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In re Welgos

Supreme Court of New Jersey

June 29, 2018

In the Matter of Christopher R. Welgos

         District Docket No. XIV-2016-0522E

          Bonnie C. Frost, Esq., Chair Bruce W. Clark, Esq., Vice-Chair Peter J. Boyer, Esq. Hon. Maurice J. Gallipoli Thomas J. Hoberman Regina Waynes Joseph, Esq. Eileen Rivera Anne C. Singer, Esq. Robert C. Zmirich

          Ellen A. Brodsky CHIEF COUNSEL

          Paula T. Granuzzo deputy chief counsel

          Melissa Urban first assistant counsel

          Timothy M. Ellis Lillian Lewin Barry R. Petersen, Jr. Colin T. Tams Kathryn Anne Winterle assistant counsel

         Dear Mr. Neary:

         The Disciplinary Review Board reviewed the motion for discipline by consent (reprimand to censure or such lesser discipline as the Board shall deem warranted) filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to R. 1:20-10(b). Following a review of the record, the Board determined to grant the motion. In the Board's view, a censure is the appropriate quantum of discipline for respondent's violations of RPC 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly make a false statement of material fact to a tribunal), RPC 8.1(b) and R. 1:20-3(g)(3) (failing to cooperate with disciplinary authorities), and RPC 8.4(c) (engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).

         Specifically, on December 18, 2015, Robert A. Knee, on behalf of the District IIA Ethics Committee (DEC), filed an ethics complaint against respondent alleging that respondent violated RPC 5.5(a)(1) (unauthorized practice of law); RPC 8.1(b) and R. 1:20-3(g)(3) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities); and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). On January 8, 2016, Knee contacted respondent to discuss resolving the matter through discipline by consent, to which respondent requested an open-ended timeframe to file his answer. Knee granted respondent a two-week extension. On January 27, 2016, the District IIA Secretary sent a letter to respondent, noting that he had failed to timely file an answer and providing an additional five days for respondent to do so. Respondent never filed an answer.

         On February 12, 2016, the DEC certified the record to the Board. Respondent filed a motion to vacate the default, on June 6, 2016. In support of the motion, by certification to the Board, respondent claimed he had reached an agreement with the DEC investigator allowing him an open-ended period within which to file an answer, so that he could rectify his ineligible status. In support of his position, respondent enclosed an e-mail, dated January 8, 2016, in which he stated, "[t]o confirm my understanding, I can hold off on preparing and filing an answer to the complaint while you explore what options would be [sic] for Discipline by Consent. You will get back to me when you have options to present and we can proceed from there."

         In his response to the motion to vacate, however, Knee explained that he had agreed to only an additional two weeks for respondent to file his answer, not an open-ended extension, and provided the Board with copies of the complete e-mail exchange with respondent.

         Respondent denied having received the e-mail granting only a two-week extension. He claimed that the e-mail did not have his complete e-mail address and, thus, he did not receive that particular message. In turn, Knee countered that respondent's complete e-mail address was not displayed because, by that time, his e-mail program recognized respondent's e-mail address. He provided an e-mail "receipt" that indicated that respondent had read his message. Ultimately, respondent stipulated that he had opened and/or read the e-mail granting the two-week extension. Based on this conduct, the Board referred the matter to the OAE for an investigation.

         During its investigation, the OAE sent a letter to respondent requesting a reply to the issues raised by the Board, which was due by January 13, 2017. Respondent contacted the OAE on January 13, 2017, and requested an extension. He was given until February 3, 2017 to provide a response. Despite having received an additional extension until February 6, 2017, he failed to respond to the grievance. The OAE notified respondent, by letter dated March 8, 2017, that if he failed to reply to the grievance by March 17, 2017, he would be charged with failing to cooperate. To date, respondent has not replied to the grievance.

         Respondent admitted violating RPC 3.3(a)(1) and RPC 8.4(c), when he knowingly made a misrepresentation to the Board, in his motion to vacate, by failing to provide the complete chain of e-mails and by his denial of having received Knee's e-mail. Further, respondent admitted that he never provided a ...


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