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Matter of Imbriani

June 27, 1997

IN THE MATTER OF MICHAEL R. IMBRIANI, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW.


Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in the Court's opinion. Chief Justice Poritz did not participate.

(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 Michael R. Imbriani, an Attorney at Law. (D-129-96)

Argued April 29, 1997 -- Decided June 27, 1997

PER CURIAM

This disciplinary proceeding arises from a motion filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), seeking the final discipline of former Superior Court Judge Michael R. Imbriani as a member of the bar of New Jersey. The Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) recommended that Imbriani be disbarred.

On June 16, 1994, Michael R. Imbriani pled guilty to a charge of theft by failure to make required Disposition of property, a third-degree crime. His offense involved the misuse of money generated by the Community Medical Arts Building in Bound Brook, the primary asset of a company called CMAB, which Imbriani and others formed in 1963.

Imbriani sought Pretrial Intervention (PTI) but the PTI Director in Mercer County rejected the application. The rejection was upheld by the Law Division and the Appellate Division.

Imbriani was sentenced on March 8, 1995. He received a sentence that included five years of probation, 300 hours of community service, and restitution.

At the time of the criminal offense, Imbriani was a Superior Court Judge sitting in Somerset County. He retired from the bench on May 1, 1994, prior to the entry of his guilty plea. The Court previously considered this matter in a judicial disciplinary context, formally removing Imbriani from his judicial office, with his consent, in February 1995.

In reviewing the appropriate sanction to impose on Imbriani as an attorney of this State, the DRB noted that his misconduct had been "extreme and extended," that the amount involved was substantial, and that he had used various deceptive practices to hide his conversion of his partners' funds. The DRB also noted that Imbriani's misconduct was more serious because it occurred while he was occupying a public office.

The Court issued an Order to Show Cause why Imbriani should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

HELD : Under the circumstances of this case, including the aggravating and mitigating factors considered by the Court, respondent's guilty plea to theft by failure to make required Disposition of property received while a Superior Court Judge, warrants his disbarment as an attorney at law.

1. Among the arguments respondent raises in his behalf are the following: he denies that he ever misappropriated any funds; he maintains that the contrary Conclusion was incorrectly drawn from his efforts to resolve disputes amicably with his former partners; he argues that he is being unfairly Judged because of his status as a Judge; and he contends that his prior removal as a Judge obviates the need to impose any further disciplinary sanction on him as an attorney. (pp. 6-8)

2. Although the Court normally gives conclusive and binding effect to findings from a judicial removal proceeding when considering subsequent attorney discipline, the Court has carefully considered Imbriani's disputation of findings from the removal proceedings. The Court concludes that there is no basis to disturb those findings. (pp. 9-10)

3. Attorneys must always behave honestly and must never engage in fraudulent or deceptive activity. Crimes of dishonesty disclose a fundamental character flaw. Lawyers who serve in the judiciary have a duality of professional responsibility, loyal both to the court in which they serve and to the profession of which they are members. The Court cannot ignore the fact that Imbriani was a Judge when the misconduct took place. (pp. 11-12)

4. When a Judge's conduct displays a lack of integrity that goes to his or her status as an attorney, the attorney must be disciplined for his or her conduct as a Judge. Imbriani pled to a crime of dishonesty that involved misconduct over an extended period. That offense merits disbarment. (pp. 13-14)

5. Respondent's plea for a sanction less than disbarment cannot be accepted. Although a single act of misconduct might have warranted a suspension, Imbriani's misconduct occurred over a long period of time. Although the good that he accomplished in the courtroom over almost twenty years as a Judge will not be forgotten, his disbarment as an attorney at law is required. (pp. 14-16)

It is ORDERED that respondent be DISBARRED, effective immediately.

JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in the Court's opinion. CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ did not participate.

PER CURIAM

This disciplinary proceeding arises from a motion filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) before the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), seeking final discipline of former Superior Court Judge Michael R. Imbriani (respondent). The motion was based on respondent's plea of guilty to the offense of theft by failure to make required Disposition of property received, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-9. The DRB recommends that respondent be disbarred.

I

Michael R. Imbriani was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1957. For almost 20 years, he was a Judge of the New Jersey Superior Court. For 30 years, he assisted in the control and management of the financial affairs of the Community Medical Arts Building, Inc. (CMAB), a real estate corporation that leased offices to professionals.

We refer to this Court's removal decision, In re Imbriani, 139 N.J. 262, 652 A.2d 1222 (1995), for a description of events leading up to respondent's criminal conviction. CMAB was formed by respondent and others in 1963. Respondent acquired 12.5% of the issued common stock at that time. In 1970, he transferred his stock in CMAB to his wife. By 1982, respondent's wife owned forty percent of the stock because the stock of ...


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