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Matter of Vincenti

January 09, 1998

IN THE MATTER OF LESTER T. VINCENTI, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

Argued October 21, 1997 --

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

Over the past fourteen years, respondent, Lester T. Vincenti, has been the subject of no fewer than three reported decisions concerning violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Several themes run throughout respondent's unique disciplinary history. One is disrespect, even contempt, for Judges, lawyers, parties, witnesses, and the judicial process. To characterize his conduct as unprofessional, irrational, intemperate, insolent, arrogant, abusive, insulting, harassing, scurrilous, and misleading -- as it has been characterized in his various disciplinary proceedings -- is to minimize its impact on the administration of Justice.

Respondent is currently under suspension for violations unrelated to the present matter. Nothing in the record inspires confidence that if respondent were to return to practice that his conduct would improve. Given his lengthy disciplinary history and the absence of any hope for improvement, we expect that his assault on the Rules of Professional Conduct would continue. Our responsibility to the bench, bar, and the public requires that we take final and irrevocable action.

With sedulous dedication to detail, the Special Master and the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) have documented respondent's transgressions. Both the Special Master and the DRB have recommended that respondent be disbarred. Our independent review of the record leads us to adopt the full opinion of the DRB as our own. In adopting the DRB report, we have omitted supporting references to exhibits and the transcripts. Those omissions have led to the further elimination of some footnotes and the renumbering of others. Subject to those changes, the DRB opinion follows.

This matter was before the Board based on a recommendation for disbarment filed by Special Master Melvin P. Antell, P.J.A.D. (retired and temporarily assigned on recall). The Office of Attorney Ethics ("OAE") filed two complaints in this matter. In Docket No. XIV-95-134E respondent was charged with violations of RPC 1.4(b) (failure to explain matter to permit client to make informed decisions), RPC 1.5(a) (overreaching), RPC 3.1 (asserting a frivolous issue), RPC 3.2 (failure to expedite litigation), RPC 3.3(a)(1) (making false statement of material fact to a tribunal), RPC 3.4(c) (knowingly disobeying a court order), RPC 3.4(e) (alluding at trial to irrelevant matters and stating personal opinions as to the justness of a cause and the credibility of a witness), RPC 3.5(c) (conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal), RPC 4.4 (using means that have no purpose other than to embarrass, delay or burden a third person), RPC 7.5(e) (using phrase "Legal Clinic" on letterhead without informing clients of lack of affiliation with a public, quasi-public or charitable organization), RPC 8.1(b), in concert with Rule 1:20-3(g)(3) (failure to cooperate with a disciplinary authority), RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation), and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice). In Docket No. XIV-95-406E respondent was charged with a violation of RPC 3.2 (failure to expedite litigation) and RPC 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice).

Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1971. He has an extensive ethics history. In 1983, he was suspended for one year for displaying a pattern of abuse, intimidation and contempt toward Judges, witnesses, opposing counsel and other attorneys. He engaged in intentional, reprehensible behavior, including insults, vulgar profanities and physical intimidation, consisting of, among other things, poking his finger in another attorney's chest and bumping the attorney with his stomach and then his shoulder. In re Vincenti, 92 N.J. 591 (1983).

In 1989, respondent was again suspended, this time for three months, for challenging opposing counsel and a witness to fight; for using loud, abusive and profane language against his adversary and an opposing witness; and for using racial innuendo on at least one occasion. He also called a deputy attorney general a vulgar name, was extremely abusive toward a Judge's law clerk and told her that she was incompetent. In re Vincenti, 114 N.J. 275 (1989). In 1994, respondent received an admonition for failing to comply with discovery requests in a disciplinary matter, despite repeated requests from the panel chair, and for falsely testifying at the ethics hearing that he had personally served a subpoena, knowing that to be untrue. In the Matter of Lester T. Vincenti, Docket No. DRB 94-303 (November 30, 1994).

Finally, effective March 12, 1997, respondent was suspended for one year, with reinstatement conditioned on demonstration of fitness to practice law. His misconduct in that case consisted of violating the recordkeeping provisions of R.1:21-6, negligently misappropriating client funds and engaging in conduct intended to disrupt a tribunal. In re Vincenti, 147 N.J. 460 (1997). He is currently serving that suspension.

There are no ethics matters pending against respondent.

I. The A.R.S. Matter - Docket No. XIV-95-134E

The Division of Youth and Family Services ("DYFS") filed a petition in Superior Court to terminate the parental rights of J.D., *fn1 the natural mother of A.R.S. The matter, captioned In re A.R.S., was tried before Judge Gerald B. Hanifan. Barbara Einhorn, an attorney employed by Somerset-Sussex Legal Services, represented J.D., while a Deputy Attorney General ("DAG") represented DYFS. In addition, James Valenti was appointed and served as law guardian for the child, A.R.S.

On September 30, 1991, the first day of the trial, respondent appeared as a "volunteer" to assist Einhorn in her defense of J.D. According to J.D., Einhorn, who was acquainted with respondent, mentioned the termination of parental rights litigation to respondent. He expressed interest in a potential federal lawsuit against DYFS for violating J.D.'s civil rights. Accordingly, respondent's agreed role at the trial was to observe the proceedings to assist him in representing J.D. in the federal litigation. The fee agreement between J.D. and respondent provided that respondent would receive a fee only from the proceeds of the recovery, if any, in the federal litigation. Although not counsel of record, respondent took over the defense, cross-examining the witnesses called by DYFS to testify. The A.R.S. matter consumed more than forty trial days between September 1991 and May 1992.

On May 7, 1992, Judge Hanifan entered an order, on his own motion, removing respondent from participation in the case for all matters, including trial appearances, because respondent "ha[d] repeatedly been obstructive of the Judicial Process and violative of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and having caused unnecessary delay by his intrusion in this matter." Shortly thereafter, on May 14, 1992, Judge Hanifan referred the matter to the District X Ethics Committee. *fn2

During the A.R.S. trial, respondent was repeatedly disrespectful to Judge Hanifan. He constantly interrupted the Judge, particularly when he was ruling on objections or motions. For example, respondent interrupted Judge Hanifan by asserting that respondent's purpose in the case "all along has been to get you to correct your mistakes as far as the defense is concerned. . . ." Shortly thereafter, Judge Hanifan attempted to rule that neither respondent nor the DAG could contact a particular expert until his report was completed:

The Court: It goes for both sides. The only person really can talk --

Mr. Vincenti: Oh, oh certainly, I mean we, we have given so many indications of attempting to interfere with, with D.Y.F.S.'s witnesses all along.

The Court: Counsel, I'm just trying to set it, set it for -- Mr. Vincenti: My, my, my --

The Court: -- for Mr. Valenti so he --

Mr. Vincenti: -- we must be protected.

Furthermore, respondent accused Judge Hanifan of exhibiting bias and prejudice when the court ruled against respondent:

Mr. Vincenti: I object to your comments. It shows nothing but prejudice and bias.

The Court: Fine. Fine.

Mr. Vincenti: You make a ruling and then you decide that simply because [the DAG] doesn't like it, you're going to change your ruling. How many times do you think you --

The Court: That's that's --

Mr. Vincenti: -- have to do than --

The Court: Counsel --

Mr. Vincenti: -- in order to be shown on the record for the Appellate Courts in this State to be biased and prejudiced?

Respondent's defense in the termination of parental rights case was based, in part, on his ill-founded theory that Judge Hanifan, DYFS staff, the witnesses called by DYFS, and the DAG were engaged in a conspiracy to deprive respondent's client, J.D., of her civil and constitutional rights to custody of her child. In this regard, respondent continued his sarcastic and insulting remarks during another objection:

The Court: Counsel -- hang on.

Mr. Vincenti: She doesn't want us to develop the line to prove it because she's involved in the conspiracy.

The Court: Couns --

Mr. Vincenti: I have every right in the world to prove it even to you, Judge.

The Court: Would you. Would you let me speak counsel, please.

Mr. Vincenti: In your bias and prejudice.

The Court: Would you please let me speak?

Mr. Vincenti: I'm done.

The Court: Thank you.

Mr. Vincenti: I have the right to make statementson the record.

During his questioning of witnesses, respondent often asked multipart questions that the witnesses were not able to answer. When Judge Hanifan requested respondent to repeat the question, the following colloquy occurred:

Mr. Vincenti: I don't know. I think I'm using the English language.

The Court: Counsel, I asked you nicely. Don't argue with me please. Just break it apart.

Mr. Vincenti: I'm not arguing with you.

The Court: That's what it sounds like, counsel.

Mr. Vincenti: Well I'm sorry for that. But that's your misperception, not mine.

Subsequently, Judge Hanifan asked a question of a witness during respondent's cross-examination and the following exchange took place:

Mr. Vincenti: I can't help it if the people in this Courtroom are not able to follow my questioning. . . . Your [sic] interfering with my conduct of this cross examination.

The Court: Yes. I am. When I, when I get confused--

Mr. Vincenti: And I object to it.

The Court: You can object all you want, counsel.

Mr. Vincenti: I certainly will

The Court: When you, when you can -- will you please, counsel. That's -- you're being rude now.

Mr. Vincenti: And so are you.

Finally, the following excerpts from the A.R.S. trial transcripts demonstrate respondent's disrespect for the court:

The Court: Counsel, your tone is difficult for me to handle on a day to day basis.

Mr. Vincenti: I apologize for that, but your rulings in this case --

The Court: I, well I'm, I'm telling --

Mr. Vincenti: -- are beyond belief.

The Court: Counsel, it's, it's those kind of comments that, that make it difficult for me ...


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