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In re Klamo

Supreme Court of New Jersey

August 10, 2018

IN THE MATTER OF JOHN ANDREW KLAMO AN ATTORNEY AT LAW

          Argued: May 17, 2018

          Johanna Barba Jones appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics.

          Respondent appeared pro se.

          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 motion for reciprocal discipline, filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) pursuant to R. l:20-14(a). The motion was based on respondent's six-month suspension in Pennsylvania, retroactive to October 12, 2013, for violations equivalent to RPC 8.1(a) (knowingly making a false statement of material fact in connection with a disciplinary matter), RPC 8.1(b) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities), RPC 8.4(a) (violating or attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct, knowingly assisting or inducing another to do so, or doing so through the acts of another), RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation), and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice), for failure to comply with the Pennsylvania equivalent of R. 1:20-20.

         For the reasons expressed below, we recommend that respondent be disbarred.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1982 and the Pennsylvania bar in 1981. At the relevant time, he maintained a law office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

         Respondent has an extensive ethics history.

         In 1996, respondent was reprimanded for delegating his recordkeeping responsibilities to an employee whom he never supervised or instructed on recordkeeping practices. As a result, the employee misappropriated client funds. Respondent was guilty of gross neglect, negligent misappropriation of client trust funds, commingling fees and trust account funds, and recordkeeping violations. In re Klamo, 143 N.J. 386 (1996).

         In 2013, respondent was suspended for three months for charging improper expenses in contingent fee matters (photocopying, postage, and telephone calls); failing to promptly deliver funds belonging to clients and third parties by amassing approximately $100, 000 in his trust account and failing to disburse deductibles and co-pays, in some instances for as long as thirteen years, until the OAE began its investigation and instructed him to disburse the funds; recordkeeping violations; engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation; making material misstatements of fact to ethics authorities; and failing to maintain malpractice insurance. In re Klamo, 213 N.J. 494 (2013).

         Respondent was reinstated to practice law, effective September 25, 2013, and was ordered to practice under the supervision of an OAE-approved proctor for a two-year period and to submit to the OAE, for a two-year period, on a quarterly basis, monthly reconciliations of his attorney accounts, prepared by an accountant. In re Klamo, 215 N.J. 520 (2013).

         In 2016, respondent was censured, in two consolidated matters, for failure to abide by the client's decisions concerning the scope of the representation, lack of diligence, failure to communicate with the client, failure to expedite litigation, and misrepresentation by silence. Although we concluded that respondent had failed to maintain malpractice insurance, we did not impose discipline for this violation because he had been found guilty of that infraction for the same timeframe in a prior disciplinary matter. In re Klamo. 225 N.J. 331 (2016).

         Earlier this year, on January 10, 2018, respondent received a three-month suspension, in a default, for misconduct that included gross neglect, lack of diligence, and failure to communicate with clients. Respondent's failure to answer interrogatories resulted in the dismissal of his clients' complaint. He also failed to obtain his client's permission before retaining an entity to prepare an appellate brief, in violation of RPC 1.2(a); violated RPC 5.5(a) by failing to submit certificates of insurance to the Clerk of the Court from 1998 to 2010, as required by R. 1:21-1A(b); and misrepresented the status of the case to his clients by telling them that their case was proceeding properly, thereby violating RPC 8.4(c). In re Klamo, 231 N.J. 395 (2018).

         Respondent was disciplined again, on May 30, 2018, when he received a two-year suspension for failing to safeguard funds, lying to ethics authorities, and engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, when settling a fire insurance claim. Instead of depositing settlement funds in his trust account and disbursing them to all interested parties, respondent released the funds to the contractor he had hired to make the repairs. He then lied to the OAE about the disposition of the settlement check and his involvement in retaining the contractors for the property restoration, and made misrepresentations to his client, by preparing a settlement statement that did not accurately reflect the disposition of the settlement funds and a letter that misrepresented that he had given the check to her.

         In our decision, we considered, as aggravating factors, respondent's serious ethics history, as well as his proclivity for dishonesty, both in respect of his misrepresentations to his clients and to ethics authorities. In addition, we considered the extreme harm suffered by the client. Specifically, the individuals to whom respondent released the funds to make the repairs appeared to have absconded with them. As of the date of the hearing before us, virtually none of the repairs had been made to the client's property, which was vacant and boarded up. In re Klamo, 233 N.J. 352 (2018); In the Matter of John Andrew Klamo, DRB 17-127 (October 24, 2017).

         Finally, on February 20, 2018, we determined to impose an additional two-year suspension for respondent's misconduct based on two consolidated complaints comprising two client matters. In the first matter, respondent was guilty of improperly requesting a client to withdraw his ethics grievance in exchange for attempting to reopen the client's workers' ...


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