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Matter of Albert

Decided: August 8, 1990.

IN THE MATTER OF JOEL M. ALBERT, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW


On an order to show cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

For suspension -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, and Garibaldi.

Per Curiam

A local District Ethics Committee (DEC) issued a presentment in one case and a recommendation for public discipline in another, in these disciplinary proceedings against respondent, Joel M. Albert. After a de novo review, a majority of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for three months. Three members of the DRB would have imposed a public reprimand.

In the first case respondent represented one Janet Jensen in a post-judgment matrimonial matter. The DEC's complaint, filed on March 5, 1986, alleged that Albert had failed to act with reasonable diligence and promptness, had not promptly complied

with reasonable requests for information, had not charged a reasonable fee, had not promptly delivered to the client funds belonging to her, had caused funds to be withdrawn from a statement savings account (established in the name of respondent's law partner as escrow agent for Jensen) in payment of his legal services without fulfilling the terms of a written retainer agreement, and had not made reasonable efforts to expedite litigation. The DRB's factual summary relevant to those charges is as follows:

On February 24, 1983, Janet Jensen retained respondent to represent her in a post-judgment matrimonial matter. At issue were the sale of the marital home, distribution of sale proceeds, support arrearages, and lack of jurisdiction. Jensen paid respondent a $500 retainer, pursuant to a written agreement that provided, among other things, for billings based on hourly rates.

A series of motions filed by respondent resulted in the sale of the marital home. A court order dated May 1984 provided, inter alia, that respondent could file an affidavit of services seeking counsel fees. Respondent never filed the affidavit.

On February 15, 1985, several of Jensen's requests for relief regarding child support, back alimony, and medical bills were granted. The court instructed respondent to prepare a proposed form of order and to file an application for counsel fees. Once again, respondent did not file the application. Neither did he submit the proposed form of order.

After the February 1985 proceeding, Jensen repeatedly telephoned respondent to determine the outcome of the motion. Respondent ignored her inquiries. On April 3, 1985, Jensen wrote to the court complaining that respondent would not return her calls. The court wrote to respondent on April 11, 1985, requesting immediate action on the matter. Thereafter, Jensen scheduled two April appointments with respondent, but he subsequently cancelled them.

On April 30, 1985, Jensen wrote to respondent discharging him as her attorney. She then filed a motion pro se, seeking to have the relief granted in February 1985 reduced to a written order. On May 29, 1985, the court signed an order. The order did not, however, accurately embody the relief granted in February. Jensen was forced to pay another attorney $2,100 to conclude the matter.

In May 1985, Jensen received a $3,000 check from respondent, which represented the balance of proceeds from the sale of the marital home that had been held in a savings account established by respondent's law firm [as "escrow agent" for Jensen]. On May 6, 1985, Jensen wrote a letter to respondent requesting a breakdown of the status of the account to determine the disposition of a[n] $8,000 deposit related to the sale of the marital home. [(The reference is to an approximately $8,000 balance of funds in the account, some of which was subject to ...


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