The Disciplinary Review Board having filed a report with the Supreme Court recommending that ARTHUR J. MAURELLO, of HILLSDALE, who was admitted to the Bar of this State in 1976, be publicly reprimanded for conduction in violation of DR 1-102(A)(4), (5) and (6); DR 6-101(A)(1), and (2), DR 7-102(A)(1), and DR 9-102(B), and good cause appearing;
It is ORDERED that the findings of the Disciplinary Review Board are hereby adopted and respondent is publicly reprimanded; and it is further
Ordered that the Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board, together with this order and the full record of the matter, be added as a permanent part of the file
of said ARTHUR J. MAURELLO as an attorney at law of the State of New Jersey; and it is further
Ordered that ARTHUR J. MAURELLO reimburse the Ethics Financial Committee for appropriate administrative costs.
Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board
This matter is before the Board based upon three presentments and a report recommending a private reprimand filed by the District II-B (Bergen County, South) Ethics Committee.
The Board makes the following findings of fact;
1. PATRICIA DONOVAN MATTER.
Respondent was retained by Mrs. Patricia Donovan in May 1980. He was to prepare an accounting for an estate so she could obtain an executrix's commission. After receiving $300, Respondent informed Mrs. Donovan by letter that he expected to complete this matter within a short time. During the next thirteen months, Mrs. Donovan was not successful in contacting Respondent either by telephone or office visits. Ultimately, Mrs. Donovan hand carried a letter dated September 23, 1982 to Respondent's office, personally handing it to him. Respondent vaguely recognized her but did not open the letter at that time because he was preoccupied with other matters. After he reviewed the letter, he pulled the file and learned that it had inadvertently been marked closed. He could not explain how it was so marked.
By letter dated October 1, 1982 Respondent informed his malpractice insurance carrier that he could not remember the details of this case but he felt that he failed to follow through with it. Respondent advised Mrs. Donovan by letter dated October 8, 1982 that his formal claim upon the estate had been rejected and that he failed to follow through within the 90-day period by filing a claim with the Superior Court. Respondent
maintained that the file had been marked closed during that period apparently by a former secretary. Mrs. Donovan was advised that her claim against the estate was then time barred from recovery but was urged to contact Respondent's malpractice carrier. Respondent later returned the $300 retainer to Mrs. Donovan and repeatedly urged her to file a claim with the insurance carrier to collect the $1,600 due her before the statute of limitations expired. As of May 21, 1984, the date of the Ethics Committee hearing, Mrs. Donovan had not submitted the release to the insurance carrier to obtain this money. The Ethics Committee concluded that Respondent's failure was not intentional but negligent. It held that the "closing of a file and the failure to communicate with client for a period of over two years cannot be condoned or excused based on inadvertence." The Committee concluded that this complaint was one of several which exhibited a pattern of neglect, DR 6-101(A)(2).
2. GONZALEZ v. RONAY MATTER.
Respondent was retained to represent defendant Ronay in a personal injury action with respect to punitive damages only. An insurance carrier attorney represented defendant with respect to compensatory damages. The legal action was filed in April 1982. The plaintiff was represented by an attorney who was a member of both the New Jersey and New York bars. His New Jersey office was in his residence. In September 1982 Respondent was served by plaintiff's attorney with interrogatories. Shortly before the time to answer expired, Respondent requested of plaintiff's attorney an extension but the attorney refused. After about six telephone calls and two letters to Respondent seeking answers to the interrogatories were ignored, the plaintiff's attorney in January 1983 filed an ex parte application and obtained an order dismissing the answer by Respondent's client.
Respondent filed a motion to vacate the dismissal order. He telephoned the plaintiff's attorney on March 4, 1983 at that attorney's New York office, requesting his consent to the
motion. Plaintiff's attorney declined consent and expressed concern over his client's emotional and family problems. According to plaintiff's attorney Respondent threatened him by stating that if he did not consent Respondent would report him for not having a bona fide office in New Jersey and for violating the zoning ordinance by having an office in his home. Respondent contended that he had tried to reach plaintiff's attorney on several occasions by calling his New Jersey office but only spoke with a housekeeper whose command of the English language was limited. Respondent acknowledged he telephoned his adversary's New York office on March 4, 1983 but denied making any threats. Respondent conceded that he told plaintiff's attorney that the attorney was being petty and that if he, Respondent, also wanted to be petty he would not overlook the court rule pertaining to a bona fide office. Respondent maintained that he said he would not make a big deal of this and suggested that the attorney should do the same regarding the motion. Respondent denied making any statement about the zoning ordinance. Respondent also denied any responsibility concerning an anonymous ethics charge made against plaintiff's attorney. Respondent's motion for reinstatement was granted after a contested hearing on March 11, 1983. The civil lawsuit was later settled with no payment for punitive damages assessed against Respondent's client.
The Ethics Committee found that the words stated by Respondent in the March 4, telephone conversation were substantially undisputed, ruling that it could not by clear and convincing evidence find that Respondent intended to engage in illegal conduct. The Committee, however, found that the use of those words by Respondent was intended to influence plaintiff's attorney in his determination whether to withdraw his opposition to the pending motion. The Committee found that Respondent's conduct constituted actions which Respondent believed would harass or maliciously injure ...