IN THE MATTER OF WANDA MOLINA AN ATTORNEY AT LAW (ATTORNERY NO. 013591989)
Argued: September 19, 2 013.
Ordered Filed Date January 31, 2014.
Disciplinary Review Board Docket No. DRB 13-097 District Docket No. XIV-2007-0567E.
Jason D. Saunders appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics.
Marc D. Garfinkle appeared on behalf of respondent.
Disciplinary Review Board Bonnie C. Frost, Chair ISABEL FRANK ACTING CHIEF COUNSEL
The Disciplinary Review Board having filed with the Court its decision in DRB 13-097, concluding that WANDA MOLINA of JERSEY CITY, who was admitted to the bar of this State in 1989, should be suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months for violating RFC 8.4(b)(commission of a criminal act that reflects adversely on the attorney's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer) and RFC 8.4(c)(conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); and good cause appearing;
It is ORDERED that WANDA MOLINA is suspended from the practice of law for a period of six months and until the further Order of the Court, effective February 28, 2014, and it is further ORDERED that respondent comply with Rule 1:20-20 dealing with suspended attorneys; and it is further
ORDERED that pursuant to Rule 1:20-20(c), respondent's failure to comply with the Affidavit of Compliance requirement of Rule 1:20-20 (b) (15) may (1) preclude the Disciplinary Review Board from considering respondent's petition for reinstatement for a period of up to six months from the date respondent files proof of compliance; (2) be found to constitute a violation of RFC 8.1(b) and RFC 8.4(c); and (3) provide a basis for an action for contempt pursuant to Rule 1:10-2; and it is further
ORDERED that the entire record of this matter be made a permanent part of respondent's file as an attorney at law of this State; and it is further
ORDERED that respondent reimburse the Disciplinary Oversight Committee for appropriate administrative, costs and actual expenses incurred in the prosecution of this matter, as provided in. Rule 1:20-17.
WITNESS, the Honorable Jaynee LaVecchia, Presiding Justice, at Trenton, this 30th day of January, 2014.
To the Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
This matter was before us on a motion for final discipline filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) . The OAE recommended discipline in the range of a two-to-three-year suspension for respondent's guilty plea to the third-degree crime of tampering with public records or information, and the fourth-degree crime of falsifying records. For the reasons expressed below, we determine that a six-month suspension is warranted.
Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1989. She maintains a law office in Fort Lee, New Jersey. She has no history of discipline.
On June 4, 2010, respondent entered a guilty plea to counts four and five of a five-count State Grand Jury Superseding Indictment. The remaining counts were dismissed. Count four, third-degree tampering with public records or information, alleged that respondent did "knowingly on one or more occasions, make entries onto one or more parking summons[es], consisting of the word 'emergency, 1 and that said false entries were made with the purpose to defraud or injure the City of Jersey City, contrary to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:28-7a(1)." Count five, fourth-degree falsifying records, alleged that respondent "with the purpose to deceive or injure another or to conceal any wrongdoing, did knowingly falsify a writing or record, knowing the same to be false, by making entries onto one or more parking summons[es], consisting of the word 'emergency, ' and the said false entries were made contrary to the provisions of N.J.S.A. 2C:21-4a."
The factual basis for the plea was elicited during respondent's plea hearing:
Over the course of approximately six months, between October 30, 2006 and April 2, 2007, while respondent was Chief Judge of the Jersey City Municipal Court, she abused her authority by adjudicating nine parking tickets that had been issued to her "significant other." Respondent either dismissed those tickets outright or wrote "Emergency" on them and then dismissed them, even though she was aware that no emergency had existed. Respondent dismissed the tickets so that her significant other would avoid having to pay the resulting fines to Jersey City; a benefit to both respondent and her significant other. The tickets were valued at over $200. Respondent conceded that, as Chief Judge, she should either have requested a change of venue because of the conflict, or should have paid the tickets.
In exchange for respondent's guilty plea to counts four and five, the deputy attorney general recommended a term of probation. He further recommended that she resign her position as a municipal court judge, forego any future public employment, pay restitution, and waive her right to apply for admission to the pre-trial intervention program.
At the sentencing hearing, respondent's attorney pointed out that eighteen character letters had been submitted on her behalf (also a part of this record); she deeply regretted and was embarrassed about the incidences; she served her community for a substantial period; she is an Hispanic who has helped women and minorities for the majority of her life; she intended to compensate Jersey City for the tickets that she had improperly dismissed; she had no criminal history; the conduct was unlikely to recur, she resigned her position as chief judge; she was greatly remorseful for her conduct; and she cooperated with law enforcement.
At the sentencing hearing, respondent stated that she had suffered a lapse in judgment, but had not recognized that her acts were criminal in nature; she accepted responsibility for her conduct; and the punishment that she had "already endured for the past three years . . . would be with [her] for the rest of [her] life." She apologized publicly for her conduct.
To calculate the sentence, the judge balanced the mitigating and aggravating circumstances. The judge stated that, although ordinarily, he would take into account that respondent's conduct "breached the public trust" and that her offense involved fraudulent or deceptive practices committed against a division of state government, for purposes of sentencing, he ...