justice and common honesty," and also of a "gross and palpable abuse of the process of the Court of Chancery." It recommended that his petition for a vacation of the suspension be denied, and that he be disbarred.
We concur in the findings of the Bar Examiners, and also in their conclusion that disbarment should be ordered. We are convinced that Ries undertook to acquire by fraudulent means the estate of an aged, illiterate, and mentally feeble client. The means employed to despoil the client of her property are outlined in the examiners' report, and need not be detailed here. It suffices to say that they reveal an evil and unconscionable design to interfere with the due course of legal process and to obstruct the administration of justice in the pursuit of the iniquitous scheme. Vide In re Ries, 101 N.J. Eq. 315. And Ries' explanation that his flight and concealment for upwards of thirteen years were for reasons of health is utterly incredible. It is clear that, at the time of his disappearance, he was aware of his indictment for perjury and was convinced that, at last, he would be compelled to answer for his perfidy and wrongdoing, and that
his long absence was motivated by the same considerations. His return shortly after the entry of the nol. pros. upon the indictment bears testimony to this. Just prior to his departure, and after his client had to his certain knowledge been adjudged a lunatic, he prepared and had her execute a codicil to her will, bequeathing and devising to himself one-half of her estate (the whole being of the value of $100,000), and appointing himself the sole executor of the will, without bond. She was then in Ocean View, Virginia, whither he had spirited her in an obvious but futile effort to oust the courts of this state of jurisdiction in the pending lunacy proceedings instituted by her daughter. He placed her in a cottage there, which he himself had rented under an assumed name. This was after the entry of a decree in Chancery voiding transfers made by his client to him of her entire estate. The indictment charged the commission of perjury in these proceedings. Immediately after the execution of the codicil, he made an assignment to his wife of such property as might come to him thereunder. About six weeks after his disappearance, the client died at Ocean View.
Apart from the gross fraud thus practiced upon his client, Ries' concealment of his whereabouts until the entry of the nol. pros. upon the indictment was palpably designed to obstruct the due course of justice, and so a fraud upon the court. He thereby demonstrated that, as in the case of his client, he was determined to defeat the ends of justice by such means as suited the occasion, however unlawful. It was obviously his purpose to remain in hiding until the indictment was no longer triable, whatever the reason. The proof of crime and of malpractice rarely remains intact over such a long period. Witnesses die and disappear, memory fails, and evidence is otherwise lost. Now, he cloaks himself in the white robe of innocence and seeks to place the onus of the ...