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In re Nihamin

Supreme Court of New Jersey

February 8, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF FELIX NIHAMIN AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

          Argued: October 19, 2017

         District Docket No. XIV-2016-0398E

          Hillary K. Horton appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics.

          Kim D. Ringler appeared on behalf of respondent.

          Ellen A. Brodsky, Chief Counsel

          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 motion for reciprocal discipline, filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to FL. 1:20-14, following respondent's voluntary resignation from the New York bar, which he submitted after the New York disciplinary authorities uncovered evidence that he had continued to practice law after he was suspended in that State. The OAE seeks a one-year suspension. Although respondent sought either a three-month or six-month suspension or a retroactive suspension in his brief, counsel asserted, at oral argument, that a censure would be appropriate. We agree with the OAE and, thus, determined to grant the motion for reciprocal discipline and impose a one-year suspension on respondent.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1995 and the New York bar in 1996. He maintained a law office in New York City that operated under the name Felix Nihamin & Associates, P.C.

         In 2010, we imposed an admonition on respondent for deficient recordkeeping practices, negligent misappropriation of escrow funds, failure to safeguard funds held on behalf of a third person, and commingling personal and client funds in his trust account, violations of RPC 1.15(a) and RPC 1.15(d). In the Matter of Felix Nihamin, DRB 10-073 (June 14, 2010).

         On July 17, 2014, the Court suspended respondent for three months, following his June 29, 2012 conviction of third-degree misapplication of entrusted property, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:21-15. In re Nihamin. 217 N.J. 616 (2014). Specifically, over the course of a few years, in five or six New Jersey "sale-leaseback" transactions, respondent listed inaccurate deposit amounts on the HUD-1 settlement statements and, instead of disbursing the funds as required by the lenders' written instructions, disbursed the monies on the instruction of the entities that structured the transactions. In the Matter of Felix Nihamin, DRB 13-245 (December 18, 2013) (slip op. at 3-5). Respondent was reinstated on January 23, 2015. In re Nihamin, 220 N.J. 344 (2015).

         On May 10, 2013, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department (New York Court) entered an unpublished order deeming the New Jersey offense a "serious crime," and directing the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department of the Supreme Court of the State of New York (Committee) to designate a hearing panel to "conduct a hearing why a final order of censure, suspension or disbarment should not be made."

         The hearing took place on July 30, 2013. On September 27, 2013, the hearing panel recommended that respondent receive a three-month suspension. More than a year later, on October 21, 2014, the New York Court accepted the hearing panel's recommendation and suspended respondent for three months, effective November 20, 2014.

         On February 24, 2015, respondent applied for reinstatement in New York. On March 17, 2015, Orlando Reyes, staff counsel to the Committee, examined respondent, under oath, in connection with his motion for reinstatement.

         During the examination, respondent stated that he had not closed his law practice after he was suspended, because he did not believe that he was required to do so. Rather, he permitted his firm's only other attorney, Natalia Sishodia, to manage its day-to-day affairs, including handling the firm's caseload.

         Respondent told Reyes that, after his suspension, his involvement in the firm's operations was very limited, as were his visits to the office. Respondent represented that, on those limited occasions, he was not involved in pending client-related matters, but only "maybe something having to do with the business account," such as "a payment or what have you." He claimed that he had discussions with Sishodia every seven to ten days, limited to the topic of firm expenses incurred and the payment of bills. He denied that they had discussed individual client matters.

         Respondent denied that, after he was suspended, he received remuneration for legal services provided by the firm; that he instructed Sishodia or anyone else at the firm about the handling of specific client matters; that he requested information about any ...


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