On an order to show cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
For suspension -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi, and Stein. Opposed -- None.
This is an attorney-disciplinary case. The respondent is Albert L. Peia, who was admitted to the Bar of the State of New Jersey in 1981. An indictment was returned by the Monmouth County Grand Jury on October 7, 1986, charging respondent with possession of cocaine in violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-20. On May 11, 1987, pursuant to a plea bargain, respondent entered a guilty plea to the charge and the State recommended the dismissal of two municipal complaints. Respondent was sentenced on June 19, 1987. He received a two-years probationary term, was fined $600, and was ordered to submit to drug evaluation and treatment, if the evaluation determined drug treatment to be necessary.
The case comes before us on an appeal from the Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), which heard the matter on a motion for final discipline filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) pursuant to Rule 1:20-6.
The basis for the disciplinary proceedings was respondent's criminal conviction for possession of cocaine.
A criminal conviction is conclusive evidence of respondent's guilt in disciplinary proceedings. R. 1:20-6(b)(1); In re Goldberg, 105 N.J. 278, 280 (1987); In re Tuso, 104 N.J. 59, 61 (1986); In re Rosen, 88 N.J. 1, 3 (1981). Therefore, no independent examination of the underlying facts is necessary to determine guilt as a basis for establishing a violation of our Rules of Professional Conduct. In re Bricker, 90 N.J. 6, 10 (1982). The only issue to be determined is the quantum of discipline to be imposed. E.g., In re Goldberg, supra, 105 N.J. at 280; In re Kaufman, 104 N.J. 509, 510 (1986); In re Kushner, 101 N.J. 397, 400 (1986).
The conviction of an attorney for possession of cocaine justifies professional discipline. "[A]ny lawyer who knowingly engages in criminally proscribed conduct, such as possession of narcotics, must be aware of the professional jeopardy to which he is exposed by such activity." In re Pleva, 106 N.J. 637, 644 (1987). The criminal conviction for this kind of offense thus establishes conclusively the commission of a criminal act that adversely reflects on a person's fitness as an attorney, contrary to Rules of Professional Conduct, § 8.4(b). The extent or quantum of discipline to be imposed, however, is one that should be informed by not only the criminal act that is the subject of the conviction but all the surrounding circumstances as well as any factors that may aggravate or mitigate the severity of discipline.
In this case an instructive record is available. During the plea hearing, respondent admitted to possessing a trace amount of cocaine. The offense occurred on June 15, 1986, in Neptune Township, where respondent was observed by a local police officer slumped over the steering wheel of his parked vehicle, with narcotics on his lap. Respondent admitted to the officer that he had used some nitrous oxide and marijuana earlier in
the evening. A small plastic bag with marijuana was found in respondent's wallet, as well as a vial of cocaine in respondent's jacket. In addition, there was found in his car a variety of drug paraphernalia, including more than nine cartons of nitrous oxide capsules each containing twenty-four capsules, several capsule dischargers, marijuana and pipes.
The probation report reveals that respondent began using marijuana and nitrous oxide while in college in the early 1970s. His use of these drugs occurred primarily on weekends. He claimed to use seven to ten boxes of nitrous oxide a weekend and to smoke one or two joints on a weekend night. According to the report respondent said he began using cocaine three and one-half years ago; he ...