For suspension for two years -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Jacobs, Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman and Clifford. Opposed -- None.
The Cape May County Ethics Committee has submitted a two count presentment to this Court with respect to the alleged unethical conduct of respondent, Martin L. Blatt, an attorney at law of this State. The charges set forth in the respective counts are unrelated and we will consider them separately.
In the summer of 1971 a United States Grand Jury undertook an investigation of alleged municipal corruption in the
City of Atlantic City and in Atlantic County generally. The investigation came to focus upon the reputed wide-spread practice on the part of contractors and others engaged in public work of paying kickbacks to municipal officials.
At the time of the investigation and for some years past, one Patrick J. Doran was and had been engineer for Atlantic County. Doran was later indicted, tried and convicted of extortion in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.*fn1 The conviction rested upon evidence of corrupt and collusive arrangements between Doran and certain engineers and contractors for the payment of kickbacks. There was abundant proof that numerous such payments had in fact been made by firms and corporations engaged to do work for Atlantic County. Prominent among those making such payments was the engineering firm of Kammerer, Symes & Associates.
In October 1971 a meeting took place at the Cherry Hill offices of the Kammerer firm. It was attended by Doran, by respondent, acting as Doran's attorney, and by Kammerer and Symes. The Kammerer office had for a number of years been rendering substantial engineering services to Atlantic County as well as to other counties and various municipalities in the southern part of the state. According to the testimony of both Blatt and Doran, the latter told the former that he had done work for the Kammerer firm, for which he had been paid, during the period that he was also acting as engineer for Atlantic County. At the same time, the engineering office had been performing services for the county for which they had received compensation. Doran told respondent he was fearful that his having received payments from the engineering firm under such circumstances might suggest a conflict of interest which could prove personally harmful or
embarrassing to him. Both Doran and respondent deny that at that time Blatt had any knowledge of the kickback arrangements. The Ethics Committee accepted this testimony as truthful.
At the October meeting Blatt asked leave to review the books, cancelled checks, receipted invoices and other documents relating to the work that his client had done for the firm. These were made available and Blatt studied them. He was apparently satisfied except as to one detail. While respondent denied the charge, there is seemingly conclusive evidence that he removed from the file an invoice dated August 1, 1968, which had been submitted by Doran to the engineering firm, in the amount of $9,000. The invoice had been previously paid. Blatt is said to have stated that he wished to add the word "surveying," so that the statement, as so revised, would read, "To Bill your account for Surveying work performed -- $9,000." Following these instructions, Doran some time thereafter submitted a new invoice identical to the original one, except that the word "surveying" was included. The revised invoice was sent to the Kammerer firm. Kammerer receipted it as of August 2, 1968 and directed his secretary or bookkeeper to stamp it with the various notations that had appeared upon the original document.
At the meeting, after this incident, there followed a discussion of the federal investigation that all those present knew was taking place. Blatt, according to both Kammerer and Symes, suggested to them that in the event they were questioned by federal authorities -- an eventuality which then seemed likely -- they should be uncooperative and say as little as possible. In the federal trial in which Doran was later convicted of extortion, Kammerer, after receiving a grant of immunity, testified under oath as to this conversation in these words:
He [Blatt] indicated not to say anything or to offer any information. He indicated if we were, our records were subpoenaed, that the Federal Attorneys would use certain tactics to attempt to get us to answer their ...