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Matter of Cohen

January 30, 1989

IN THE MATTER OF JEROME JAY COHEN, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW


Robert L. Clifford, Presiding Justice

ORDER

The Disciplinary Review Board having filed a report with the Supreme Court recommending that JEROME JAY COHEN of CHERRY HILL, who was admitted to the Bar of this State in 1965, be suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year for conduct involving numerous ethical violations, among them: 1) his submission of a statement of services that was so recklessly prepared as to amount to a knowing misappropriation, 2) gross negligence in preparing for signature an affidavit containing an untrue statement, 3) his representation of one grievant's ex-husband in an action in which JEROME JAY COHEN sought treble damages against his former client, and 4) his payment of a transcript deposit with a trust account check, the foregoing conduct in violation of DR 1-102(A)(1), (3), (4), (5) and (6); DR 2-106(A) and (D); DR 2-107(A)(3); DR 7-102(A)(6) and (7); DR 5-105(C) and DR 9-102(A), and this Court having issued an order to show cause why JEROME JAY COHEN should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined, and the matter having been heard on the appearances of counsel and respondent, and good cause appearing;

It is ORDERED that the findings and recommendations of the Disciplinary Review Board are hereby adopted, and JEROME JAY COHEN is suspended from the practice of law for a period of one year and until the further order of the Court, effective February 15, 1989; and it is further

Ordered that the Office of Attorney Ethics is directed to conduct an audit of the books and records of JEROME JAY COHEN and to take whatever action may be appropriate in light of the findings of its audit; and it is further

ORDERED that the Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board, together with this order and the full record of the matter, be added as a permanent part of the file of said JEROME JAY COHEN as an attorney at law of the State of New Jersey; and it is further

Ordered that respondent be and hereby is restrained and enjoined from practicing law pending his restoration to the practice of law; and it is further

Ordered that respondent comply with Administrative Guideline No. 23 of the Office of Attorney Ethics dealing with suspended attorneys; and it is further

Ordered that respondent reimburse the Ethics Financial Committee for appropriate administrative costs.

APPENDIX

Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board

To the Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

This matter is before the Board based upon three presentments filed by the District IV (Camden County) Ethics Committee.

THE SIKORSKI MATTER

In August 1981, Paulette R. Sikorski ("grievant") engaged respondent to represent her in connection with an automobile accident in which she was a backseat passenger. The driver of the automobile was Richard Kisselnicky. His wife was also a passenger in the automobile. The Kisselnickys, who were grievant's neighbors, were also represented by respondent. Respondent filed separate complaints in behalf of his clients. One complaint named Mr. Kisselnicky as plaintiff;*fn1 the other

named both Mrs. Kisselnicky and grievant as plaintiffs. Mr. Kisselnicky was not made a defendant in the latter lawsuit.

Following the accident, grievant found herself in dire financial straits. She was unemployed for almost three years. Although she attempted to work at several jobs, the injuries sustained in the accident precluded her from performing adequately. As a result of her financial hardship, grievant was forced to keep "moving to smaller places and selling furniture". Ultimately, grievant, her daughter and son were forced to seek separate living quarters "just to survive".

Respondent had not made an application for income continuation benefits in her behalf. When grievant complained to respondent about her lack of funds, she was told that she had to work in his office if she wished to earn some money. She worked for respondent for a total of three days, for which she received compensation "under the table".

In August 1983, dissatisfied with respondent's legal representation in the course of two years, grievant dismissed his services and hired new counsel. After some initial difficulties, new counsel obtained grievant's file from respondent. On the basis of certain statements by grievant about the improper manner in which grievant handled the lawsuit,*fn2 new counsel contacted the district ethics committee.

On September 1, 1983, respondent submitted a letter to new counsel requesting 60% of the total counsel fee as compensation for his representation in the matter. Upon reviewing with grievant the attached statement of services, new counsel filed an application with the court for a determination of the percentage attributable to respondent's legal representation. The court ruled that respondent was to receive 30% of the entire attorney fees.

Upon request, respondent submitted a statement of services to the district ethics committee as well. In addition to numerous telephone calls*fn3 and office visits, the statement included 20 court appearances prior to trial. Grievant was not aware of any court appearances on her behalf. In fact, eight of the court appearances predated the filing of the complaint.*fn4 Respondent admitted that "it was a simple accident case". He testified that "I did everything I could to end it, motions for summary judgment, everything, and nothing was successful". (T 64-17 to 65-3).*fn5

Respondent was unable to substantiate the innumerable court appearances listed in the statement of services. Despite repeated assurances to the district ethics committee that he would provide proof thereof, none was submitted. Respondent's adversary testified that respondent filed only three pretrial motions: one ex parte motion for discovery*fn6 and two for summary judgment. Furthermore, when the adversary filed a motion to reinstate the answer, which had been stricken, respondent failed to appear for oral argument notwithstanding the fact that he had filed opposing papers.

While respondent was still representing grievant, grievant's ex-husband filed a motion to declare their son emancipated. At that time, grievant requested respondent prepare an affidavit in opposition to the emancipation proceeding. Respondent did so. One of the paragraphs in the affidavit stated that grievant's

son could not be deemed emancipated because he was still attending school. That statement was untrue. On the date of the hearing, respondent met grievant at the courthouse and presented the affidavit for her review and signature. Grievant advised respondent that, contrary to the affidavit, her son was not enrolled in school. Respondent failed to revise the affidavit upon learning the truth from grievant. Grievant testified that she did not sign the affidavit and proceeded pro se.

After a hearing before the district ethics committee on July 28, 1986 and September 29, 1986, the panel determined that respondent had violated DR 7-102(A)(6) and (7) and DR 1-102(A)(1). The panel rendered no opinion as to whether respondent had violated DR 2-107(A)(3) in light of the fact that the testimony given by respondent and grievant had been insufficient to draw any ...


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