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In re Bashir

Supreme Court of New Jersey

July 19, 2018

IN THE MATTERS OF MUHAMMAD BASHIR AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

          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 certification of the record filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to R. 1:20-4(f). 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 reply to reasonable requests for information), RPC 1.4(c) (failure to explain the matter to the extent reasonably necessary for the client to make informed decisions about the representation), RPC 1.5(b) (failure to set forth in writing the rate or basis of the legal fee), RPC 1.15(d) (recordkeeping), RPC 1.16(a)(1) (a lawyer shall not represent a client when to do so would violate the Rules of Professional Conduct), RPC 1.16(d) (failure to return an unearned retainer), RPC 5.5(a) (practicing law while suspended), RPC 8.4(b) (committing a criminal act), RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation), and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

         We determine to recommend respondent's disbarment.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1987. He has an extensive disciplinary history consisting of an admonition, three reprimands, a censure, and a temporary suspension. Specifically, on March 6, 1996, respondent received a reprimand for grossly neglecting a litigated matter, resulting in a $41, 000 judgment against the clients. In re Bashir, 143 N.J. 406 (1996).

         On May 25, 2005, respondent received an admonition. In five separate criminal representations between August 2000 and November 2002, respondent failed to comply with court deadlines. As a result, four Superior Court judges ordered sanctions against him. Thereafter, respondent failed to pay the sanctions timely, in contravention of RPC 3.4(c). In the Matter of Muhammad Bashir, DRB 05-061 (May 25, 2005) .

         On July 27, 2015, respondent was temporarily suspended for failing to comply with a fee arbitration determination. In re Bashir, 222 N.J. 313 (2015).

         On May 18, 2016, respondent received a reprimand for failing to set forth in writing the rate or basis of his legal fee and to cooperate with an ethics investigation. In re Bashir, 225 N.J. 8 (2016).

         On June 15, 2017, the Court reprimanded on respondent on respondent for his failure to keep a client adequately informed about the case (RPC 1.4(b) and (c)). In re Bashir, 229 N.J. 330 (2017).

         Finally, on March 26, 2018, the Court censured respondent for his willful violation of the Court's Order that he comply with R. 1:20-20, governing suspended attorneys. Despite having been granted an extension of time, respondent failed to take the steps required of all suspended attorneys, including notifying clients and adversaries of the suspension and providing clients with their files, in violation of RPC 8.1(b), RPC 8.4(d), and R. 1:20-20. In re Bashir, 232 N.J. 332 (2018).

         Respondent remains suspended to date.

         Service of process was proper in this matter. On December 6, 2017, the OAE sent respondent a copy of the complaint by certified and regular mail to his home address as listed in the attorney registration records.

         In addition, the OAE served the complaint in accordance with the provisions of R. 1:20-4(d), by publication on December 8, 2017, in The Baltimore Sun, and on December 11, 2017, in the New Jersey Law Journal.

         On December 22, 2017, the certified mailing to respondent was returned to the OAE marked "Return to Sender, Attempted - Not Known, Unable to Forward."

         On January 8, 2018, the OAE sent another copy of the complaint to respondent at his home address, by regular mail. As of January 30, 2018, the date of the certification of the record, the regular mail had not been returned.

         The time within which respondent may answer the complaint expired. As of January 30, 2018, he had not filed an answer.

         We turn to the facts alleged in the complaint.

         Respondent registered a Wells Fargo Bank attorney trust account (ending in #2305) and attorney business account (ending in #2318) with the OAE, but Wells Fargo had no record of those accounts.

         In February 2015, respondent agreed to represent Aneesha Ghaly, pro bono, in a criminal matter in Union County. He made one court appearance with Ghaly, but, thereafter, informed her that he was being disciplined by way of a reprimand. Ghaly asked whether she should retain new counsel, and respondent replied that, if he "paid some bills, the matter should be resolved." He then agreed to continue to represent her for a $2, 500 fee.

         As previously stated, the Court temporarily suspended respondent, effective July 27, 2015. On July 29, 2015, two days into his temporary suspension, respondent met with Ghaly at the Elizabeth Public Library, where she gave him $2, 500 for the continued representation. Respondent gave Ghaly a receipt for the $2, 500, using attorney letterhead that referred to him as "Esq.," and "Attorney at Law." According to the receipt, the payment was "for legal representation in the Union County Criminal Court."

         Although the meeting took place on July 29, 2015, in one place on the receipt, respondent typed the date "July 25, 2015." Next to his signature, he wrote by hand, "7/25/15." Respondent never provided Ghaly with a written fee agreement. After their July 29, 2017 meeting, respondent ceased taking Ghaly's telephone calls and ignored her text messages to him seeking information, prompting Ghaly to retain new counsel to complete her case.

         Ghaly did not meet with respondent on July 25, 2015, as she was vacationing in Cancun, Mexico from July 23 to July 27, 2015. She provided ethics investigators with documentary proof of her vacation and of her withdrawal of $2, 000 from her bank account ...


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