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In re Litwin

Decided: November 20, 1986.

IN THE MATTER OF DAVID S. LITWIN, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW


On an order to show cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

For suspension -- Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None. O'Hern, J., concurring.

Per Curiam

Respondent entered a plea of guilty to a charge of aggravated arson, N.J.S.A. 2C:17-1(a)(2), a second-degree crime. This disciplinary proceeding arose from a motion for final discipline based upon a criminal conviction against respondent that was filed with the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) by the Office of Attorney Ethics requesting that respondent be disbarred. Respondent entered into a consent order temporarily suspending him from the practice of law effective July 31, 1981. The DRB has recommended, by a vote of 6-2, that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for five years retroactive to July 31, 1981. Our independent review of the record leads us to accept that recommendation.

I

Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 1968. He served as an attorney in both the private and public sectors until 1978. While he was actively engaged in the practice of law, he was never the subject of any disciplinary action or ethical complaint.

In 1978 respondent left the practice of law and entered a partnership to operate a car wash in Newark. During the following year, Mr. Litwin on his own, commenced operation of a second car wash in Plainfield, New Jersey, which car wash was the subject of respondent's act of arson in 1981. The DRB accurately sets forth the relevant facts surrounding this act in its Decision and Recommendation:

On July 30, 1981 he entered his Plainfield car wash building about 10 p.m. and set fire to the building. Respondent had decided to burn down his business because he had reached a point where

I saw the world as having a choice for myself or burn the place down, as my perception of what would happen was very confused, I totally lost objectivity, perceptivity. . . .

Respondent was arrested that same night and was hospitalized. His condition was diagnosed as severe depression with suicidal tendencies and personality disorder.

Respondent was sentenced on March 19, 1982. His attorney stated that Respondent would be institutionalized for at least 18 months in an in-patient program in Kansas. He had not submitted any insurance claim, nor had he received any benefit from his act. Respondent told the court that his "motivation was completely irrational. It was not a sane act." The sentencing judge stated that

I find that about that time you became preoccupied with the thought of arson and eventially [sic] lost the ability to control your thoughts and actions. You were lead [sic] to deliberately set a fire to that business property. It was not an incident where that was done for the traditional buck or out of a vendetta to any other party or for financial gain to yourself.

The judge agreed with the prosecutor that no useful purpose would be served by incarcerating Respondent due to Respondent's need for long term psychoanalytic care. The judge placed Respondent on five years probation with the condition he ...


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