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Matter of Cohen

Decided: July 20, 1990.

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


On an order to show 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.

Per Curiam

This matter arises out of a presentment filed by the District IV Ethics Committee (DEC), which concluded that respondent had committed unethical conduct. The Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) agreed that respondent had engaged in unethical conduct that violated RPC 1.4, by failing to communicate with his client; RPC 1.3, by failing to pursue a client's case diligently; RPC 1.1(b), by exhibiting a pervasive pattern of negligence and neglect; and most importantly, RPC 8.4(c), by misrepresenting the status of the case to his client, and by altering the filing date on the complaint in an attempt to deceive the court and his adversaries. The DRB recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for two years, that suspension to run consecutively to the one-year suspension he was then serving.

I

Respondent is a sole practitioner who was admitted to the bar in 1965. He maintained his office in Cherry Hill until February 15, 1989, when this Court suspended him from the practice of law for one year for numerous ethical violations, including:

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). [ In re Cohen, 114 N.J. 51, 552 A.2d 985 (1989).]

Respondent also was privately reprimanded on February 6, 1979, under DR 1-102(A)(4) for conduct involving misrepresentation to an expert.

This matter arises out of respondent's handling of a claim resulting from a three-car collision that occurred in January 1984 involving his client Samuel Joftis. Respondent was retained by Joftis to pursue a claim against two drivers and the

owner of the driveway where the accident occurred. In December 1984 Joftis settled with one of the drivers and signed a release. The facts with respect to the other parties in the suit are accurately described by the DRB:

According to grievant's testimony, respondent told him that suit had been filed against the other parties at the same time that it was filed against the party with whom he had settled his claim. Grievant telephoned respondent every month to ask about the status of the other lawsuits. Respondent told grievant that he was waiting to get a docket number and a trial date. In August 1986, respondent gave grievant a docket number that turned out to be false.

On January 29, 1986, twelve days after the running of the statute of limitations, respondent finally filed suit against the other parties. Thereafter, respondent served the complaint on counsel for the two remaining defendants. However, the filing date on the served copies of the complaint had been altered to read January 9, instead of January 29, 1986, to reflect a filing date within the statute of limitations period. Eventually, both defendants realized that the case had been filed out of time. Motions to dismiss were filed, to which respondent did not object. The first dismissal was granted by order dated August 29, 1986; the second motion was granted on April 9, 1987. Even though respondent knew that the complaint had been dismissed and that further legal action was barred by the statute of limitations, he continued to tell his client for two more years, that the matter was proceeding apace.

Moreover, throughout the entire disciplinary proceeding respondent has been completely unresponsive and uncooperative. He did not attend the DEC or DRB hearings. At the conclusion of the hearing the DEC concluded he had been guilty of unethical conduct. The DRB found the ...


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