The opinion of the Court was delivered by Garibaldi, J. Chief Justice Poritz and Justices Handler, Pollock, O'hern, Stein, and Coleman join in Justice GARIBALDI's 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 the Application of Robert J. Triffin (E-3-97)
Argued September 8, 1997 -- Decided October 23, 1997
GARIBALDI, J., writing for a unanimous Court.
Robert J. Triffin of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania, passed the New Jersey bar examination in July 1993. A panel of the Supreme Court's Committee on Character conducted three hearings pursuant to Regulation 303 (RG 303) of the Committee. The panel recommended that certification of Triffin's character be withheld. Triffin requested a Review Hearing by another panel of the Committee. That panel, operating pursuant to Regulation 304 (RG 304) of the Committee, also recommended that Triffin's certification be withheld. Triffin sought review of the Committee's decision by the Supreme Court, which granted his requests for review and for oral argument.
Triffin graduated from Temple University in 1973. Between 1973 and 1986, Triffin was self-employed as a collection agent. He would purchase commercial paper and then sue for recovery in his own name. In 1974, Triffin incorporated General Funding as a purchaser of delinquent commercial accounts. In 1984, Triffin incorporated Great States Leasing to purchase obligations and debts incurred under leases of personal property.
During the fall of 1984, Triffin made certain financial arrangements with General Funding's best customers to pay vendors of leased equipment more quickly than Triffin's competitors. The arrangements involved giving the customers presigned checks on General Funding's bank account. Triffin expanded the practice by issuing presigned checks to Henry Wexler, President of Pioneer Gate Company, an assignor of post-dated checks.
In March 1985, Triffin brought suit against Continental Bank, alleging that the bank had wrongfully paid on a check drawn to the order of Pioneer on General Funding's bank account. Continental counterclaimed, alleging that Triffin had been a party to a check-kiting scheme and had negligently or fraudulently caused the overdraft in General Funding's account.
Triffin failed to cooperate in pretrial discovery. Ultimately, his complaint was dismissed with prejudice and he was barred from entering evidence in defense of Continental's counterclaim. The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed those sanctions on October 27, 1988.
Neither Triffin nor his attorney, Henry Janssen, appeared at the trial on November 1, 1989, in respect of Continental's counterclaim. Janssen told the court that Triffin had instructed him not to appear. Triffin claimed that Janssen would not withdraw as counsel until he was paid.
The trial proceeded before the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas. The court heard Continental's evidence and determined that Triffin had engaged with Wexler (of Pioneer) in a check-kiting scheme between December 1984 and March 21, 1985. The court found that Triffin had engaged in actual fraud against Continental. Triffin unsuccessfully sought to have the judgment against him stricken. His appeal of the matter also failed.
Before the Committee on Character, Triffin asserted that he was the victim of a reverse check-kiting scheme orchestrated by Wexler and Triffin's former bookkeeper. Triffin also presented several contradictory excuses for his behavior relating to the Continental Bank litigation.
On April 30, 1986, during the pendency of the Continental Bank litigation, Triffin filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition on behalf of General Funding. The petition was dismissed on July 1, 1986, for procedural deficiencies. After that dismissal, Triffin apparently liquidated General Funding's remaining assets and abandoned his offices to the landlord. Triffin paid his personal car loan with the proceeds and walked away from his remaining obligations. Because he was unable to pay a $20,000 loan to General Funding made by his mother in 1985, Triffin turned Great States over to her.
Triffin graduated from the Nebraska College of Law in June 1990. He sought to sit for the Pennsylvania bar examination in July of 1990. On June 25, 1990, the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners refused to allow Triffin to sit for the examination for character reasons. Triffin requested a hearing before the Board, which was postponed for several months because Triffin sought a stay pending the outcome of federal litigation he had brought against, among others, his former attorney (Janssen), the seven Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the members of the Pennsylvania Board.
The Board began Triffin's hearing on June 19, 1991. It continued over five sessions and, on March 13, 1992, the Board unanimously denied Triffin's application to sit for the bar. Triffin reapplied in March 1993. The Board rejected that application and informed Triffin of his right to appeal the denial to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Rather than pursue that action, Triffin brought a federal law suit challenging, among other items, the rules, customs, and practices of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners. In 1994, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice and the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal.
Since graduating from law school, Triffin has continued to purchase collection accounts at a discount and to bring suit in his own name. Between September and November 1990, thirteen accounts were assigned to Triffin by his mother, trading as Great States. On March 18, 1991, trial on one of the assignments--involving Original Thatcher's West Chester, Inc.--was being heard. Defense counsel disputed Triffin's status as a bona fide purchaser. Triffin called his mother to the stand who testified that there were no other agreements between Great States and Triffin. Triffin failed to advise the court that there were at least a dozen other assignments and that the witness was in fact Triffin's mother.
In April 1993, Triffin sued Albert DiSalvo, president of A&M Check Cashing, and others on a chose in action purchased from United Jersey Band (UJB). Defendants claimed that Triffin's case relied on confidential information that was obtained from A&M's files when Triffin had held himself out as an attorney and had agreed to represent A&M in the matter against UJB. The Pennsylvania courts found that Triffin had held himself out as an attorney and that he had used A&M's confidential information to bring the action, which was dismissed with prejudice. Triffin did not disclose this litigation to the RG 303 panel.
Twenty-five witnesses and seven affidavits of good character were presented at Triffin's RG 303 hearing before the Character Committee. A majority of the witnesses testified that Triffin was honest, truthful, trustworthy, reliable, and professional in his dealings with them. Some of the witnesses, however, raised questions about Triffin's character.
The RG 303 panel recommended that certification of Triffin's character be withheld. The panel relied on the Continental Bank and DiSalvo cases for evidence of civil fraud, unauthorized practice of law, and conduct that demonstrated a fundamental lack of integrity and trustworthiness. The panel also noted that Triffin had not produced even a "scintilla" of evidence of rehabilitation. The RG 304 panel concluded that the evidence in the record substantiated the findings of the RG 303 panel. Furthermore, Triffin had presented no additional evidence of rehabilitation.
HELD : Certification of the character of the applicant must be withheld. The record demonstrates that he lacks the qualities of honesty and truthfulness that are necessary to become a member of the bar.
1. Admission to the practice of law is a privilege burdened with conditions. Applicants must demonstrate that they have good moral character. (pp. 17-18)
2. The decisions of the courts of Pennsylvania that relate to Triffin's application are entitled to full faith and credit by the Court. Even if those decisions were discounted, the record contains clear and convincing evidence of Triffin's long-held lack of respect for the judicial process. His actions also indicate that he is unwilling to assume responsibility for his own support or for his debts. It is not a disqualification that Triffin cannot pay his debts. Rather, it is that he seems not even to care that he owes these debts. A financially irresponsible person should not be placed in a position to make decisions detrimental to the financial well-being of his or her clients. (pp. 18-22)
3. There has been no showing of rehabilitation, no renunciation of past misconduct, no evidence of pro bono work. Although Triffin may never be able to demonstrate rehabilitation, the Court will permit a reapplication to the Committee on Character no earlier than three years from the filing date of this decision.
The report and recommendation of the Committee on Character are adopted and certification of the character of Robert J. Triffin is withheld.
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, O'HERN, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in JUSTICE GARIBALDI's opinion.
For Admission to the New Jersey Bar.
The opinion of the Court was delivered by
Robert J. Triffin (Triffin or candidate) passed the written examination for the New Jersey Bar in 1993. He had been denied admission to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1992. His Certified Statement for admission to the New Jersey Bar disclosed various civil proceedings, including a bankruptcy filing and outstanding judgments against him. After three hearings an RG 303 Panel, convened pursuant to the Regulations Governing the Committee on Character (RG 303), recommended that Triffin's certification for admission to the New Jersey Bar be withheld. That recommendation was ...