On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
For disbarment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock and O'Hern. Opposed -- none.
These disciplinary proceedings were instituted following three separate complaints filed with the District II Ethics Committee for Bergen County, charging the respondent, a member of the bar of this State, with unethical conduct. The District Ethics Committee issued a Presentment after a hearing. R. 1:20-2(o)(3). The Disciplinary Review Board agreed substantially with the conclusions of the Ethics Committee. Having made an independent examination of the record, we make the findings contained herein.
Mr. and Mrs. Joseph P. Randazzo retained the respondent to recover a deposit they had made toward the purchase of a
prefabricated house. They advanced $50 to the respondent to be used for costs necessary to institute the lawsuit. Respondent deposited the funds in his office account and did not use them for filing, service or any other similar court expenses. He never filed the complaint.
During the ensuing six years, Mr. Randazzo constantly telephoned the respondent. From time to time respondent assured him that the matter was pending in court and that he was waiting for a trial date. Finally, respondent told Mr. Randazzo that the case had been called, nobody had been present, and the suit had been dismissed. Respondent said he was going to try to reopen the case and suggested Mr. Randazzo call back in a couple of weeks. When Mr. Randazzo telephoned next, he learned that respondent had moved and was working for an insurance company. Mr. Randazzo subsequently located respondent and told him he was securing another attorney and wanted all the case papers and the $50 advanced for court costs. Respondent agreed to mail the papers and return the $50. Respondent has done neither. The Randazzos, whose claim against the builder of the home was barred by the statute of limitations, sued and secured a judgment against respondent for $2,836, which remains unsatisfied.
Respondent's cavalier and discourteous attitude toward his client was exhibited in his frequent failure to return phone calls and in not notifying his client of his withdrawal from the general practice of law. He compounded the situation by making misrepresentation after misrepresentation. His word was not his bond and he misused the $50 that had been entrusted to him.
Respondent exhibited similar conduct to Michael J. Abair who had retained respondent to handle a negligence claim. Abair
had moved to California when the matter was settled for $900 in November 1978. Respondent mailed the settlement check to Abair with a transmittal letter in which he wrote that upon return of the check "I will then deposit it in my trust account and disburse the $600 net to you." Abair endorsed the settlement check and returned it to the respondent, who never deposited it in his trust account. Instead, respondent endorsed the check and claims he delivered it to his secretary. Telephone calls and ...