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In re Ali

Supreme Court of New Jersey

July 27, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF ALI A. ALI AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

          Argued: April 19, 2018

         Respondent waived appearance for oral argument.

          HoeChin Kim appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics.

          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 disciplinary stipulation between the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) and respondent. Respondent stipulated to having violated RPC 1.15(a) (failure to hold separate property of clients or third persons from the lawyer's own property); RPC 1.15(d) (recordkeeping violations); RPC 7.5(a) (improper use of a professional designation that violates RPC 7.1 [RPC 7.1(a) provides that a lawyer shall not make false or misleading communications about the lawyer, the lawyer's services, or any matter in which the lawyer has or seeks a professional involvement]); RPC 7.5(e) (improper use of a trade name); and RPC 8.1(b) and R. 1:20-3(g)(3) (failure to reply to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority).

         The OAE suggested that respondent's conduct warrants a reprimand. Respondent agreed with that suggestion. We determine to impose a three-month suspension.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 2009. He maintains a law practice in Princeton, New Jersey.

         In May 2013, respondent entered into an agreement in lieu of discipline (ALD), but did not comply with its requirements, hoping that the matter would "slip through the cracks" and would go undetected by the OAE. As a result, the district ethics committee filed a complaint against him, which resulted in a 2017 reprimand. Respondent was guilty of lack of diligence and failure to expedite litigation for failing to attend various court sessions, including court-ordered appearances, and leaving his client in court, when the client's case was about to be called, without notifying the court or seeking leave to do so. He also failed to file a substitution of attorney, and engaged in an ex parte communication with a judge. His behavior was also deemed to be conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice for, among other things, disobeying court orders and being unreachable to the court, his adversary, and substitute counsel. In all, respondent was guilty of violating RFC 1.3, RPC 3.2, RPC 3.4(c), RPC 3.5(b), and RPC 8.4(d).

         We found a number of aggravating factors including: (1) respondent's lack of contrition, remorse, or understanding that he had engaged in misconduct; (2) his lack of understanding of the function of a mentor; and (3) his outsourcing work to paralegals outside of New Jersey to minimize his contact with clients in order to maximize his time for rainmaking and spending time with family.

         In addition to reprimanding respondent, the Court ordered that he (1) practice under the supervision of an OAE-approved proctor; (2) complete a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) course in law office management; and (3) complete two ethics courses in addition to those required of all attorneys for CLE credit. In re Ali. 231 N.J. 165 (2017).

         The stipulation of facts described in great detail respondent's failure to cooperate with the OAE and recordkeeping violations, among other ethics improprieties.

         At the relevant time, respondent maintained trust and business accounts at TD Bank, which were designated as "Law Champs LLC."

         By letter dated February 16, 2016, TD Bank notified the OAE of a February 11, 2016 overdraft in respondent's trust account. Although respondent had only $4, 351.77 in the account, he issued two checks totaling $4, 534.43 (number 103 for $3, 037.03 and number 104 for $1, 497.40), which created a $182.66 trust account shortage when the checks were negotiated. TD Bank returned check number 104, credited $1, 497.40 to the trust account, and charged the account a $35 overdraft fee, which left a $1, 279.74 balance in the account.

         In a letter to respondent, dated February 25, 2016, the OAE demanded a written explanation and supporting documentation for the overdraft, by March 11, 2016. In a March 14, 2016 fax, respondent maintained that he had accidentally issued a check from his trust account, rather than his business account; obtained reversal of the $35 overdraft fee; and ...


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