In the Matter of Robert C. Masessa An Attorney At Law
Argued: June 21, 2018
Docket No. XIV-2011-0333E
HoeChin Kim appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney
C. Scrivo appeared on behalf of respondent.
A. Brodsky Chief Counsel.
Bonnie C. Frost, Chair.
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter was before us by way of a disciplinary stipulation
between the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) and respondent,
submitted pursuant to R. 1:20-15(f). Respondent admitted
violating RPC 1.15(b) (failure to promptly notify
clients or third parties of receipt of funds in which they
have an interest and to promptly disburse those funds) and
RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud,
deceit or misrepresentation).
case represents another example of increasingly common
misconduct that we have encountered in transactional real
estate matters. In our recent decision in In the Matter
of Yuexin Li, DRB 17-356 (January 24, 2018), we
recommended that the Court consider the issuance of a Notice
to the Bar announcing more stringent treatment of conduct
that involves the purposeful, systematic, and unauthorized
retention of excess recording fees, including an analysis of
the conduct under the principles of In re Wilson, 81
N.J. 451 (1979), and its progeny (knowing misappropriation of
client and/or escrow funds). The Li matter is currently
pending before the Court.
recommended that we impose a censure on respondent, who, in
turn, requests a reprimand. For the reasons set forth below,
as a matter of stare decisis, we determine that a censure is
the appropriate sanction for respondent's misconduct.
earned admission to the New Jersey bar in 1982 and to the New
York bar in 1991. He has no disciplinary history, and
practices law with the firm Masessa & Cluff, in Butler,
Morris County, New Jersey.
and the OAE entered into a disciplinary stipulation, dated
April 24, 2018, which sets forth the following facts in
support of respondent's admitted ethics violations.
2011, an attorney reported to the OAE respondent's
systematic practice of overcharging recording costs and
retaining excess funds, in connection with his service as the
settlement agent in real estate closings. The OAE began an
investigation, and respondent provided a written submission,
wherein he admitted, but defended, that practice.
Specifically, respondent asserted that, as a settlement
agent, his practice was proper, pursuant to the Real Estate
Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), a federal law governing
real estate transactions. Respondent, thus, maintained that
he had committed no ethics violations.
investigation was then "held in abeyance pending the
outcome of a class action" lawsuit involving the
attorney who had reported respondent's conduct. On May
19, 2016, while the investigation was still on hold, the
Court issued its decision in In re Fortunato, 225
N.J. 3 (2016), censuring an attorney for engaging in the same
practice, and ordering that attorney to review his real