In The Matter of William L. Huneke An Attorney at Law
District Docket No. XIV-2016-0777E
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 Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to IL
1:20-4(f). The formal ethics complaint charged respondent
with violations of RPC 1.15(a) (commingling and
failure to safeguard client funds); RPC 1.15(d) and
IL 1:21-6 (recordkeeping); and RPC 8.1(b) (failure
to cooperate with disciplinary authorities).
filed a motion to vacate the default. For the reasons set
forth below, we determine to deny that motion and to impose a
censure, with a condition, based on the record before us.
earned admission to the New Jersey bar in 1979. During the
relevant time frame, he maintained a law practice in Toms
River, New Jersey. He has no disciplinary history.
of process was proper in this matter. On January 31, 2018,
the OAE sent a copy of the formal ethics complaint to
respondent, by certified and regular mail, at his home
address. The certified mail was returned, marked
"Unclaimed, Unable to Forward, Return to Sender."
The regular mail was not returned. Respondent failed to file
an answer to the complaint.
March 6, 2018, the OAE sent a "five-day" letter to
respondent, by certified and regular mail, at the same
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). A certified mail receipt
was returned, signed by "SThompr," and the United
States Postal Service confirmed delivery on March 9, 2018.
The regular mail was not returned.
failed to file a verified answer to the complaint.
Accordingly, on April 3, 2018 the OAE certified the record to
us as a default.
21, 2018, respondent filed a motion to vacate the default in
this matter. To prevail on such a motion, respondent must
satisfy a two-pronged test. First, he must offer a reasonable
explanation for the failure to answer the ethics complaint
and, second, he must assert a meritorious defense to the
underlying ethics charges.
explained that he did not file an answer to the OAE's
complaint because he never received a copy of it. Respondent
claimed that he listed his house for sale in September 2017,
and "[b]etween the process of packing, coupled with
essentially living at [my] ill mother's house ... I
simply did not see" the OAE mailing containing the
complaint. He conceded, however, that his domestic partner
had signed for the OAE's certified mailing. Respondent
failed to address receipt of the May 31, 2018 certified and
regular mailing of our scheduling letter in this matter.
conclude that respondent's explanation for his failure to
file an answer is not reasonable. The certified mailing of
the OAE complaint was signed for by respondent's domestic
partner, at his address of record. Our scheduling letter was
sent via certified and regular mail to his address of record.
service of process was proper in this matter, and
respondent's explanation regarding receipt of the formal
ethics complaint is not reasonable and, thus, does not excuse
his failure to file an answer to the complaint.
that, even if respondent had satisfied the first prong of the
test, we still would deny his motion to vacate the default.
In his motion, respondent asserts that, given his work
history and status as a solo practitioner, he has had
"little affirmative guidance as to how to administer
trust accounts . . . [and] was simply unaware of the
'three-way reconciliation procedure'" and other
recordkeeping requirements. As to the commingling allegation,
he states that he did not know there was any timing
obligation for the removal of legal fees from an attorney
own admissions, thus, respondent has failed to satisfy the
second prong of the test, which requires that he assert a
meritorious defense to the underlying ethics charges.
Ignorance of the RPCs governing the practice of law
in New Jersey does not constitute a legal defense to
misconduct. Rather, "lawyers are expected to be fully
versed in the ethics rules that regulate their conduct."
See In re Berkowitz, 13 ...