A. Brodsky, Chief Counsel.
C. Frost, Chair.
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter was before us on a certification of the record filed
by the District VI Ethics Committee (DEC), pursuant to R.
1:20-4(f). The eight-count formal ethics complaint charged
respondent with violations of RPC 1.1(a) (gross
neglect), RFC 1.3 (lack of diligence), and
RPC 1.4(b) (failure to keep the client adequately
informed and to promptly reply to the client's reasonable
requests for information) (count one); RPC 1.5(b)
(failure to communicate in writing the rate or basis of the
fee) (count two); RPC 1.15(a) (failure to safeguard
client property) and RPC 1.6(f) (presumably, RPC
1.6(a), (revealing information relating to the representation
without the client's consent)) (count three);
RFC 1.15(d) (failure to comply with the
recordkeeping requirements of R. 1:21-6) and MFC
8.1(b) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities)
(count four); RPC 1.16 (presumably, subsection (c), failure
to comply with applicable law when terminating a
representation, specifically, by failing to comply with R.
5:3-5(d)) (count five); RPC 5.3(a), (b), and (c)
(failure to supervise a non-attorney employee) (count six);
RPC 5.5(a)(1) (unauthorized practice of law) (count
seven); and RPC 8.1(a) (knowingly making a false
statement of material fact in connection with a disciplinary
matter) and RPC 8.1(b) (count eight).
reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a three-month
suspension, with a condition.
earned admission to the New Jersey bar in 2006. During the
relevant time frame, he maintained a law practice in Union
City, New Jersey. Respondent has been administratively
ineligible to practice law since October 21, 2016. He was
temporarily suspended, effective May 9, 2018, for failure to
comply with a fee arbitration determination. He remains
suspended to date.
of process was proper in this matter. On December 6, 2017,
the DEC sent a copy of the formal ethics complaint to
respondent, by certified and regular mail, at his home
address. A certified mail receipt was returned, which
reflected a delivery date of December 11, 2017, and the
signature of "Elvira Isa." The regular mail was not
returned. Respondent failed to file an answer to the
January 16, 2018, the DEC sent a "five-day" letter
to respondent, by certified and regular mail, at his home
address, informing him that, unless he filed a verified
answer to the complaint within five days, the allegations of
the complaint would be deemed admitted, the record would be
certified to us for the imposition of discipline, and the
complaint would be deemed amended to charge a willful
violation of RPC 8.1(b). The certified mail receipt was
returned, which reflected a delivery date of January 19,
2018, and the signature of "Elvira Isa." The
regular mail was not returned.
failed to file a verified answer to the complaint.
Accordingly, on February 6, 2018 the DEC certified the record
to us as a default.
turn to the allegations of the complaint.
or June 2016, grievant April Patterson retained respondent to
represent her in post-divorce child custody actions. An order
had been entered awarding physical custody of the children to
Patterson's ex-husband, with visitation to Patterson.
to the entry of the Order, Patterson's ex-husband began
permitting Patterson more liberal visitation with their
children. Patterson retained respondent to formalize the more
liberal visitation, and to request that she be granted
physical custody of the children.
to a July 11, 2016 retainer agreement, respondent charged a
flat fee of $1, 000 for the filing of Patterson's
motions. Patterson never signed the retainer agreement, but
she paid respondent the $1, 000 fee. The retainer agreement
failed to comply with R. 5:3-5, which requires that the
writing be signed by both the attorney and the client, that a
copy of the executed agreement be provided to the client, and
that the retainer include an explanation of the effect of an
award of counsel fees.
the outset of the representation, Patterson was frustrated by
her inability to communicate with respondent, and by his
consistent failure to return her telephone calls. Often,
Patterson's telephone calls were placed on long holds by
respondent's staff, only to be disconnected.
Respondent's voice mailbox was often full, preventing
Patterson from leaving a message.
had encouraged Patterson to text him to receive more prompt
responses, and, thus, she often attempted to communicate with
respondent through that medium. For example, Patterson would
forward to respondent copies of text exchanges between her
and her ex-husband, for use as evidence in the custody and
visitation action. Respondent, however, frequently failed to
reply to her texts. He informed the DEC that he had a habit
of losing or breaking his cell phones, and was, therefore,
unable to produce copies of any text messages from Patterson.
various points during the course of his representation of
Patterson, respondent was ineligible to practice law.
Specifically, he was ineligible from September 12 through
October 6, 2016, and again from October 21, 2016 forward, for
noncompliance with Continuing Legal Education, New Jersey
Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection (CPF), and Interest
on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) requirements. Although the
DEC informed respondent of his ineligibility on February 10,
2017, respondent continued to actively practice law,
appearing in court and holding himself out as a lawyer, via
his law firm website and LinkedIn profile.
although he had been retained in July 2016, respondent
neither filed a notice of appearance in behalf of Patterson
nor filed the motions for which he had been retained, until
September 2016. The motions "consisted of standard court
forms that . . . [required supplementation via] minimal
information" concerning Patterson, her ex-husband, and
their children. Yet, his initial motion filing was rejected
by the court for "procedural reasons," including
his failure to include addresses on the notice to litigants,
his failure to send the notices by certified mail, and his
failure to include a proposed order granting the relief that
October 6, 2016, respondent made a second attempt to file the
motions, but, again, they were rejected as deficient.
Thereafter, he made no further effort to file the motions.
During a DEC interview, respondent recalled only one attempt