For reprimand -- Chief Justice Hughes, Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber and Judge Conford. Opposed -- None.
Upon the petition of the Central Ethics Unit, we issued an order to show cause why the respondent Dennis Alan Cipriano, a member of the bar of this State, should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined for the conduct referred to herein.
Respondent was retained in May 1971 to represent the Forest Hill Tenants' Association, an association composed exclusively of tenants of Forest Hill Gardens in Bloomfield, New Jersey, with respect to their grievances against their landlord Forest Hill Properties Inc. and its managing agent James E. Palange.
The respondent filed a complaint in the Superior Court, Chancery Division, on behalf of Arthur Meltz, a tenant, and for all the other tenants located at Forest Hill Gardens against the landlord and Palange. The complaint alleged and identified in detail various "intolerable conditions" which the landlord had refused to remedy, noted that about 315 tenants had paid their May rent to Mr. Meltz as trustee, and recited that the landlord had instituted dispossess proceedings against the tenants who had not paid the May rent. The plaintiff sought the appointment of a receiver, an order to compel the landlord and James E. Palange to make the necessary repairs, and dismissal of the tenancy proceedings. The suit was instituted with an order to show cause dated June 7, 1971.
The parties entered into a consent order on June 23, 1971 which provided inter alia that respondent would be a cotrustee of the rents collected by the Tenants' Association, all
of which were to be paid to the landlord less 10%. The deducted amount was to be security for the landlord's performance of certain repairs. Respondent was to serve on a committee which was to inspect the premises and submit a report to the landlord of necessary repairs. The order also provided that the landlord could not increase monthly rent more than $25 in excess of the April 1971 rent.
On August 9, 1971 a consent order of dismissal was entered. It provided that all remaining trust funds be paid to the landlord, that all repairs be completed as soon as possible, and that a written lease, containing the provisions set forth in a letter dated July 22, 1971 which respondent had written to the landlord's attorney, be entered into with each member of the Forest Hill Tenants' Association. The letter, a copy of which was attached to the order, referred to a written lease to be prepared by respondent. It recited 12 numbered paragraphs of provisions, one of which provided that rents would be increased $17.50 in the first year of the lease and an additional $17.50 in the second year.
Respondent did not prepare a lease until January 1972, when he was requested to do so by Mrs. Betty Hutchinson, who served on the tenants' executive committee which replaced Mr. Meltz, who had been president of the Forest Hill Tenants' Association and had moved to Florida. The respondent had not prepared the leases because his bill was unpaid.
In October 1972 respondent began to represent the landlord in summary dispossess actions for nonpayment of rent against tenants in Forest Hill Gardens. He processed about 15 such cases a month. He has continued this type of representation down to the present.
In the meantime, the conflict between the Tenants' Association (which was subsequently called the Forest Hill Tenants' Organization) and the landlord and its agent James Palange persisted. In August 1973 proceedings were instituted by Forest Hill Properties Inc. to enforce the consent order of August 9, 1971 to collect the second $17.50 referred to
therein. Because of the Presidential price freeze the $17.50 increase had not become effective in May 1972 as contemplated. In the summer of 1973 the Tenants' Organization was distributing news bulletins to the tenants which contained charges against the landlord and its agent Palange concerning rent increases, ...