On an order for review of application for admission to the bar.
For reversal -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. For affirmance -- None. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J.
Here we determine the fitness to practice law of Jesse Jenkins, a candidate for admission to the bar, who failed to disclose to the Committee on Character that he had been arrested and charged in at least three criminal actions, and had been a party in numerous civil actions. In fact, Jesse Jenkins submitted two certified statements in which he denied the existence of these criminal and civil actions. Even after the Board of Bar Examiners permitted Jenkins to file a third certified statement, as if he were applying for admission anew and at a time when both he and the Board were aware of his prior nondisclosures, he still failed to disclose one of these arrests.
Initially, Part II, a subcommittee of the Committee on Character (Committee), concluded Jenkins was not fit to practice
law, a conclusion the entire Committee affirmed. After a third certified statement and additional hearings, the Committee concluded that Jenkins was truly remorseful for not disclosing his prior criminal arrests and the civil actions in which he was involved. Because of Jenkins' changed attitude and the long delay in his admission to the bar, the Committee certified Jenkins' fitness to practice law and recommended his admission to the Bar. The Board of Bar Examiners (Board) agreed and recommended that we accept the Committee's certification. We disagree, reverse the Committee's certification, and find that Jenkins is not now fit to practice law.
On October 11, 1973, Jesse Jenkins was arrested for larceny of an auto and possession of burglary tools. According to the report of the arresting officer, Jenkins was found on the floor of a new Buick with the burglary tools. The Buick was parked on the lot of a Buick dealer. During the same year, he was involved in a civil suit in which he admitted paternity of a son born out of wedlock.
In June 1976, Jenkins was arrested for, and charged with, embezzlement. These charges arose from Jenkins' CETA employment as a trainee-claims examiner with the New Jersey Unemployment Security Office in North Newark, New Jersey. Jenkins allegedly forged four pay orders upon which four fictitious unemployment benefit checks were issued. The embezzlement charges were dismissed by the Municipal Court of Newark after the State Police handwriting expert failed to testify and a participant in the illegal transaction could not be located. The same incident resulted in forgery charges in 1978, which were dismissed after Jenkins' successful completion of Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI) and restitution of $180.00, the amount allegedly obtained. Nevertheless, the Prosecutor's Office, realizing that Jenkins was to be graduated from law school, advised
the Committee in September, 1978 of the then pending forgery charges.
Between 1976 and 1978, Jesse Jenkins was involved in three other civil actions: (1) a 1976 and 1977 suit in which he successfully opposed termination of his parental rights and the adoption of his son by a stepfather; (2) a 1977 suit in which he was a defendant in a hearing concerning visitation and support of that child; and (3) a 1978 suit in which his fiance sued for injuries she sustained while a passenger in a car he was driving.
In January 1979, Jesse Jenkins was graduated from law school. He took the New Jersey bar examination twice, passing the July 1979 examination. As part of the admission process, Jenkins submitted two certified statements, dated December 10, 1978 and May 23, 1979, respectively, to the Committee. In both of his certified statements, despite his previous arrests, Jenkins answered "No" to Question X, Part B:
Have you ever been charged with, arrested for, or convicted of the violation of any law (other than minor traffic offenses)? The entry of an expungement or sealing order does not relieve you of the duty to disclose the matter on this statement. You may, however, indicate below the existence of such order.
He also answered "No" on both certified statements to Question X, Part A:
Have you, in your individual capacity, ever been a party to, or claimed any interest in, any civil proceeding?
After Jenkins passed the examination, the Committee commenced an investigation to determine his fitness to be admitted to the bar. That investigation included a review of the certified statements.
Due to Jenkins' failure to disclose the criminal arrests, Part II of the Committee held an informal hearing on January 31, 1980. At the hearing, Jenkins claimed he did not disclose the forgery and embezzlement arrests because he was not guilty of any criminal conduct. Further, he claimed the Public Defender advised him that admittance to the PTI program "would render
the matter void ab initio" and he would not have to disclose the matter in the future. He did not mention the 1973 arrest.
After the hearing, a member of the Part II Committee contacted the Public Defender. He denied giving this advice. In its report, the Part II Committee noted that Question X, Part B requires disclosure even if an expungement or sealing order has been entered. As Jenkins had not completed the PTI program when he filed his statement, the Committee noted any possible benefits of PTI participation had not yet accrued to him and that even if Jenkins' position was correct, participation in the PTI program would affect the 1978 arrest only.
At the January 1980 informal hearing, the Part II Committee also questioned Jenkins about his "No" answers to Question X, Part A. Jenkins admitted his participation in the suits involving his son and in the automobile negligence suit. He explained his failure to disclose his involvement in these matters by saying that he did not realize these various court proceedings were civil in nature and he did not believe that the Committee could investigate aspects of his personal life.
The Part II Committee then asked if there were any other civil actions to which Jenkins was a party. He said there were none; but prior to a formal hearing, Jenkins disclosed that he was involved in four additional civil actions: (1) as a defendant in Municipal Court for violation of N.J.S.A. 4:22-22 (possession of a diseased animal); (2) as a defendant in a tenancy complaint; (3) as a defendant in Superior Court in a suit for insurance proceeds; and (4) as Administrator in a survival action and as next of kin in a wrongful death action of his brother, Thomas.
The Part II Committee next asked Jenkins to explain a discrepancy in his employment history. In his 1978 certified statement, Jenkins claimed his job with the Unemployment Security Office ended because of absenteeism, but in his 1979 certified statement he claimed his job ended because of ...