IN THE MATTER OF THOMAS E. DOWNS, IV AN ATTORNEY AT LAW
Argued: April 19, 2018
District Docket No. XIV-2015-0166E
HoeChin Kim appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney
E. Hanlon appeared on behalf of respondent.
A. Brodsky Chief Counsel
Disciplinary Review Board Bonnie C. Frost, Chair
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 VIII 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 formal ethics complaint charged respondent with
violating RPC 1.1(a) (gross neglect), RPC
1.3 (lack of diligence), and RPC 1.4(b) (failure to
keep the client reasonably informed).
reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a reprimand.
earned admission to the New Jersey bar in 1975. On April 19,
2013, he received an admonition for failure to communicate
with a client and failure to cooperate with an ethics
investigation. In the Matter of Thomas E. Downs, IV,
DRB 12-407 (April 19, 2013). On March 9, 2016, in a default
matter, respondent received a censure for his second instance
of failure to communicate with a client, failure to provide
in writing the rate or basis of his fee, failure to return
the unearned portion of a retainer, and failure to cooperate
with disciplinary authorities. In re Downs, 224 N.J.
to the facts of this case. Joseph Makara died on March 5,
2013. His Last Will and Testament, which respondent had
prepared, was executed on June 22, 2012, and appointed
Joseph's sister, Letitia Makara (the grievant), to three
roles: Executrix, Testamentary Trustee, and Guardian to any
minor heir of his estate. Josephs bequeathed his residuary
estate as follows: 50% to his son, Andrew R. Makara (Andrew
R.); 25% to his minor grandson, Andrew J. Makara (Andrew J.);
and 25% to his adult grandson, Michael C. Smith. The estate
comprised three assets: a joint bank account with Andrew R.,
at Amboy Bank, in the amount of $88, 261.49; an ING insurance
policy valued at $100, 000; and real estate located in
Parlin, Middlesex County, New Jersey. Upon Joseph's
death, Andrew R. became the sole holder of the account with
March 21, 2013, Letitia-- retained respondent to represent
the estate. Pursuant to a written fee agreement, the estate
was to pay respondent a $2, 500 retainer and $300 per hour
for legal services rendered. Respondent maintains that
Letitia was aware that Andrew R. paid the retainer, on March
22, 2013, by a check drawn on the Amboy Bank account he had
shared with Joseph.
ING insurance policy beneficiaries mirrored the division of
the estate set forth in his will. The insurance proceeds,
thus, were to be disbursed as follows: 50% to Andrew R.; 25%
to Andrew J.; and 25% to Michael. Accordingly, after the
Middlesex County Surrogate's Office issued Letters of
Guardianship to Letitia, respondent provided them to ING,
requesting disbursement of Andrew J.'s 25% share of the
insurance proceeds to Letitia, as the Testamentary Guardian.
ING, however, disbursed the insurance proceeds directly to
Andrew J., pursuant to the express provisions of the
insurance policy. Because Andrew J. was a minor, his father,
Andrew R., received the $25, 000 in insurance proceeds
earmarked for Andrew J.
September 27, 2013, a closing for the sale of Joseph's
Parlin property was held at the law office of Terry J.
Finkelstein, the buyer's attorney, Letitia signed the
HUD-1 settlement statement, as Executrix and Trustee of the
estate. Respondent was paid a $1, 100 legal fee for services
rendered in respect of the transaction. At Letitia's
request, respondent deposited the $252, 051.93 in sale
proceeds from the transaction into his ...