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.
In In re Goldberg, 109 N.J. 163 (1988), we ordered the disbarment of a compulsive gambler who had knowingly misappropriated client monies to fund his habit. In rejecting respondent Goldberg's contention that his compulsion should serve to mitigate the discipline to be imposed, we found that the record did not "reflect an impairment of respondent's will sufficient to excuse or mitigate the knowing misappropriation of clients' funds." Id. at 172. We there declared that
[o]ur understanding of the compulsive behavior that led to these misappropriations cannot result in "lowering the barriers to the protection we have attempted to give to that portion of the public who are clients, especially clients who entrust their money to lawyers."
Likewise, in In re Lobbe, 110 N.J. 59 (1988), we addressed the difficult problem of the mitigating effect of compulsive gambling on an attorney's admitted misappropriation of clients' funds. Ibid. Repeating our wistful longing for greater insight into the riddle of compulsive behavior ("We wish that we knew more." In re Hein, supra, 104 N.J. at 303), we concluded that
dependent attorneys retain an area of volition sufficient that we cannot distinguish these attorneys from those who yield to the equally human impulse to avert shame, loss of respect, or family suffering.
Our opinions in Goldberg and Lobbe pave the way for our decision in this disciplinary proceeding in which we conclude, consistent with the recommendation of the majority of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), that respondent, a compulsive gambler who misappropriated clients' funds, must be disbarred.
The appeal comes to us on a stipulation of facts. Through that stipulation respondent, Louis Nitti, acknowledges that during 1980 and 1981 he drew gambling markers against his law firm's trust account to cover advances made to him by the Boardwalk Regency Casino in Atlantic City. This pledging of the firm's trust account served to establish a credit line that entitled respondent to borrow gambling funds for a period of up to one month on presentation of a marker, which functioned as a promissory note or check. If the markers were not repaid on time, the casino was authorized to present them for payment to the banks listed on respondent's credit application.
The details of respondent's method of operation appear in a report of an audit of the trust account conducted by a certified public accountant engaged by respondent's firm after ethics charges had been filed. It was Nitti's usual practice, particularly with personal injury cases, to make distributions of the proceeds to the clients on disposition of ...