(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).
Philip L. Kantor was admitted the Bar of the State of New Jersey in 1990. He maintained an office for the practice of law in Williamstown, Gloucester County. In November 2000, he was reprimanded for violations of RPC 3.3(a)(1), 3.3(a)(4), and 8.4(c). In March 2003, the Supreme Court temporarily suspended Kantor for his failure to cooperate with the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) in the investigation of grievances against him. In November 2003, Kantor was suspended from the practice of law for three months and until the further Order of the Court. That discipline was based on his violations of RPC 1.1(a)(gross neglect), 1.3 (lack of diligence), 1.4 (failure to communicate with client), 1.5(b)(failure to communicate fee information to client), and 8.1 (failure to cooperate with ethics authorities).
In addition to the discipline imposed by the Court for the foregoing violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, Kantor has been ineligible to practice law since September 30, 2002, because of his failure to pay the annual attorney assessment that is used to support the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection, the New Jersey Lawyer's Assistance Program, and the attorney disciplinary system.
On July 10, 2003, the OAE filed a formal complaint alleging that in June 2002, Kantor abandoned his law practice, which had ten active files, without notifying his clients or making provision for the transfer of their files. The Superior Court, Law Division, appointed an attorney-trustee, Thomas P. Farnoly, Esquire, to take possession of Kantor's law practice and protect the interests of his clients. Based on Mr. Farnoly's investigation, it was determined that Kantor had failed to file a suit within the statute of limitations, failed to communicate settlement offers to clients, failed to inform a client that her case had been dismissed, and failed to appear for a court date. In addition, despite numerous attempts to reach him, Kantor failed to cooperate with the OAE in the investigation of the grievances that led to the filing of the formal complaint.
The formal complaint charged Kantor with violating RPC 1.1(a)(gross neglect), 1.1(b)(pattern of neglect), 1.3 (lack of diligence), 1.4(a)(failure to communicate with client), 1.16(d)(failure to protect client's interests on termination of representation), and 8.1(b)(failure to cooperate with ethics authorities). Because Kantor did not respond to the complaint, the allegations were deemed admitted pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 1:20-4(f)(1). The matter was certified directly to the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) for a hearing and disposition.
The DRB notified Kantor by mail and by publication of its hearing date. He did not appear or otherwise respond. On December 18, 2003, the DRB concluded that Kantor should be suspended for six months, with his reinstatement conditioned on practicing for two years under a supervising attorney.
On February 25, 2004, the Supreme Court issued an Order Show to Cause why Kantor should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined. He did not appear at the hearing on that Order.
Respondent's abandonment of his clients and his multiple derelictions, combined with his refusal to cooperate with the ethics investigation and to respond to the Supreme Court's Order to Show Cause, merit his disbarrment.
1. The abandonment of clients by an attorney is a grave breach of the Rules of Professional Conduct and has warranted disbarrment, particularly when the attorney has failed to cooperate with the disciplinary process and to appear in response to an Order to Show Cause from the Supreme Court. (pp. 6-8)
2. Respondent has shown an utter disregard for the disciplinary process as evidenced by his failure to cooperate with the ethics investigation, to answer the formal complaint, to submit mitigation evidence to the DRB, or to respond to the Supreme Court's Order to Show Cause. Furthermore, this is not the first time respondent has been cited for failing to cooperate with ethics authorities. (pp. 8-9)
3. There is nothing in the record before the Court to suggest that respondent is salvageable as an attorney. Accordingly, the Court cannot agree with the DRB that a six-month suspension is sufficient to ensure the integrity of the disciplinary process and to protect the public. Respondent's misconduct merits disbarrment. (p. 9)
CHIEF JUSTICE PORITZ and JUSTICES LONG, VERNIERO, LaVECCHIA, ZAZZALI, and WALLACE join in ...