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In re Pajerowski

December 04, 1998

IN THE MATTER OF PATRICK M. PAJEROWSKI, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

Argued October 14, 1998

On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

This matter arises from a recommendation for discipline filed by the Committee on Attorney Advertising ("CAA") against respondent, Patrick M. Pajerowski. Respondent and the CAA executed a Stipulation of Facts and Discipline in which respondent admitted that he had violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct: RPC 1.2(a) (failing to abide by client's decision); RPC 1.3 (failing to act with diligence); RPC 1.4(a) (failing to communicate); RPC 1.7(a), RPC 1.7(b), and RPC 1.7(c) (representing clients with conflicts of interest); RPC 1.8(e) (providing financial assistance to client); RPC 1.8(j) (acquiring proprietary interest in client's cause of action); RPC 1.9(a) (representing client with interest adverse to former client); RPC 5.3 (failing to properly supervise non-lawyer); RPC 5.4 (splitting fees with non-lawyer); RPC 5.5 (assisting in unauthorized practice of law); RPC 7.1(a) (providing misleading communication about lawyer's services); RPC 7.2(c) (giving value for recommending legal services); RPC 7.3(b) (soliciting client unable to exercise reasonable judgment); RPC 7.3(d) (providing compensation for recommending lawyer's services); RPC 8.4(a) (violating Rules of Professional Conduct); and RPC 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice).

In seventy-three paragraphs, the Stipulation detailed respondent's misconduct. It proposed a three-year suspension. A majority of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) voted to disbar respondent. Three members voted to impose a three-year suspension. Based on our independent review of the record, we are persuaded that the evidence clearly and convincingly establishes that respondent should be disbarred.

I.

Respondent, who was admitted to the bar in 1978, maintains a law office in Newark, New Jersey. His misconduct can be grouped into four categories: the Runner cases, the Loan cases, the Failure to Communicate case, and the Conflict of Interest case.

A.

The Runner cases present respondent's most serious ethical transgressions. From February 16, 1991 through December 29, 1994, respondent employed Kenneth Burgess as a runner to solicit business for him.

The DRB decision summarized the stipulated facts with regard to the runner cases as follows:

The Bartee Matter On December 28, 1994, a vehicle driven by Kimberlee Bartee was involved in an accident. Her brother, John Bartee, Jr., and a friend, Chanel Churchwell, were passengers in the car. The next day, Burgess and an unidentified man visited the Bartee home and left a solicitation letter for Kimberlee Bartee. Upon receiving a call from her, Burgess returned to the Bartee residence with retainer agreements. He directed Kimberlee to complete a form, in which she complained of back and head pain. Burgess told Kimberlee that she should visit a particular doctor for treatment. The doctor was an internist selected by respondent's office. Burgess also told Kimberlee that she should obtain treatment two or three times per week to bolster the claim. When John Bartee indicated that he also had been involved in the accident, Burgess directed him to complete a form as well, in which John complained of back and head pain.

Although not injured in the accident, Kimberlee and John Bartee obtained treatment from the doctor recommended by Burgess. According to a statement given by Kimberlee to Home Insurance Company, which was investigating possible insurance fraud, all of the patients in the doctor's waiting room had indicated that they had been referred by respondent. Kimberlee told Home Insurance Company that neither she nor her brother had suffered any pain until after they were treated by the doctor. The pain disappeared only after they discontinued the treatment.

At 6:00 P.M. on the day of the accident, December 28, 1994, Burgess and an unidentified individual also went to Chanel Churchwell's home to solicit her representation. Burgess obtained Chanel's consent to retain respondent as her attorney.

Although respondent was engaged to simultaneously represent the driver of the vehicle and its passengers, he failed to disclose to his clients the circumstances of the multiple representation and to obtain their consent thereto. According to Kimberlee, she never met respondent or went to his office.

On February 2, 1995, respondent notified Kimberlee that he would not be representing her, ostensibly because the police report and other investigation demonstrated that she had caused the automobile accident. Respondent continued to represent the passengers, who filed claims against Kimberlee, without disclosing to all of them the circumstances of the representation or obtaining their consent to continue as their attorney.

The Lewis Matter

Tracey Lewis was treated at a hospital for injuries sustained in an automobile accident on October 3, 1993. The next day Burgess appeared at Lewis's residence, gave her respondent's business card and solicited respondent's professional employment. At the time of the solicitation, respondent did not know if Lewis's physical, emotional or mental state was such that she could exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer. In fact, according to the investigative report, Lewis was very upset that Burgess went to her home. She had been traumatized by the car accident and had not yet obtained a copy of the police report. Despite making it clear to Burgess that she was not interested in retaining respondent, two weeks later she received in the mail a t-shirt with the logo of respondent's law firm on it.

The Santos Matter

On February 16, 1991, Eileen Santos was taken to the emergency room of a hospital for treatment, following a car accident. The next day Burgess went to the Santos residence and introduced himself as respondent's "legal assistant." Burgess gave Santos a copy of the police report, a retainer agreement and other documents. Burgess told Santos that he would arrange for examination and treatment by a doctor as soon as she signed the retainer agreement. At the time of Burgess's solicitation, respondent did not know whether Santos's physical, emotional or mental state was such that she could exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer.

The Graves Matter

Regetta Graves was injured while riding as a passenger on a New Jersey Transit bus on September 21, 1993. On the same day Burgess and another individual went to the Graves residence. Burgess told Graves that respondent represented other bus passengers. He offered to refer her to doctors and to assist her in obtaining compensation for her injuries. Later that day a solicitation letter from respondent was taped to Graves's mailbox.

The Quarles Matter

On September 10, 1991, Andrew and Lucille Quarles suffered injuries as a result of an automobile accident. On the same day Burgess went to the Quarles residence. Although he was not able to see them, Burgess left respondent's business cards, which listed Burgess's name under the law firm's name. This attempt to contact Mr. and Mrs. Quarles occurred prior to the filing of police reports. At the time of the attempted solicitation, respondent did not know whether the Quarleses' physical, emotional or mental state was such that they could exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer.

The Harris Matter

George Harris, Jr. sustained injuries in an automobile accident on December 5, 1991. Later that day, Burgess left respondent's business card at Harris's residence. The business card listed Burgess's name under the law firm's name. Burgess's attempted solicitation took place before the filing of police reports, at a time when respondent did not know whether Harris's physical, emotional or mental state was such that he could exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer.

The Green Matter

On July 20, 1993, Janet Green was taken to a hospital after being injured in an automobile accident. Burgess approached her in the emergency room, gave her one of respondent's business cards and told her that respondent would obtain a larger monetary award for her than any other attorney. At the time of this solicitation, respondent did not know whether Green's physical, ...


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