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Matter of Kornreich

May 23, 1997

IN THE MATTER OF CHEN KORNREICH, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW.


Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi and Stein join in the Court's opinion. Justice Coleman filed a separate opinion Concurring in part and Dissenting in part in which Chief Justice Poritz joins.

(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 Chen Kornreich, An Attorney at Law (D-16-96)

Argued December 2, 1996 -- Decided May 23, 1997

PER CURIAM

This is an attorney disciplinary case. A majority of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) concluded that Chen Kornreich should receive a one-year suspension from the practice of law for her misconduct stemming from charges brought against her for motor-vehicular offenses arising from an automobile accident with another motorist. Kornreich was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1985.

On March 16, 1989, at approximately 5:37 p.m., Kornreich's Mazda was involved in a minor car accident with Susan Yezzi in the parking lot of Marlboro Plaza, a shopping center in Marlboro. Kornreich left the scene of the accident without getting out of her car or exchanging information with Yezzi. Before Kornreich drove away, Yezzi was able to write down the Mazda's license number after having also had ample opportunity to see the driver of the vehicle. She telephoned the police and reported the details of the accident.

Thereafter, Officer Martin Smith of the Marlboro Township Police Department visited Kornreich's home, having obtained the licence plate number from Yezzi. He was greeted by Angelique Franson, Kornreich's live-in babysitter, who informed him that Kornreich was the primary driver of the Mazda. Officer Smith then inspected the damage to the Mazda and concluded that it had been in the accident in which Yezzi was involved.

Several days after his conversation with Franson, Officer Smith returned to Kornreich's home and spoke with her. On questioning, Kornreich denied having been involved in an accident at the shopping plaza. She indicated, however, that she had been in the parking lot and that a woman had chased her. Thereafter, Smith again returned to Kornreich's home to investigate further. Kornreich again denied having been involved in the accident. Her husband, who was also an attorney, was present and threatened to sue Smith if continued the investigation. He instructed the officer to have no further contact with his wife.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Smith caused several summonses to issue, charging Kornreich with failing to report an accident and leaving the scene of an accident. Prior to the municipal court hearing, Kornreich engaged Charles Brodsky, the father of one of her friends, as her attorney. According to Brodsky, before the hearing, Kornreich completely denied involvement in the accident, despite the fact that he had confronted her with the similarity of damage between her car and Yezzi's car. Moreover, she claimed that she did not have use of the Mazda until the evening hours of the date of the accident and that, at the time of the alleged accident, she had been in a meeting with a private investigator. She later provided Brodsky with the investigator's affidavit to that effect. This information later proved to be false.

Finally, Kornreich advised Brodsky that, on the date and the time of the accident, Franson had borrowed the Mazda to go to the bank located in the Marlboro Plaza. Kornreich also provided Brodsky with a photo of Franson to demonstrate the similarity in appearance between the two women and with a copy of her auto-insurance policy, which listed Franson as an insured driver of the Mazda. Brodsky did not speak with Franson because, by that point, she had left the State and was living in Oregon.

The first municipal court date occurred on July 24, 1989. At that time, the Judge met with Brodsky, Brodsky's daughter (also an attorney), and the municipal prosecutor in chambers. Kornreich, though in court, was not present during that meeting. During the meeting, Brodsky informed the Judge and the prosecutor that he would present evidence indicating that Franson, and not Kornreich, was the driver of the Mazda. He made that representation to the court on the basis of evidence Kornreich had provided. The court then indicated that it would dismiss the charges against Kornreich. Smith was informed of the proposed Disposition and later issued summonses against Franson for the same charges with which he had charged Kornreich. Similarly, the municipal prosecutor informed Yezzi that she could go home, but did not inform her that the charges against Kornreich would be dismissed.

After the conference, Brodsky repeated in open court the allegations that Franson had been the driver of the car. Kornreich was in the courtroom during Brodsky's representations. Although she later denied hearing those representations because of poor acoustics, Brodsky indicated that he had encountered no difficulty in hearing when he was seated next to Kornreich in the courtroom.

On September 14, 1989, a hearing was held on the charges against Franson. Despite the fact that Kornreich had earlier advised Franson that she need not appear at that hearing, Franson had flown in from Oregon to answer the charges. She testified, denying any involvement in the accident and further indicating that Kornreich had admitted to her that she had been involved in an accident with a woman who was upset because she left the scene without getting out of the car. She further testified that Kornreich had attempted to dissuade her from appearing in court on the charges. As a result of Franson's testimony, the court ordered Kornreich to appear. When Kornreich entered the courtroom later that afternoon, Yezzi immediately recognized her, and not Franson, as the driver of the Mazda and so informed the prosecutor. The Judge then dismissed the charges against Franson.

After the September hearing, the Judge referred the matter to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office and the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE). The Prosecutor's Office filed no charges against Brodsky. However, Kornreich was charged with various offenses, including providing false information to a police officer with the purpose of implication another; purposely obstructing the administration of law; and purposely or knowingly obstructing the exercise of jurisdiction over her person by a court. Thereafter, Kornreich and the Prosecutor's Office entered into a plea agreement under which she would be allowed to enter the Pretrial Intervention Program (PTI). She maintains that she did so to avoid adverse publicity. On successful completion of the program, the charges against her were dismissed.

Thereafter, the OAE filed a formal complaint charging Kornreich with various ethics violations stemming from her conduct throughout the matter. Kornreich continued to deny her involvement in the accident throughout the OAE's investigation and throughout District Ethics Committee (DEC) hearings. She further maintained that she had never informed Brodsky that Franson was the driver of the car on the date in question and that she had merely suggested that she was the only person who could have done so under the circumstances. She insisted that her statements to Brodsky and the evidence with which she had provided him were intended merely to cast a reasonable doubt on her guilt. She maintained that Brodsky had made misrepresentations to the court without her knowledge and that he done so out of overzealousness and a desire to impress his daughter.

At the Conclusion of the hearing on the formal ethics complaint, the DEC found that Kornreich had violated RPC 3.3(a)(4), by offering evidence to mislead the municipal court; RPC 3.4(f), by attempting to dissuade Franson from attending court; RPC 8.4(c), by engaging in dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and RPC 8.4(d), by engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice. The DEC recommended that Kornreich receive a six-month suspension for her violations.

After conducting a de novo review of the record, a majority of the DRB made the same factual findings and reached the same legal Conclusions as the DEC. The DRB rejected Kornreich's version of events, referring to her as "unworthy of belief," among other things. It determined that she should be suspended for one year for her ethics violations. In reaching that Conclusion, the DRB placed great significance on Kornreich's youth and inexperience at the time of her infractions.

After denying Kornreich's petition for review, the Supreme Court issued an Order to Show Cause why Kornreich should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

HELD: Kornreich's multiple ethics infractions, which included undermining the integrity of the administration of Justice, warrants her suspension from the practice of law in New Jersey for a period of three years.

1. Kornreich violated RPC 3.3(a)(1) and (4), by offering, through her attorney, false statements and evidence to mislead the municipal court. (pp. 15-20)

2. Kornreich violated RPC 3.4(f), by her misrepresentations implicating Franson as the driver responsible for the accident. (pp.20-22)

3. Kornreich violated RPC 8.4(c), by engaging in a continuing course of dishonesty, deceit, and misrepresentation. (pp. 23-24)

4. Kornreich violated RPC 8.4(b), by engaging in the commission of crimes that reflect adversely on a lawyer's honesty and fitness. (pp.24-25)

5. Kornreich violated RPC 8.4(d), by engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice. (p. 25)

6. Disbarment is normally the appropriate discipline for attorney misconduct that undermines the integrity of the administration of Justice, even if the attorney is not acting in his or her capacity as an attorney. (pp. 25-29)

7. The gravity of an attorney's offense cannot be measured solely by the monetary nature of the harm to the victims. (p. 30)

8. Although Kornreich never directly made a misrepresentation to the court and although she had the right as a criminal defendant to remain silent, she had no right to falsely accuse another individual and to feed her attorney false information for the purpose of misleading the municipal court. (p. 31)

9. Although youth and inexperience have been viewed as mitigating factors even as related to serious ethics violations, certain ethics transgressions import a full measure of blameworthiness without regard to maturity and experience. (pp. 31-32)

10. Kornreich should not be excused in any sense because she was caught in a "web of lies." (pp. 32-33)

11. Although Kornreich's lack of sound judgment, clear thinking, and independence cannot in any way diminish her professional responsibility or excuse her misconduct, because of her youth and inexperience, the influence of her more experienced husband may have clouded her judgment and weakened her resolve to act responsibly. (pp.33-34)

JUSTICE COLEMAN filed a separate opinion Concurring in part and Dissenting in part in which CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ joins. Although Justice Coleman agreed with the Court's findings, he believed that Kornreich's conduct was so egregious and so inimical to the integrity of the judicial system that any sanction short of disbarment would fail to protect the public.

JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI and STEIN join in the Court's opinion. JUSTICE COLEMAN filed a separate opinion Concurring in part and Dissenting in part in which CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ joins.

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

PER CURIAM

This is an attorney-disciplinary case. Respondent Chen Kornreich was charged with motor-vehicular offenses arising from a car accident with another motorist. Thereafter, respondent misled the municipal court, as well as her own attorney, into believing that her full-time babysitter had been the driver of the car at the time of the accident. As a result of those misrepresentations, the charges against respondent were dismissed and respondent's employee was charged with the motor-vehicle offenses. At that point, respondent unsuccessfully attempted to arrange for her employee not to appear at trial to defend against those charges. When respondent's scheme came to light, the charges against the employee were dismissed.

The matter was referred to the county prosecutor, who charged respondent with criminal offenses based on her conduct. The criminal charges eventually were dismissed after respondent completed the pretrial-intervention program.

The Office of Attorney Ethics also investigated the matter and initiated disciplinary proceedings with the filing of a formal ethics complaint against respondent. She was charged with violations of RPC 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement of material fact to a tribunal); RPC 3.3(a)(4) (knowingly offering false evidence); RPC 3.3(a)(5) (failing to disclose to a tribunal a material fact with knowledge that the tribunal may tend to be misled by such failure); RPC 3.4(b) (falsifying evidence, counseling, or assisting a witness to testify falsely, or offering an inducement to a witness that is prohibited by law); RPC 3.4(f) (requesting a person other than a client to refrain from voluntarily giving relevant information to another party); RPC 8.4(b) (committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects); RPC 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation); and RPC 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice).

The District Ethics Committee found respondent guilty of ethics violations and recommended imposition of a six-month suspension. The Disciplinary Review Board also determined that respondent was guilty of ethics violations, but it recommended a suspension of one year.

Following respondent's petition to review the DRB's determination, this Court ordered respondent to show cause why she should not be disbarred or otherwise suspended from practice.

I

We recite in detail the facts that we have found by clear and convincing evidence based upon our independent review of the record. That detail is provided to dissipate any possible doubt concerning the factual basis for the Court's ultimate determination that respondent is guilty of serious ethics violations and that severe discipline is warranted.

A.

On March 16, 1989, at approximately 5:37 p.m., respondent's leased car (a 1989 maroon Mazda) was involved in a car accident with Susan Yezzi, who was driving a 1988 Chrysler New Yorker. The accident, which involved minor dents and scrapes, occurred in the parking lot of Marlboro Plaza, a shopping center in Marlboro. At the time, respondent, who had been admitted to the New Jersey and New York bars in 1985 when she was twenty-three years of age, was twenty-six years old and a sole practitioner in Manalapan, Monmouth County.

According to Yezzi, after the accident, she exited her car and walked toward respondent's car, encouraging respondent to get out of her car to exchange information. Respondent then left the scene of the accident without getting out of her car or exchanging information with Yezzi. Before respondent drove away, Yezzi was able to write down the Mazda's license number and to see respondent clearly for about two minutes.

After respondent drove away, Yezzi completed her errands at Marlboro Plaza and went home. Once at home, she called the police and provided details of her version of the accident. Officer Martin Smith of the Marlboro Township Police Department was assigned to the case and wrote the accident report that same day. Yezzi provided him with the license plate number of the other car, and, after some investigation, he obtained the identity of the car's owner, namely, respondent.

After discovering respondent's identity and address, Smith proceeded to her house, which was in the same development as Yezzi's. He was greeted by Angelique Franson, respondent's live-in babysitter, who informed him that respondent and her husband were on vacation. He asked her who normally drove the Mazda, and she answered that respondent was the primary driver. Smith then inspected the car, took some pictures, and compared the damage to that done to Yezzi's vehicle. His inspection revealed almost identical damage to the two cars, thus leaving little doubt that they had been in the same accident.

Several days after his conversation with Franson and his inspection of the Mazda, Smith returned to respondent's home and spoke with her. He asked her if she had been involved in an accident on March 16, to which she answered that she had not been. He then asked her if she had been in Marlboro Plaza on that date and, if she had been, if anything had happened. She responded that she had been in the parking lot and that a woman had chased her. (Smith's recounting of this statement by respondent was essentially identical in both his police report and his in-court testimony.) Smith returned to respondent's home on April 11, 1989 to investigate further. Respondent again denied having been involved in the accident. Her husband, Anderson D. Harkov, who was also an attorney, was present, and ...


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