On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
For suspension -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None.
[104 NJ Page 589] This disciplinary proceeding arises from a presentment filed by the District XI Ethics Committee, which found that the respondent had violated DR 6-101 (handling a legal matter in such a manner as to constitute gross negligence), DR 9-102(C)
(failure to keep adequate records as required by Rule 1:21-6), and DR 1-102(A)(3) (engaging in illegal conduct that reflects adversely on his fitness to practice law).
The Disciplinary Review Board (DRB or Board) upheld the Ethics Committee's findings that respondent violated DR 6-101 and DR 9-102. However, the Board found that although respondent's conduct reflected adversely on his fitness to practice law in violation of DR 1-102(A)(6), his conduct was not illegal and therefore respondent had not violated DR 1-102(A)(3). In addition, the Board found that respondent's attempt to settle the ethics complaint against him was an attempt to exonerate himself from liability in violation of DR 6-102(A). The DRB recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for six months.
The complaint lodged against the respondent involves his handling of the affairs of Mrs. Mary Zorzin, a non-ambulatory elderly woman who lived near respondent's office. Mrs. Zorzin initially approached the respondent about a collection matter against her granddaughter, one of the complainants in this case, and the preparation of a will. However, respondent's handling of these matters does not form the basis of the complaint. Rather, the relevant facts, as set forth by the DRB, are as follows:
On July 19, 1979 respondent had several telephone conversations with Mrs. Zorzin. At her request, he went to her home and picked up a bank check made payable to her dated June 21, 1979 for $4,116.40. He deposited the check in a non-attorney business account. His bank would not give him immediate cash for it since it was drawn against a different bank. Mrs. Zorzin had informed respondent that she was giving the money to a man at a stated rate of interest and would receive the interest on the nineteenth of each month. Mrs. Zorzin insisted that Respondent be at her residence within a short period of time because the man would be there that day. Respondent quickly prepared a promissory note. He did not have any note forms available and was not familiar with the contents of such a note but prepared one in the format of a receipt. He took the note and $4,116.40 in cash and went to her residence. Outside Mrs. Zorzin's residence respondent met a man who identified himself as Samuel B. Leavy. The undated promissory note stated
This is to acknowledge receipt of $4,116.40 from Gerard J. Wallace, Esq. who is representing Mary Zorzin in this transaction. This money is being received by way of a loan at an annual interest rate of 12% (1% per month), with interest checks being given to Mary Zorzin on the 19th of each and every month that the money is held. The principal amount of the loan is to be repaid in full to Mary Zorzin at a time to [sic] mutually determined between the parties. (the total yearly interest on this loan will amount to $493.97.)