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Sweringen v. Sweringen

Decided: November 5, 1956.

CHARLES F. VAN SWERINGEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KATHERIN T. VAN SWERINGEN, DEFENDANT, AND MILTON G. ABARBANEL, INTERVENOR-DEFENDANT. IN THE MATTER OF L. EDWARD KATZ, AN ATTORNEY AND DEFENDANT-APPELLANT HEREIN



For reversal and remandment -- Chief Justice Vanderbilt, and Justices Heher, Wachenfeld, Burling and Jacobs. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Burling, J.

Burling

This matter concerns the conviction of the defendant, L. Edward Katz, a New Jersey attorney for criminal contempt. He was found guilty of attempting to obtain money from Milton and Zelma Abarbanel on the representation of being able to procure a favorable judgment in a divorce proceeding wherein Milton Abarbanel was named as a co-respondent. Katz was found guilty and sentenced to four months' imprisonment. The Superior Court, Appellate Division, affirmed, Van Sweringen v. Van Sweringen, 34 N.J. Super. 394 (1955), and Katz was committed under a judgment entered on March 23, 1955. A petition for certification was filed with this court and denied, In re Katz, 19 N.J. 328 (1955), but was subsequently reconsidered and granted, 21 N.J. 337 (1956).

Only a brief summation of the alleged circumstances from which the conviction arose will be set forth. Abarbanel, a physician, was named as co-respondent in a divorce suit initiated by a husband against his wife on grounds of adultery. Undoubtedly concerned about his professional reputation, he initially contacted his friend Katz (who did not represent Abarbanel in the divorce action) in an endeavor to keep his name out of the newspapers. During the course of the action word came to Abarbanel through a fellow physician, Dr.

Reich, that his case was faring badly. In the very words of the undiscriminating court reporter Friedman, who had originally imparted the opinion:

"Q. Mr. Friedman, would you give us the conversation as you recall it to the best of your ability at this time? A. Upon a professional visit to Doctor Reich's office, Doctor Reich, in the process of examination said to me, 'Dave, what's going on up in your Court Room with this Doctor Abarbanel?' I then said to Doctor Reich he was named as a co-respondent, the schmo in a divorce action, and from the testimony that has been taken, it didn't look too good for the Doctor, that being my opinion."

Alarmed, Abarbanel asked Katz to endeavor to obtain some information on the case. Subsequently Katz informed the doctor by telephone that he had important information and that evening called at Abarbanel's office.

It was at this time that Katz allegedly informed Abarbanel that a decision favorable to him could be purchased for $700, later raised to $1,500. The offer was declined. A decision was handed down which absolved the doctor from the charge against him.

Information of the episode subsequently reached Judge Hegarty who had tried the divorce action. He immediately called the Abarbanels, Katz, and representatives of the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office and the Ethics and Grievance Committee of the Bergen County Bar before him. Counsel for Abarbanel (other than his attorney in the divorce matter) was apparently unable to be present but had advised his client to tell the truth without submitting to an oath. It was upon this information obtained from the Abarbanels that an order to show cause why he should not be held in contempt was subsequently issued to Katz. The latter, however, was made aware of the Abarbanel statements immediately after they were given.

The record is not clear as to who was to receive the money other than Katz if the offer was accepted. Abarbanel said Katz refused to mention any names and would neither confirm nor deny suggestions made by Abarbanel. If the intimation was that Friedman, the court reporter, could change the decision, the insinuation would necessarily involve the

complicity of Judge Hegarty himself. In any event, the allegations are of the most serious import.

The trial was conducted before Judge Hegarty and Katz was found guilty. Additional evidence was received by the Appellate Division on appeal which sought to attribute a psychotic personality to ...


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