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Application of McLaughlin

May 20, 1996

IN THE MATTER OF THE APPLICATION OF FRANK B. MCLAUGHLIN, FOR ADMISSION TO THE BAR OF NEW JERSEY.


On an Order to show cause why respondent should not be certified for admission to the bar.

Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, And Coleman join in Justice Handler's opinion. The opinion of the Court was delivered by Handler, J.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Handler

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

In the Matter of the Application of Frank B. McLaughlin,

for Admission to the Bar of New Jersey (E-22-95)

Argued November 28, 1995 -- Decided May 20, 1996

HANDLER,J., writing for a unanimous Court.

This case involves issues of character and fitness for admission to the bar. All applicants for admission to the bar must submit a detailed sworn Statement to the Supreme Court's Committee on Character and must undergo additional reviews, including a criminal records fingerprint check. The Statement and supporting materials are processed by the Committee's staff and are reviewed by the volunteer attorneys who serve on the Committee.

Frank B. McLaughlin of Brooklyn, New York, sat for and passed the July 1994 bar examination. He was a graduate of Rutgers Law School--Newark where he was the Book Review Editor of the Law Review. Before attending law school, McLaughlin was a claims analyst for American Reinsurance in Princeton, New Jersey.

A hearing was scheduled before a panel of the Committee to address three aspects of McLaughlin's application. The first involved a Massachusetts arrest in 1985. McLaughlin took the position that he had disclosed the arrest and its circumstances in an attachment to his original Statement; the Committee concluded that the disclosure was not appended to the Statement.

The second item was McLaughlin's disclosure of a 1994 arrest in Hoboken, New Jersey. McLaughlin described his involvement in a "peaceful political protest." The Committee concluded that his description of the incident was incomplete and misleading.

The third item arose out of McLaughlin's dealings with his automobile insurance company and his failure to make complete disclosure regarding suspensions of his driver's license.

In addition to the disclosure and candor problems presented by McLaughlin's application and testimony, his conduct before the Committee's hearing panel and his treatment of court personnel during the proceedings raised other concerns about his character and fitness. The record reflected incidents of impatient and snide comments to the panel members of the Committee and the use of extreme examples of sarcasm, flippancy, and other inappropriate responses.

The Committee on Character concluded that McLaughlin did not possess the requisite character for admission to the bar. It recommended to the Court that it withhold certification of McLaughlin's character. The Court issued an Order to Show Cause why certification should not be withheld.

HELD: Candidates for admission to the bar must possess the traits of honesty and truthfulness, trustworthiness and reliability, and a professional commitment to, and respect for, the judicial process and the administration of Justice. Based on its independent review of the record in this matter, the Court withholds certification of the applicant's character.

1. The character traits required of applicants for admission to the bar should be formulated in terms of the qualities of character that attorneys must possess to fulfill their obligations to clients and the judicial system. In assessing the record in this matter, the Court accepts the Conclusions of the Committee on Character, particularly in respect of credibility. (pp. 17-20)

2. Although McLaughlin's arrests involved relatively minor matters, his treatment of those arrests before the Committee demonstrated a significant lack of candor. Furthermore, his handling of his automobile insurance also indicated a lack of honesty, particularly when it is noted that McLaughlin worked in the insurance industry. McLaughlin's actions constitute a pattern of behavior that demonstrates a clear and convincing lack of the required reverence for the truth. (pp. 20-23)

3. Prior decisions of the Court have made it clear that an applicant's attitude will be a factor in determining present fitness. McLaughlin's demeanor and expressions in correspondence give ample cause to conclude that he has an insufficient appreciation for the proper administration of Justice. His conduct bordered on contempt. The judiciary seeks to suppress incivility, which, if tolerated and unchecked, can render the transaction of judicial business impossible. McLaughlin's conduct was marked with impudence and insolence and belied a fidelity to the administration of Justice that must be possessed by members of the legal profession. (pp. 23-28)

4. McLaughlin's lack of insight into his shortcomings leads the Court to conclude that he is not currently a worthy candidate for admission to the bar. The Court, however, also concludes that McLaughlin should be given the opportunity to rehabilitate himself. He may, no earlier than six months from the filing of the Court's opinion, submit rehabilitation evidence to the Committee in accordance with the requirements of Application of Matthews, 94 N.J. 59, 462 A.2d 165 (1983).

The recommendation of the Committee on Character is adopted and certification of the applicant's character is WITHHELD.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILENTZ and JUSTICES POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in JUSTICE HANDLER's opinion.

The opinion of the Court was delivered by HANDLER, J.

This is a bar-admissions case. It arises from the report and recommendation of the Supreme Court Committee on Character that the required certification of good character be withheld from a candidate for the July 1994 New Jersey Bar Examination. The recommendation was based on the Committee's Conclusion that the candidate did not demonstrate the fitness and good character essential for the practice of law.

The case requires the Court to explain the standards for evaluating character and fitness for the practice of law, and to reemphasize the importance of these requisites for admission to the bar. More specifically, the Court must address truthfulness and respect for the administration of Justice as traits of character and fitness that are deemed indispensable to a lawyer.

I

Frank B. McLaughlin sat for the July 1994 New Jersey Bar Exam. Mr. McLaughlin ("McLaughlin" or "candidate") was a graduate of Rutgers Law School-Newark where he was Book Review Editor of the Rutgers Law Review. Before attending law school, McLaughlin was a claims analyst for American Reinsurance in Princeton, New Jersey, from October 1988 to September 1991. Following his graduation from law school, he completed and submitted his application to sit for the July exam on May 29, 1994. His application was reviewed in normal course. A routine fingerprint check revealed a prior arrest that was apparently not disclosed in McLaughlin's application. The Committee on Character, established under Rule 1:25 to assess the character qualifications of candidates for admission to the bar, reviewed the candidate's application in an informal conference pursuant to Regulation 303 of the Regulations Governing the Committee on Character (RG 303). Although the Court has determined that the July 1991 version of the Regulations should be applied to McLaughlin's application, references will be made herein to more current Regulations.

On August 25, 1995, the hearing panel of the Committee issued its report recommending that the Court withhold the character certification of McLaughlin. Its recommendation was based on a pattern of lack of candor exhibited by McLaughlin's failures to disclose or truthfully to characterize incidents in his history. The panel also found McLaughlin's demeanor at the hearing and in the course of the proceedings an additional reason to withhold certification. McLaughlin thereafter waived his right to a Review Hearing by a Statewide Panel as provided by the appeal rules governing procedures before the Character Committee. RG 304. The candidate then appealed directly to this Court to review the Committee's decision. RG 304:7.

A.

The Character Committee's review of the candidate's application for admission to the bar was prompted by insufficient disclosure of three prior events in the candidate's history: an arrest in Brighton, Mass., an arrest in Hoboken, N.J., and circumstances relating to personal automobile insurance.

1. The Brighton arrest

All candidates for the New Jersey Bar are required to submit fingerprint cards to facilitate investigation of any criminal history. The fingerprint check on McLaughlin turned up a 1985 felony arrest for larceny of a motor vehicle in Massachusetts. As a result of the fingerprint check, McLaughlin's file was flagged for investigation of the apparent non-disclosure of the 1985 arrest.

The Character Committee discovered that this charge had been downgraded to a misdemeanor charge of using a motor vehicle without authority, and that McLaughlin entered into a conditional discharge program without a plea, conditioned on an alcohol abuse evaluation by a psychiatrist, and payment of costs and restitution.

McLaughlin's application form itself revealed no mention of the Brighton incident, despite the fact that the form specifically requested such disclosure and provided space for brief answers. Furthermore, none of the three attachments fastened to McLaughlin's Candidate Statement (a "Job History" consisting of two pages; a one-paragraph explanation of a 1994 disorderly persons arrest in Hoboken, N.J.; and a one-paragraph explanation of a suspension of his New York driver's license) referred to the 1985 Massachusetts arrest. *fn1

When the Character Committee contacted McLaughlin regarding the apparent nondisclosure, McLaughlin requested a copy of his application papers because he had not kept one, even though all candidates are instructed to save a copy for their records.

Thereafter, McLaughlin sent the Committee an affidavit, dated November 15, 1994, with a one-page attachment summarizing the 1985 arrest. See attachment, (infra) at (slip op. at 7-8 n.4). In the affidavit, McLaughlin claimed that he originally submitted the attachment to the Board of Bar Examiners with the Certified Statement. He explained that he completed all of the attachments in the same day at the Rutgers Law Review ...


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