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In re Coruzzi

Decided: December 6, 1984.

IN THE MATTER OF PETER J. CORUZZI, AN ATTORNEY-AT-LAW


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

Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Schreiber, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi join in this opinion.

Per Curiam

Following a jury trial respondent was convicted of four counts of bribery contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:27-2. Each charge arose out of his misconduct as a Judge of the Superior Court. The jury concluded that in three separate criminal matters respondent had accepted or agreed to accept bribes; and that the consideration for the bribe money in two of those cases was to be respondent's agreement not to impose custodial sentences, while in the third it was to be his undertaking to change a custodial sentence to a non-custodial term. Respondent received the money in two of the cases. In the third he solicited the bribe but did not receive it.

In May 1982 the trial court sentenced respondent to a five-year custodial term, imposed a fine, and ordered restitution. The Appellate Division affirmed the conviction. State v. Coruzzi, 189 N.J. Super. 273 (1983), and we denied certification, 94 N.J. 531 (1983). This Court temporarily suspended respondent from the practice of law in June 1982. On the completion of removal proceedings under the pertinent statutes, N.J.S.A. 2A:1B-1 to -11, we permanently removed respondent from judicial office in March 1984, based on our finding beyond a reasonable

doubt that he had engaged in misconduct in office. Matter of Coruzzi, 95 N.J. 557, 581-82 (1984). We held that

a judge who accepts a bribe must be removed from office. There can be no exceptions whatsoever.

One might argue that there might conceivably be some bribery case somewhere with mitigating circumstances sufficient to justify discipline other than removal. That case will have to be argued elsewhere. In New Jersey nothing other than removal will do, no matter what the circumstances. [ Id., 95 N.J. at 566 (footnote omitted.)]

After respondent had been released from confinement in June 1984, the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) acted upon the motion of the Office of Attorney Ethics for final disciplinary action. Respondent did not appear at the scheduled hearing before the DRB, whose Conclusions and Recommendations were as follows:

Respondent's criminal conviction of four counts of bribery clearly demonstrates that he engaged in illegal conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law, engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, and engaged in conduct that was prejudicial to the administration of justice. DR 1-102(A)(3), (4), and (5).

A criminal conviction must be accepted as conclusive evidence of guilt in a disciplinary proceeding. In re Addonizio, 95 N.J. 121, 123 (1984). The underlying facts of a conviction are relevant in determining the appropriate discipline to be imposed. Ibid.

In determining the proper discipline to be imposed on an attorney guilty of misconduct, many factors have to be considered, including the nature and severity of the crime, whether the crime was related to the practice of law, the presence of mitigating circumstances, and evidence of the attorney's good reputation, prior trustworthy, professional conduct, and general good character. Matter of Infinito, 94 N.J. 50, 57 (1983).

Respondent, a member of the Bar since 1954 and a Judge since 1972, was convicted of serious crimes of bribery. He used his office as a Judge to commit those criminal acts. He sold the integrity of his office, his profession, for personal gain. His actions have stained ...


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