On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
For disbarment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock and O'Hern. Opposed -- None.
[90 NJ Page 273] This matter arises from two reports and recommendations of the Disciplinary Review Board. The first report, entered in 1979, involved five complaints of misconduct and a charge of overall inadequate record keeping, and recommended an indefinite suspension from individual private practice, but permitted a supervised practice upon return. The second, entered in 1982, involved two new matters of ethical misconduct and recommended disbarment. We agree that the circumstances now call for disbarment.
In 1974 and 1975, three complaints were filed against the respondent by complainants Marano, Woomer and Wrede, alleging failures to start suit, misrepresentation of the status of matters, and untimely handling of trust funds. Katz failed to cooperate with the Morris County Ethics Committee by refusing to produce his ledger books and financial records. This Court entered an order of temporary suspension on June 13, 1975. On January 19, 1977, following a hearing and payment to Wrede of $1,000, the temporary suspension was lifted and the respondent was restored to practice, pending final disposition of the matter.
In the spring of 1978, two new complaints were filed by Moore and Gagliardi, charging respondent with misconduct involving down payments made to the respondent's home construction corporations. Respondent failed to answer the complaints and was again temporarily suspended from June 7 to 13 of 1978.
Presentments were filed by District X on the Wrede, Woomer and Marano matters, and by District VII on the Moore and Gagliardi matters.
In the fall of 1979, the Disciplinary Review Board*fn1 filed a decision and recommendation that Katz be barred from the private practice of law through his own firm, but that he be allowed to engage in the practice of law as an employee of a public body or private law firm. One consideration was the respondent's willingness to cooperate and stipulate to the facts, given that three of the complainants had moved out of New Jersey.*fn2 This report covered the Marano, Woomer and Wrede complaints, the record keeping violation, and the Gagliardi and
Moore complaints, and found violations of DR1-102(A)(4) and (6) and DR9-102.
In early December 1979, before it could act on that report, the Court was advised of four more pending complaints involving, among others, the Hersh and Porphy matters. The Court entered an order on January 9, 1980 deferring action on the pending Disciplinary Review Board report and temporarily suspending respondent. The remaining complaints were processed through the District VII Committee and the Disciplinary Review Board.
In February 1982, the Disciplinary Review Board issued a second report and recommendation incorporating its prior conclusions and recommending that respondent be disbarred.
The misconduct that forms the basis of the recommendations can be summarized as follows:
In October 1971, the respondent was retained by Mr. Marano with regard to an insurance claim. Between October 1971 and the spring of 1975, Mr. Marano inquired frequently as to the status of his case. Respondent repeatedly assured Mr. Marano that the matter was under control, advising him alternatively that the matter would come to trial in the near future or that a trial date had recently been postponed. Each answer implied that a lawsuit had, in fact, been filed and was pending but simply had not yet come to trial. The truth was that no suit was ever filed by respondent. Mr. Marano obtained other counsel and suit was timely filed.
Respondent had represented complainant and his wife in various matters prior to Mrs. Woomer's request that he represent her in a municipal court case involving an allegation of defrauding a creditor. Although respondent did not agree to represent Mrs. Woomer in the municipal court matter, he did agree to help her by contacting the complaining witness and
settling the underlying financial claim. Respondent advised the Woomers that he had settled the fraud claim with the creditor and that the criminal action would be dismissed. Neither had, in fact, happened and Mrs. Woomer was arrested. To remedy the matter, respondent paid the creditor $1,000 from his trust account and the criminal complaint was dismissed. The settlement monies, however, had not come from Mrs. Woomer. Accordingly, the Disciplinary Review Board concluded that the $1,000 had to have come from respondent's deposit of personal funds in his trust account or from the trust funds of another client.
In another aspect of the Woomer complaint, Mr. Woomer, a beneficiary of an estate being handled by the respondent, charged that respondent, after pressure from another beneficiary, paid the beneficiary $3,000 (believed by respondent to be slightly less than the amount of the ultimate distributive share) prior to final resolution of the estate. The trust funds held for the estate at this time amounted to only $1,000. Again, the money must have come from the respondent's personal funds or his clients' trust funds, which were commingled.
The final aspect of the complaint objected to the respondent's failure to render an itemized legal bill. The bill rendered said only "legal fees from year 1965 to date, $1,000." The Disciplinary Review Board made no specific finding on this ...