On an order to show cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
For disbarment -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None.
This is an attorney-disciplinary case in which the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB or Board) determined that respondent, Harry N. Devlin, committed several ethics violations, including the knowing misappropriation of client's funds. The Board recommended that respondent should be disbarred.
The ethics charges were heard initially by the District XII (Union County) Ethics Committee (Committee). It determined that respondent had committed ethics violations, following which determination the matter was presented to the Board. There respondent acknowledged that he had made an improper
withdrawal of escrow moneys but requested a remand to establish a meritorious defense and to develop mitigating evidence relating to alcoholism. The Board remanded the matter to the committee for such a supplemental hearing. Following the completion of the remand, the DRB heard the matter in light of the additional evidence. It concluded that respondent should be disbarred.
We have independently reviewed the record and are satisfied that clear and convincing evidence support the charges and the findings of fact made by the tribunals below, including particularly the misuse and misappropriation of clients' funds. Discipline in the form of disbarment, as recommended by the DRB, is appropriate under these circumstances.
The facts as developed before the district ethics committee were fully and accurately summarized by the Board. These facts relate in detail the circumstances surrounding the ethics violations.
It appears that in June 1982, respondent represented Mr. Conklin in a real estate closing. Conklin was then involved in divorce proceedings in which he was represented by another attorney. Respondent was required to hold proceeds from the real estate closing in an interest bearing account. According to the DRB these events occurred:
On July 2, 1982, respondent deposited $20,000 in the Merrill Lynch Government Fund, Inc., account # 232216-3. The signature card respondent completed when he opened the account had several peculiarities. The account was for "Harry Devlin". The social security number on the account was respondent's. Respondent's wife's name was indicated. Reference was made to an account with the National Bank of New Jersey (neither respondent's trust nor business account was with this bank). Respondent checked "none" where the card requested "power of attorney". The lines for "name of agent" and "relationship to client" were left blank. Finally, the objective of the account was investment. There was absolutely no mention of the clients.
On July 7, 1982, Mrs. Conklin's attorney wrote to respondent confirming that respondent was to deposit $20,000 in an "interest bearing escrow account, preferably the Merrill Lynch Money Market Fund, until the final resolution as
to the adjustments . . . is resolved by the parties or the court." On July 8, 1982, respondent informed Mrs. Conklin's attorney that the $20,000 had been deposited into the Merrill Lynch Government Fund, Inc. The next day respondent advised him of the account number.
On February 8, 1983, respondent withdrew $13,000 from the Merrill Lynch account. On February 11, 1983, a $13,000 deposit was made into respondent's trust account. He never notified the Conklins or their attorneys of this withdrawal or deposit.
Following this withdrawal of the escrow moneys, the DRB determined that respondent engaged in the ...