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In re Chidiac

Decided: November 20, 1987.

IN THE MATTER OF NORMAN J. CHIDIAC, AN ATTORNEY-AT-LAW


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.

Per Curiam

[109 NJ Page 84] This matter arises out of respondent's forgery and delivery to a bank of an inheritance tax waiver. After the Attorney General determined not to proceed with a criminal prosecution, the District XI Ethics Committee (the Committee) returned a presentment on August 15, 1984. While the matter was proceeding through the disciplinary system, two additional complaints were filed against respondent. We are informed that the investigation of those matters could take six months. In its decision of February 18, 1987, the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) recommended that respondent be suspended indefinitely,

pending resolution of those complaints. Three members voted to disbar. We agree with the recommendation of the DRB.

-I-

In its decision, the DRB made the following factual findings:

Respondent had been the attorney for H. Lester Mower and his family for many years. On July 24, 1975, Elva Mower, his wife, died testate. Mr. Mower was appointed executor. Respondent was retained to probate the estate. On February 18, 1977, Mr. Mower was granted letters testamentary. Respondent offers no explanation for this delay.

Respondent was then requested to prepare and file an inheritance tax return with the transfer inheritance tax branch in Trenton. Respondent testified before the District Ethics Committee that he was unfamiliar with estate matters, had never prepared such a return and, therefore, procrastinated.

At the time of her death, Elva Mower owned 1,250 shares of common stock in the Wood Ridge National Bank, worth approximately $100,000. Mr. Mower asked the bank to locate a purchaser. By May 1979, one had been located, and Mr. Mower and the bank both began to exert pressure on respondent to forward the appropriate documents so that the transfer could be completed. Respondent, however, had not yet prepared or filed the inheritance tax return and could not furnish an inheritance tax waiver. Thus, in an effort to expedite the matter and to cover up his neglect, he photocopied a legitimate tax waiver with the seal of the Division of Taxation, superimposed information relating to the Mower estate, and on May 10, 1979, had a photocopy of this false tax waiver delivered to the bank.

The bank noted that the purported tax waiver was a photocopy and telephoned respondent to request the original. Respondent informed the bank that he thought he had forwarded the original and he could not locate the original in his file. The bank then also made several telephone calls to the inheritance tax bureau in Trenton, but no one in that office could locate the file.

Following the telephone call from the bank, respondent approached his cousin, an attorney with whom respondent was associated, and explained what he had done. This attorney immediately helped respondent prepare the inheritance tax return.

On May 11, 1979, respondent delivered the inheritance tax return to the transfer inheritance tax bureau in Trenton. When he arrived, the employees recognized the name of the decedent and informed the superintendent of the branch, William Mulholland, that respondent was in the office with the tax return. Mr. Mulholland requested respondent come into his office. Once confronted by Mr. Mulholland, respondent admitted he had prepared a false tax waiver for the bank. Respondent then paid $2,000 from his own funds to cover the inheritance tax. On May 14, 1979, a legitimate inheritance tax waiver was issued.

Following the conclusion of an investigation by the Attorney General's Office, the matter was referred to the attorney ethics system. A formal ethics hearing was held in June, 1984. Respondent testified before the committee that he ultimately ...


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