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In re Burro

Supreme Court of New Jersey

May 15, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF C. PETER BURRO AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

          Argued: February 15, 2018

          District Docket No. XIV-2015-0021E

          DECISION

          Bonnie C. Frost, Chair.

         Joseph Glyn appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics- Respondent waived appearance for oral argument.

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

         This matter was before us on a recommendation for an admonition filed by the District I Ethics Committee (DEC). It was originally before us at our October 19, 2017 session, at which time we determined to treat the admonition as a recommendation for greater discipline, in accordance with R. 1: 2O-I5(f) (4) . A one-count complaint charged respondent with violations of RPC 1.1(a) (gross neglect), RPC 1.3 (lack of diligence), RPC 1.4(b) (failure to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter and to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information), RPC 1.16(d) (failure to return the client file upon termination of the representation), and RPC 8.1(b) and R. 1:20-3(g)(3) (failure to cooperate with ethics authorities).

         We determine to impose a reprimand.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 197 9, to the Florida bar in 1976, and to the Pennsylvania bar in 1980.[1] On October 11, 1990, he received a private reprimand for borrowing $3, 900 from an elderly client, without complying with the requirements of RPC 1.8. In the Matter of C. Peter Burro, DRB 90-276 (October 11, 1990).

         On September 30, 2013, the Court entered an Order declaring respondent ineligible to practice law for failure to pay the 2013 annual attorney assessment to the New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection. He remains ineligible for failure to pay the annual attorney assessment for each subsequent year through 2017. In addition, on both November 17, 2014 and November 16, 2015, the Court entered an Order declaring respondent ineligible for failure to comply with continuing legal education requirements. He remains ineligible to date. Finally, on October 27, 2015, the Court entered an Order declaring respondent ineligible for failure to comply with the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program. According to a Notice to the Bar, dated October 6, 2016, respondent's name was removed from the 2015 IOLTA Ineligible List.

         Ann Sisbarro, Executrix of the Estate of Anthony DiLeo (her uncle), retained respondent (her former brother-in-law) in 2003 to probate the will and complete the distribution of the estate. DiLeo passed away on August 15, 2003.

         On January 4, 2006, the New Jersey Division of Taxation (the Division) sent respondent a Notice of Assessment for estate taxes of $225, 000, with accrued interest of $40, 746.58, along with instructions for him to remit payment of $265, 746.58. When respondent failed to do so, the Division filed a certificate of debt[2] on Sisbarro's own house for failure, as Executrix, to pay the estate's delinquent taxes.

         Respondent participated in the DEC hearing by telephone. He testified that he did not recall receiving documents from the Division, but had he received such a document, he would have challenged it, "because the assessment appears to be arbitrary." Respondent was unable, however, to place a value on the estate.

         E-mails between respondent and Sisbarro, from December 3, 2010 through October 26, 2012, show that Sisbarro repeatedly requested information about the status of the estate. Her pleas became increasingly urgent, as time passed and respondent appeared to be making no progress in completing the estate. On occasion, respondent replied to her e-mails, including, for example, an August 2, 2012 e-mail, which stated, "I am doing what I can to wrap this up, Annie, hang in there with me." Further, on October 12, 2012, respondent replied to Sisbarro's October 8, 2012 e-mail as follows: "Way to slow [sic] for ALL of us, Aunt A. I did get your emails. I am not ignoring them or you, my dear. With lustre, this will soon be a distant memory." Respondent did not deny the substance of these e-mails.

         At the DEC hearing, respondent claimed that Sisbarro had sought to delay the completion of the estate from 2003 until 2009, in order to avoid creditors, including "Syracuse or Columbia or Cornell ... I forget which college [DiLeo] left a lot of money to." He accused Sisbarro of wanting to avoid paying those entities because "she wanted it for herself." The record, however, contained no evidence to support this contention. Respondent further claimed that, early in the representation, he had made a partial distribution of $7, 500 to Sisbarro and three other beneficiaries.

         Although respondent communicated with Sisbarro through October 2012, he asserted that, in 2009, Sisbarro had "fired" him. He conceded, however, that he had no proof that Sisbarro had terminated the representation that year. In this and other areas of questioning related to the representation, respondent's memory was poor, perhaps for medical reasons, described below.

         The record contains a copy of the following April 17, 2013 e-mail from Sisbarro:

Dear Pete,
As I have not heard from you in over 6 months with regard to the estate, which you advised would be finalized over a year ago, I met with an attorney this morning to discuss the actions required to obtain my file. I am requesting you either finalize this open matter or send my file to me within the next 7 business days or I will be forced to take legal action.
Your negligence and indifference to the personal financial effect this has on all parties concerned is unconscionable I do not want to pursue litigation for negligence, malpractice and ethics but will do so if necessary. Your choice . . . get back to me with your response as this is the last inquiry I will make before taking further action.

[Ex.P-9, 36].

         Although respondent did not address the above e-mail, at the hearing, he testified that he had suffered a stroke in April 2013, and ceased practicing law thereafter. He ...


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