ARTHUR J. MAURELLO of Asbury Park, who was admitted to the bar of this State in 1976, having tendered his consent to disbarment as an attorney at law of the State of New Jersey, and good cause appearing;
It is ORDERED that ARTHUR J. MAURELLO is disbarred by consent, effective immediately; and it is further
Ordered that respondent's name be stricken from the roll of attorneys and that he be permanently restrained and enjoined from practicing law; and it is further
Ordered that respondent comply with Administrative Guideline No. 23 of the Office of Attorney Ethics dealing with disbarred attorneys.
Decision and Recommendation of the Disciplinary Review Board
To the Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
These matters are before the Board based on two presentments filed by the District IIA Ethics Committee.
DISTRICT DOCKET NO. IIA-88-8E
Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1976. On July 10, 1986, respondent was contacted by an acquaintance, Albert Jannsens, inquiring whether respondent could give him
the original will of Jannsens' mother, Helen Bauer, who had died the day before.*fn1 In that will, Jannsens had been named executor of his mother's estate. Jannsens picked up the will that same day.
On July 14, 1986, the three beneficiaries under the will, Jannsens and his two sisters, Denise Dramm (hereinafter "Grievant") and Marie Uzzalino, met with respondent at his office. In his capacity as executor, Jannsens hired respondent to handle the administration of the estate. Jannsens paid respondent a $200 retainer from Jannsens' personal account.
Later that week, Jannsens gave respondent certain original stock certificates from American Telephone and Telegraph Company ("AT & T"), Bell Atlantic Corporation and Bell South Corporation. The stock had a total value of approximately $8,000.
Between July 25 and July 28, 1986, respondent sent certified letters to the transfer agent, transmitting the original stock certificates and requesting that new certificates be issued in the names of the three beneficiaries. Sometime before mid-September, 1986, the transfer agent sent to respondent's office the security transfer requirement forms to be filled out and signed by Jannsens, as executor of the estate. On October 2, 1986, respondent returned the forms to the transfer agent, duly signed by Jannsens.
On October 3, 1986, respondent received a letter from an attorney, advising him that she had been retained by grievant and her sister, Marie Uzzalino, and addressing some issues of concern to her clients. The attorney made no mention of any problems with the stock certificates. On October 7, 1986, respondent replied to the attorney's letter.
Sometime between October 15 and October 27, 1986, the transfer agent notified respondent that Jannsens' signature had
to be guaranteed by a commercial bank or trust company. Although respondent apprised Jannsens of this requirement shortly thereafter, Jannsens did not have his signature guaranteed until March 30, 1987, five months later.*fn2 On April 10, 1987, respondent forwarded the forms to the transfer agent.
The events that unfolded thereafter are unclear. As respondent testified, either (1) the certificates were sent to his office, where they may have been misplaced, or (2) the certificates were sent to his office, but never received, or (3) the certificates were not sent to his office at all. Respondent does recall that, ultimately, new certificates had to be issued; they were forwarded directly to grievant and her sister. None of the certificates in Jannsens' name was lost or misplaced, only those belonging to grievant and her sister.
In March 1988, grievant filed an ethics grievance against respondent (Exhibit J-1 in evidence), claiming that respondent had "handled this whole matter of transferring some stock in a very unprofessional manner," and that she had called respondent's office "over 5 times" to obtain information about the stock.
On September 15, 1988, a formal ethics complaint was filed, charging respondent with lack of diligence and failure to communicate with grievant, one of the estate beneficiaries (count one); pattern of neglect, following a public reprimand in 1986 (count two); and lack of cooperation with the ethics investigator (count three).
Grievant did not testify at the committee hearing, ostensibly because of the inconvenience of having to travel from Lake Placid, New York, where she resides. The ethics investigator
testified, however, about her conversations with grievant. In addition, certain handwritten notes by grievant were admitted into evidence (Exhibit P-1).
At the conclusion of the ethics hearing, the panel found that respondent had failed to communicate with grievant and her attorney (R.P.C. 1.4); handled the estate in a non-diligent fashion (R.P.C. 1.3); and failed to safeguard the property of third persons (R.P.C. 1.15). The hearing panel report concluded that
The specific events surrounding this complaint may not ordinarily be sufficiently grievous for public discipline, and if the panel examined this as an isolated incident, the respondent's negligent conduct may not rise to the level of unethical conduct; however, this panel was profoundly distressed by these events taking place so close in time to the publication of the public reprimand of this respondent in 1986 for a pattern of neglect as well as the prompt resumption of poor habits.
[Hearing Panel Report at 5.]
The committee recommended that count three of the complaint (failure to cooperate with ethics investigator) be dismissed.