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In re Getchius

Decided: January 29, 1982.

IN THE MATTER OF JOHN V. GETCHIUS, AN ATTORNEY-AT-LAW


On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

For suspension -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock and O'Hern. Opposed -- none.

Per Curiam

[88 NJ Page 270] In early 1980, the District II Ethics Committee and the Division of Ethics and Professional Services filed separate complaints charging respondent with multiple violations of the Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. After conducting hearings in 1980, the District II Ethics Committee filed a multi-count presentment with the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB). Respondent was charged with violations of DR1-102(A)(4), (5), (6) (misconduct); DR2-110(A)(1) and (2) (withdrawal from employment); DR6-101(A)(2) (failing to act competently); and DR7-101(A)(2) (failure to represent a client zealously). On April 15, 1981 the DRB conducted a hearing, after which it recommended that respondent be suspended from

the practice of law for one year and that he not be readmitted until he proved he was capable of practicing law.

On September 28, 1981 we temporarily suspended respondent from the practice of law. We now adopt the findings of DRB but, for the following reasons, conclude respondent's conduct requires a suspension for two years.

At its hearing, DRB made the following findings:

a. HARMON COMPLAINT

In August 1976 Kathleen Harmon paid a retainer of $300 to the respondent which he accepted for the purpose of instituting a divorce action on her behalf. Thereafter Mrs. Harmon incurred considerable difficulty in communicating with the respondent, who failed to advise her with respect to the status of her case and failed to respond to her numerous telephone calls and correspondence.

In April 1977 the respondent finally communicated with Mrs. Harmon by letter signed by him. Therein he enclosed a copy of a Complaint for Divorce and represented to the complainant that the Complaint had been filed and that a hearing date would be assigned in the near future. Later, in August 1977, the respondent submitted a bill to Mrs. Harmon requesting payment of fees and representing that certain costs had been incurred for the filing of a Complaint and service of Summons and Complaint. In fact, no Complaint had been filed by the respondent, no filing fees or Sheriff's fees had been incurred and there was no action pending for divorce.

At a formal hearing before the Committee on May 15, 1979, respondent admitted that he failed to file and serve the Complaint and that he did not incur the associated expenses for which he billed his client. Respondent claimed that he failed to act because he had not had his fee and costs paid in full. Respondent returned the $300 retainer after Mrs. Harmon filed her informal ethics complaint.

b. AMATO COMPLAINT

In August 1977, John Amato paid the respondent a retainer of $250 for the purpose of instituting a divorce action. On August 21, 1978 the respondent wrote to the complainant enclosing a copy of a Divorce Complaint and indicated that it had been filed and forwarded for service upon the defendant.

Thereafter and for a period of several months the complainant encountered much difficulty in communicating with the respondent concerning the status of his case, as the respondent failed to return most telephone calls and was not available for consultation with the complainant. At a formal hearing before the Committee on September 3, 1980 respondent admitted that he failed to institute suit on behalf of his client. Respondent claimed that he failed to act because he had not had his fee and costs paid in full. The Committee determined that the respondent deliberately failed to truthfully advise the complainant as to the status of his divorce ...


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