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In re Byrne

Supreme Court of New Jersey

February 1, 2018

IN THE MATTER OP JAMIS PETER BYRNE AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

         District Docket No. VI-2016-0008E

          DECISION

          Bonnie C Frost, Chair

         To the Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

         This matter was before us on a certification of the record filed by the District VI Ethics Committee (DEC), pursuant to R. 1:20-4(f). A ten-count complaint charged respondent with violations of RPC 1.1(a) (gross neglect), RPC 1.3 (lack of diligence), RPC 1.4(a) (failure to inform a prospective client how, when, and where the client may communicate with the attorney), RPC 1.4(b) (failure to communicate with the client), RPC 1.5(a) (unreasonable fee), RPC 1.15(a) (failure to safeguard client property), RPC 1.16(d) (failure to protect the client's interests upon termination of the representation), RPC 3.2 (failure to expedite litigation), RPC 8.1(b) (failure to cooperate with an ethics investigation), and RFC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).

         We determine to impose a three-month suspension.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1991. On September 6, 2006, respondent received a reprimand for a conflict of interest when representing both the driver and passenger in filing claims against each other, and for failure to set forth, in writing, the rate or basis of his legal fee in nine personal injury matters. In re Byrne, 188 N.J. 249 (2006).

         By Supreme Court Order, effective December 2, 2016, respondent was temporarily suspended for failure to comply with the terms of a fee arbitration determination. In re Byrne, 227 N.J. 189 (2016). He remains suspended to date.

         On August 24, 2015, the Court entered an Order declaring respondent ineligible to practice for failure to pay his annual registration to the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (CPF). He remains ineligible to date.

         Service of process was proper in this matter. On April 20, 2017, the DEC sent respondent a copy of the complaint by certified and regular mail to his home address in the State of Washington. The certified mail green card was not returned, and the United States Postal Service (USPS) tracking information shows attempted but incomplete delivery for the certified mail, as it was unclaimed. The regular mail was not returned.

         On June 16, 2017, the DEC sent a second letter to respondent, to the same home address in Washington, also by regular and certified mail, informing him that if he did not answer the complaint within five days of the date of the letter, the allegations of the complaint would be deemed admitted; that, pursuant to 1U. 1:20-4(f) and R. 1: 20-6(c) (1), the record in the matter would be certified directly to us for imposition of sanction; and that the complaint would be amended to include a charge of a violation of RPC 8.1(b).[1]

         The original certified mail green card was returned signed, but the signature is illegible, and no date of delivery was affixed thereto. USPS tracking information, however, shows a delivery date of June 23, 2017, having been forwarded to an address for another town in the State of Washington. The regular mail was not returned.[2]

         The time within which respondent was required to answer the complaint has expired. As of August 4, 2017, the date of the certification of the record, respondent had not filed an answer.

         The complaint alleges the following facts. On October 24, 2009, Elaine Spath retained respondent to file a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. Respondent's legal fee was $2, 200 plus a $300 filing fee, for a total of $2, 500. From November 3, 2009 through March 4, 2010, Spath paid respondent the $2, 500 in five equal installments. Respondent negotiated all of the checks and mailed Spath receipts for each check.

         Over the course of four years, respondent met with Spath three times to review debts for inclusion in the bankruptcy petition. Spath provided respondent with bills, presumably substantiating those debts. Nevertheless, respondent failed to file a petition in her behalf.

         For four years, respondent misled Spath that her matter was proceeding apace, that the courts were backlogged, and that it "would be a while until her bankruptcy case would get into court." Respondent failed to disclose to his client that he had never filed the bankruptcy petition in her matter. Likewise, respondent never provided Spath with a billing statement indicating which legal services had been ...


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