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In re Cohen

Decided: November 24, 1952.

IN THE MATTER OF SOL J. COHEN, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW OF NEW JERSEY


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

For disbarment -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Oliphant, Burling, Jacobs and Brennan. For suspension for two years -- Justices Heher and Wachenfeld.

Per Curiam

[10 NJ Page 601] The Essex County Ethics and Grievance Committee, by two presentments dated June 20, 1952 and

October 28, 1952, presented for disciplinary action Sol J. Cohen, an attorney admitted in 1931. Orders to show cause issued upon both presentments.

Mr. Cohen by answer to the written charges which are the subject of the first presentment admitted the allegations of the charges that in or about December 1946 he "did wilfully and knowingly participate and aid in the procurement of an illegal and void 'mail order' Mexican divorce purportedly severing the bonds of matrimony" of Jesse V. Geiger and Mary Bakic Geiger; and that in May 1948 he did also "wilfully and knowingly participate and aid in the procurement of an illegal and void 'mail order' Mexican divorce purportedly severing the bonds of matrimony" of Mary Schlausky and Michael Schlausky, Jr.

That Mexican mail order divorce decrees obtained merely on signed waivers of jurisdiction without the personal appearance in Mexico of either husband or wife are complete nullities in this State has long been settled. Reik v. Reik, 109 N.J. Eq. 615 (Ch. 1932), affirmed 112 N.J. Eq. 234 (E. & A. 1933); Knapp v. Knapp, 12 N.J. Misc. 599 (Ch. 1934); Newton v. Newton, 13 N.J. Misc. 613 (Ch. 1935); Greenspan v. Greenspan, 19 N.J. Misc. 153 (Ch. 1941). Decisions since 1946 include Tonti v. Chadwick, 1 N.J. 531 (1949) and State v. Najjar, 2 N.J. 208 (1949), affirming 1 N.J. Super. 208 (App. Div. 1949).

On December 19, 1942 the Committee on Professional Ethics and Grievance of the American Bar Association promulgated Opinion No. 248 expressing the Committee's view that it is unethical conduct on the part of a lawyer to participate or aid in the procurement of admittedly illegal Mexican divorces. Opinion No. 248 was reprinted in full in the January 31, 1946 issue of the New Jersey Law Journal, 69 N.J.L.J. 38. The opinion was adopted by the Ethics Committee of the New Jersey State Bar Association and is reported in the Association's 1946 Year Book, at page 71.

For the guidance of the bar, -- we condemn as unethical the participation of a lawyer in, or his giving aid to, the

procurement of such mail order divorces. Future conduct in this regard will particularly be deemed sufficient basis for the taking of severe disciplinary measures.

Mr. Cohen, however, has been guilty of flagrant transgressions which, apart from his actions in obtaining the Mexican decrees, merit severe discipline.

On January 25, 1950 Mr. Cohen brought an annulment action on behalf of Jesse V. Geiger in the Superior Court against Mary Bakic Geiger on the ground of his non-age at the time of this marriage, but, contrary to the requirement of Rule 3:84-1, did not include in the complaint mention of the Mexican decree as a "previous proceeding between the parties, respecting the marriage, or its dissolution."

Mary Bakic Geiger had married George Nicholas after the Mexican divorce. George Nicholas filed a complaint in the Superior Court for annulment of that marriage on the ground of the invalidity of the Mexican decree. On December 13, 1950, the advisory master hearing the Nicholas case caused Mr. Cohen to come before him, and the following colloquy ensued:

"The Court: Mr. Cohen, you are here for several reasons. It has been disclosed to the Court that you were counsel in connection with the Geiger Mexican divorce, is that so?

Mr. Cohen: That is not so. The people came to me in reference to getting a determination of their married status, and I told them then they could sue for annulment in New Jersey, and they were quite in a hurry, although why, I don't know. They wanted to dispose of their marital status and end it quickly. They said they heard something about foreign divorce decrees. I told them they could go to Florida and submit to foreign jurisdiction, but that I didn't handle that work, and I practiced in New Jersey.

The Court: And you now state for the record, Mr. Cohen, you did not represent them in connection with their Mexican divorce?

Mr. Cohen: I did not represent them in connection with their Mexican divorce. I learned later on they ...


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