On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
For reprimand -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock and O'Hern. Opposed -- None.
The respondent John W. Yengo has appealed from the Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board. The Board concluded that unethical conduct on the part of respondent was proved by clear and convincing evidence and recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a period of three months.
The conclusion of the Board that respondent was guilty of unethical conduct was virtually inescapable. It was based upon the record established in an antecedent contempt proceeding that resulted in judicial adjudications of respondent's contempt. See In re Yengo, 84 N.J. 111 (1980). Further, respondent completely failed in these proceedings to present any further evidence that would cast an exculpatory light upon his conduct.
The Board accurately portrayed the basic facts in its determination, viz:
The respondent represented one of the ten defendants in a multiple defendant gambling conspiracy trial. The complex nature of the case and of the proofs to be considered, as well as the number of defendants and of their attorneys presented numerous difficulties. Bad weather resulted in three separate postponements of the scheduled trial date. The judge frequently instructed counsel that regular attendance was required and that tardiness or absence without her prior approval would not be tolerated and would result in the imposition of sanctions.
Witnesses were called and testimony taken beginning on February 21 of 1978. On February 22, respondent requested that the judge resolve a scheduling conflict with another judge. He appeared at trial beginning on February 21 through March 1. On March 2, he failed to appear. Although he failed to notify the Court of his anticipated absence, he had discussed the matter with the prosecutor, other defense counsel and his client. Additionally, respondent had arranged for the appearance of a young attorney-associate on behalf of his client, and the Court was advised by respondent's client that he consented to representation by the associate in respondent's absence.
The trial judge was concerned with the associate's apparently limited knowledge of the case before her. She was, however, unable to locate the respondent, although she placed calls to his answering service and to his home. She did speak with respondent's daughter, who advised the Court that respondent was in Bermuda on a four day vacation and would return on Sunday, March 5.
The trial judge determined to continue with the trial. Rather than citing the respondent for his unapproved absence on March 2 and March 3, the judge forwarded a telegram to respondent's home ordering him to appear before her
on the next trial date, March 6, at 9:00 A.M. Respondent appeared in Court on March 6, and advised the Court that he had been in Bermuda on business for a supermarket, and did not communicate with the Court because he was unaware that he would be going to Bermuda until late on March 1. He further explained that he did not intend to cross-examine the State's witness who testified on March 2 and 3.
The Board in effect adopted the determination of the trial judge citing respondent for contempt. In the words of the court, quoted in the Board's decision,
The action of John Yengo, Esq. in going to Bermuda for two court days in the third week of a five-week, complex wiretap gambling conspiracy case with ten defendants and a seventeen-member jury without prior notice and approval of the Court and without leaving word as to where he could be reached, constituted a disruption in the Court proceedings, disobedience of the Court order prohibiting involvement in other proceedings, a lack of respect for ...