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In re Howell

Decided: June 26, 1952.

IN THE MATTER OF ROBERT G. HOWELL, AN ATTORNEY AND {Q}COUNSEL{/Q}LOR-AT-LAW


On order to show cause why the respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

For suspension for six months and until further order -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Oliphant, Wachenfeld, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. Opposed -- None. William J. Brennan, Jr., J. (concurring). Vanderbilt, C.J., joins in this opinion.

Per Curiam

Respect for the law is the keystone of our democracy. An attorney by tradition is an appropriate advocate of this truism and it behooves him to act accordingly and to exercise the utmost restraint under all circumstances. This is the theme of the Canons of Professional Ethics, explicitly set forth in the preamble thereto. And Canon 29 provides, inter alia, that the lawyer "should strive at all times to uphold the honor and to maintain the dignity of the profession and to improve not only the law but the administration of justice"; in Canon 32 he is admonished "to observe the statute law" and advised that he "will find his highest honor in a deserved reputation for fidelity to public trust and to public duty." It is axiomatic that it is extremely desirable that respectability of the bar should be maintained.

In the present case the respondent committed assault and battery and subsequently pleaded non vult thereto in criminal proceedings. An attorney's responsibility is to the courts, the profession and the public, and his misconduct may

be of such a nature as to engender disrespect for the law which is his basic trust. No criticism of his professional conduct has been otherwise made.

The respondent violated the Canons of Professional Ethics. In the circumstances of the case he should be suspended from the practice of the law for a period of six months and until further order of this court.

WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, JR., J. (concurring).

Robert G. Howell, an attorney and counsellor at law, was sentenced in the Cumberland County Court upon his plea of non vult to the lesser offense of simple assault and battery upon his indictment for an atrocious assault and battery. Thereupon an order to show cause was issued why he should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

The assault was committed upon Shike Levine, editor of the Bridgeton Bulletin, a weekly newspaper. Mr. Howell, a resident of Hopewell but practicing in Bridgeton, is a leader of a political organization in Bridgeton styled the "Good Government Group," which is opposed by the Bulletin. Ralph Spoltare was elected a Bridgeton councilman with "Good Government" support. Mr. Spoltare suffered a heart attack on March 30, 1951, as a consequence of which he died a week later, on April 7, 1951. On the day before his death the weekly edition of the Bulletin carried an editorial saying among other things that, "It is unfortunate that the health of individuals suffer as the result of politics, but the sudden illness of Councilman Ralph Spoltare brings to focus this fact." "Spoltare has clashed with the G.G. colleagues." "This must have had some effect upon his emotional structure." "Spoltare at heart wanted to do what was good for the town, but the G.G. clique muzzled him." "Although he was elected on that label, many who observed him at meetings felt that in time he * * * would discover that the G.G. label was just a mask to disguise the real motives of the string-puller from Hopewell township." The reference to "string-puller from Hopewell township" was to Mr. Howell.

Mr. Howell read the editorial at his home on the evening of its publication. He went immediately to Mr. Levine's newspaper office, taking with him a length of rubber hose and a riding crop. He asked Mr. Levine's secretary to leave, and then beat Mr. Levine with the hose and riding crop about the back, neck and legs. Mr. Levine ran to the street after telephoning for a police officer. The men there engaged in fisticuffs until the police officer arrived and they were separated.

Mr. Howell filed an affidavit in these proceedings in an attempt to justify his conduct on the ground, "My judgment was badly overcome by emotions. I felt that I was being unfairly charged with causing a friend's death, his wife to be widowed and his children to be fatherless, that such had been done to me ruthlessly. I had received (word) that day that Spoltare could not possibly live, I was greatly distressed." It was conceded at the oral argument that an ...


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