IN THE MATTER OP LAMOURIA BOYD AN ATTORNEY AT LAW
Argued: March 15, 2018
Docket No. VA-2Q16-0010E
M. Silva appeared on behalf of the District VA Ethics
Respondent appeared pro se.
C. FROST, CHAIRMAN
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter was before us on a disciplinary recommendation for an
admonition filed by the District VA Ethics Committee (DEC).
We determined to treat the matter as a recommendation for
greater discipline, in accordance with R. l:20-15(f) (4). The
three-count formal ethics complaint charged respondent with
violating RPC 1.5(b) (failure to communicate in
writing the rate or basis of the fee, specifically, by
failing to comply with R. 5:3-5 (a)) (count one), - RFC
1.16(c) (failure to comply with applicable law when
terminating a representation, specifically, by failing to
comply with R. 5:3-5(d)) (count two); and RPC 1.3
(lack of diligence) (count three).
reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a reprimand.
earned admission to the New Jersey bar in 1996. During the
relevant time frame, she maintained an office for the
practice of law in Newark, Essex County, New Jersey. She has
no disciplinary history.
to the facts of this case. On November 19, 2013, the
grievant, Raquele Strickland (then known as Raquele
Strickland-Dale), retained respondent to represent her in
divorce proceedings. Respondent and Strickland executed a
retainer agreement that set forth the scope of services and
respondent's hourly rate, and provided for billing at
regular intervals; the agreement further required the advance
payment of $1, 000 for all court appearances. Strickland paid
respondent a $2, 500 retainer, via three installments.
Family Court Rules, including R. 5:3-5(a) (5),
govern retainer agreements in matrimonial matters. That
Rule requires' retainer agreements to include
when bills are to be rendered, which shall be no less
frequently than once every ninety days, provided that
services have been rendered during that period; when payment
is to be made; whether interest is to be charged, provided,
however, that the running of interest shall not commence
prior to thirty days following the rendering of the bill; and
whether and in what manner the initial retainer is required
to be replenished[.]
November 18, 2014, respondent and Strickland attended an
early settlement panel proceeding in the Superior Court of
New Jersey, Middlesex County. There, Strickland and her
spouse negotiated a settlement agreement, which was placed on
the record, and the Honorable Lisa M. Vignuolo entered a
Final Judgment of Divorce. The Final Judgment, however,
required the parties to submit an Amended Judgment, within
ten days, setting forth the terms of the settlement
agreement, and further provided that "counsel of record
are not released from representation of the parties until
such time as the Amended Judgment incorporating the terms of
the settlement has been filed with the Court."
same date, respondent informed Strickland that the $2, 500
retainer had been exhausted and required replenishing.
Strickland did not provide respondent with additional funds.
December 22, 2014, more than one month after the entry of the
Final Judgment, the parties still had not submitted the
Amended Judgment to the court. Upon respondent's request,
the court granted the parties additional time to do so.
Respondent arranged a February 11, 2015 meeting of the
parties and prepared the Amended Judgment and a Property
Settlement Agreement (PSA), which the parties and counsel
executed at that meeting. Thereafter, respondent refused to
file the Amended Judgment, because she was not willing to
perform additional work for Strickland without receiving
additional fees. Respondent, however, did not seek to be
relieved as counsel for Strickland. At the ethics hearing,
respondent testified that submitting a motion to be relieved
as counsel would have been "futile," because the
court would have denied it.
5:3-5(d), which governs the termination of an attorney's
representation in a matrimonial matter, provides, in relevant
(1) An attorney may withdraw from representation ninety (90)
days or more prior to the scheduled trial date on the
client's consent in accordance with R. 1:11-2 (a) (1). If
the client does not consent, the attorney may withdraw only
on leave of court as provided in subparagraph (2) of this
(2) Within ninety (90) days of a scheduled trial date, an
attorney may withdraw from a matter only by leave of court,
on motion with notice to all parties .• The motion shall
be supported by the attorney's affidavit or certification
setting forth the reasons for the application and shall have
annexed the written retainer agreement. In deciding the
motion, the court shall consider, among other relevant
factors, the terms of the written retainer agreement and
whether either the attorney or the client has breached the
terms of that agreement; the age of the action; the imminence
of the scheduled trial; the complexity of the issues? the
ability of the client to timely retain substituted counsel;
the amount of fees already paid by the client to the
attorney; the likelihood that the attorney will receive
payment of any balance due under the retainer agreement if
the matter is tried; the burden on the attorney if the
withdrawal application is not granted; and the prejudice to
the client or to any other party.
the November 2014 hearing and April 2015, Strickland called
respondent more than ten times, requesting that respondent
provide an itemized bill and that she file the Amended
Judgment and the PSA with the court. In a March 30, 2015
letter, Strickland requested respondent to file the Amended
Judgment and the PSA with the court. Respondent, however,
neither sent Strickland an itemized bill nor filed the
divorce papers with the court. According to Strickland,
respondent failed to provide her with any monthly billings or
invoices in 2013 or 2014.
April 29 and May 1, 2015, in response to Strickland's
written requests, respondent represented that she would send
Strickland an itemized bill, but, both times, failed to do
so. At the ethics hearing, Strickland testified that
respondent finally sent her an itemized bill, in October
2016, which did not appear to credit the $2, 500 retainer,
and reflected a balance owed of $9, 359.60. Respondent
conceded having sent the bill late, but blamed the delay on
issues with her accounting software and the pressures of her
practice. In May 2017, respondent provided the DEC hearing
panel with an amended bill that purportedly credited the $2,
in June and November 2015, Strickland filed pro se
motions with the court to conclude the divorce proceedings.
Despite her efforts, Strickland's divorce was not
finalized until January 2017, more than two years after the
entry of the Final Judgment.
determined that respondent violated RPC 1.5(b) by
failing to provide Strickland with itemized billings as
required in a matrimonial matter, pursuant to R. 5:3-5(a).
Although respondent claimed that, in November 2014, the $2,
500 retainer had been exhausted, respondent failed to provide
an itemized bill in support of that position until October
2016, despite multiple requests from the client.
the DEC found that respondent violated RPC 1.16(c).
Specifically, the DEC determined that respondent, due to her
fee dispute with Strickland, ceased representing her client
without first having obtained an order relieving her as
counsel, as required in a matrimonial matter, pursuant to R.
5:3-5(d). She, thus, failed to comply with applicable law
and, instead, unilaterally and improperly terminated the
the DEC determined that respondent violated RPC 1.3,
by failing to file the executed Amended Judgment and the PSA,
documents that she had exclusively possessed, since February
11, 2015, and that she was required to file with the court to
complete the divorce. The DEC found that respondent refused
to make the filings, due solely to her fee dispute with
mitigation, the DEC considered that respondent had no prior
discipline; cooperated with ethics authorities; did not
commit the misconduct for personal gain; could not finance
respondent's case due to her own financial obligations;
and took remedial measures to improve her billing processes.
The DEC found no aggravating factors.
recommended that respondent receive an admonition.
a de novo review, we are satisfied that the record
clearly and convincingly establishes that respondent was
guilty of unethical conduct. Specifically, we determine that
respondent violated RPC 1.3, RPC 1.16(c),
and RPC 1.5(b). We ...