On an Order to show cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.
Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Garibaldi, Stein and Coleman join in this opinion.
(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 Joseph T. Margrabia, Jr., An Attorney at Law (D-111-96)
Argued April 29, 1997 -- Decided July 11, 1997
In this attorney disciplinary proceeding, the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) moved for final discipline based on Margrabia's conviction for simple assault on his wife.
Margrabia was admitted to the bar in 1994. On October 3, 1995, he assaulted his wife during an argument. Initially, Margrabia struck his wife with a half-loaf of bread, and then he punched her in the arm. According to his wife's unrefuted testimony, Margrabia then struck their three-year-old child.
At trial, the court described the bruise on the arm of Margrabia's wife as three or four inches long, substantially black and blue, and a "very heavy duty bruise." Margrabia admitted hitting his wife, but asserted that her comments precipitated the violence. The court found Margrabia guilty of assault and sentenced him to a thirty-day suspended sentence, two years probation, community service, and costs and penalties. The court also entered an order restraining Margrabia from contacting his wife.
The Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) noted that the incident occurred after this Court's decisions in In re Magid, 139 N.J. 449, 655 A.2d 916 (1995), and In re Principato, 139 N.J. 456, 655 A.2d 920 (1995). Those decisions state that attorneys who are convicted of domestic violence ordinarily will be subject to suspension. The DRB concluded, however, that a suspension was not warranted in this case because Margrabia had acknowledged that his conduct was wrong and he did not display a pattern of abusive behavior.
HELD: Margrabia's criminal conviction for assaulting his wife warrants a three-month suspension from the practice of law.
1. Generally, a criminal conviction is conclusive evidence of guilt in a disciplinary proceeding. Under Magid and Principato, a conviction for simple assault of one's spouse establishes a violation of RPC 8.4(b). Pursuant to RPC 8.4(b), it is professional misconduct for an attorney to "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer." The sole issue here is the extent of the discipline to be imposed. (pp. 3-4).
2. The primary purpose of discipline is not to punish the attorney but to preserve the confidence of the public in the bar. The Court reprimanded two attorneys for acts of domestic violence in Magid and Principato. Although the Court limited the discipline of these attorneys to a reprimand, it admonished that in the future, an attorney convicted of domestic violence will usually be suspended. (pp. 4-5).
3. Here, the domestic violence occurred approximately seven months after the Court's decisions in Magid and Principato. Margrabia should have been aware of the possible discipline. Moreover, the record reveals that in the past Margrabia resorted to physical force against his wife, and that the punch left his wife with a "very heavy duty bruise." ...