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In re McLaughlin

Decided: April 3, 1987.

IN THE MATTER OF KEVIN A. MCLAUGHLIN, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW. IN THE MATTER OF ELIZABETH SZYMANCZYK, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW. IN THE MATTER OF LAURA A. SCOTT, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW


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

For reprimand -- Chief Justice Wilentz, and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None.

Per Curiam

We recently had occasion to remark on the unhappy reality that "attorneys are not immune from the dangers of drug addiction." In re Kinnear, 105 N.J. 391, 394 (1987). That observation was supported by the lamentable statistic that in the 1986 Term of Court we have disbarred two lawyers and suspended two others based on their drug-related activities. One of those disbarred was a participant in a major criminal narcotics conspiracy. Id. at 394. The conclusion is thus inescapable that the slope of illicit drug use is slippery indeed, leading to a pit at the bottom of which awaits professional disaster for the lawyer who ends up there, to say nothing of the consequences in purely personal terms.

These respondents, caught red-handed in an illegal drug transaction, have come perilously close to wreaking havoc on their promising legal careers. Their misconduct was inexcusable, the more so because of respondents' positions at the time as law secretaries to members of the judiciary. That we have chosen not to blight their progress with a suspension is due not so much to any mitigating circumstances surrounding the offenses themselves as it is to the fact that this is the first occasion on which we have come to grips with an attorney's illegal conduct involving small amounts of a controlled dangerous substance for personal use. See 118 N.J.L.J. 762 (1986).

The particulars of the incident, as reported in the Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), which heard the matter on review of a report from a hearing panel of the District II-B South Ethics Committee (local Ethics Committee), are as follows:

The three respondents, who had attended law school together, met on May 29, 1984, in a West Orange restaurant. McLaughlin and Szymanczyk had been admitted to the bar of this state in 1983 and were completing their clerkships for Superior Court judges. Scott was not at that time a member of the bar, but was admitted nine days later. [Ms. Scott does not challenge this Court's jurisdiction to subject her to discipline.] She was completing her clerkship for an Appellate Division judge. The three respondents had previously used cocaine. They agreed in the restaurant that they would attempt to obtain cocaine that evening. Scott made arrangements through a friend to obtain the illegal drug from an individual in Lodi.

Respondents drove to the Lodi residence, which was under surveillance by the Bergen County Narcotics Task Force. After each respondent contributed towards the purchase of the cocaine, Scott entered the home, purchased about one gram of cocaine for $100, and returned to her car. She was joined by McLaughlin and Szymanczyk. Respondent Scott held the pack of cocaine in her hand and lifted it towards respondent Szymanczyk who inhaled some of the substance. Members of the narcotics strike force had observed the transaction and immediately arrested the three.

All three respondents, having promptly reported the incident to the judges in whose chambers each was employed, were suspended from their judicial clerkships immediately.

In February 1985 respondents were placed under supervisory treatment in accordance with N.J.S.A. 24:21-27 (conditional discharge for certain first offenses). They have all successfully completed the one-year program and are now engaged, separately, in the practice of law. No outstanding criminal charges remain.

In August 1985 the Office of Attorney Ethics filed formal complaints charging McLaughlin with conspiracy to obtain cocaine; Szymanczyk with possession of and conspiracy to obtain cocaine; and Scott with distribution, possession, and conspiracy to obtain cocaine, and with another violation no longer the subject of these proceedings, the charge having been dismissed. The local Ethics Committee determined after a hearing that respondents had engaged in illegal conduct adversely reflecting on their fitness to practice law, a violation of Disciplinary Rule 1-102(A)(3). It recommended a private reprimand.

The DRB conducted an independent review of the record and likewise concluded that respondents had violated ...


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