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In re Addonizio

Decided: January 6, 1984.

IN THE MATTER OF DENIS G. ADDONIZIO, 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 Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. Opposed -- None.

Per Curiam

Respondent entered a plea of guilty to criminal sexual contact in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-3(b), an offense of the fourth degree. The court sentenced respondent to two years' probation and imposed a fine of $500 and court costs.

Subsequently, the District IX Ethics Committee investigated this matter for possible disciplinary action against respondent as a member of the bar of New Jersey. Following a hearing, the District IX Ethics Committee issued a presentment, which concluded that the conduct to which Mr. Addonizio pleaded guilty constituted a crime and, therefore, constituted a violation of DR 1-102(A)(6).

After a hearing, the Disciplinary Review Board agreed that respondent had engaged in unethical conduct, and recommended that respondent be publicly reprimanded.

Our independent review of the entire record leads us to the conclusion that respondent has indeed been guilty of unethical conduct in the matter charged. However, while we attach considerable weight to the recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board, it is our view that a three-month suspension more appropriately reflects the seriousness of respondent's misconduct and will adequately protect the public.

We recently restated the principles that we apply in cases of criminal conviction:

Our goal in these hearings is to protect the interests of the public and the bar while giving due consideration to the interests of the individual involved. In re Mischlich, 60 N.J. [590] at 593. Similar to a sentencing judge in a criminal matter, we take into consideration many factors in determining the proper discipline to be imposed. Cf. N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1. We consider the nature and severity of the crime, and whether the crime is related to the practice of law. We consider "evidence which does not dispute the crime but which shows mitigating circumstances [relevant to] the issue of whether the nature of the 'conviction merits discipline and, if so, the extent thereof.'" In re Mischlich, 60 N.J. at 593 (citations omitted); see In re Rosen, 88 N.J. [1] at 3; In re Mirabelli, 79 N.J. [597] at 601; In re La Duca, 62 N.J. [133] at 136. Similarly, we consider evidence of an attorney's good reputation, his prior trustworthy professional conduct, and his general good character. In re Mischlich, 60 N.J. at 593. [ In re Infinito, 94 N.J. 50, 57 (1983).]

In pursuit of this goal, the District Committee and the Board considered the nature and severity of the crime and whether it was related to the practice of law. Although the relationship that gave rise to the offense arose indirectly from a lawyer-client relationship, the offense itself was not related to the practice of law. The conviction was of a fourth degree offense, which is the least serious grade of offense set forth in the Criminal Code. N.J.S.A. 2C:43-1. For such offenses the Legislature has established a presumption of non-imprisonment for first offenders. N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1e. In addition, the Board was convinced that the conviction represents an isolated instance that is unlikely to reoccur. In the Board's view, the combination of circumstances, including respondent's marital difficulties, prescribed drug use, consumption of alcohol and meeting the individuals involved, indicated that the incident would otherwise not have happened.

Yet we must accept a criminal conviction as conclusive evidence of guilt in disciplinary proceedings. In re Rosen, 88 N.J. 1, 3 (1981); In re Mirabelli, 79 N.J. 597, 602 (1979). The underlying facts of the conviction are relevant to the determination of the appropriate discipline to be imposed. In re Rosen, 88 N.J. at 3.

In setting the appropriate discipline, we are not interested in punishing the attorney. That is ...


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