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In re Wright

Supreme Court of New Jersey

November 2, 2018

In The Matter of Katrina F. Wright An Attorney At Law

         District Docket No. XIV-2017-0679E

          Argued: September 20, 2018

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

          Respondent failed to appear, despite proper notice.

          Ellen A. Brodsky Chief Counsel.

          DECISION

         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), following respondent's three-year suspension in Pennsylvania, for her violation of the Pennsylvania equivalent of New Jersey RPC 3.3(a)(1) (knowingly making a false statement to a tribunal); RPC 5.5(a) (unauthorized practice of law); RPC 7.1(a) (making a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer's services); RPC 7.5(a) (using a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates RPC 7.1); RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice).

         The OAE recommends the imposition of a censure or a three-month suspension. For the reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a one-year suspension.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey and the Pennsylvania bars in 1988. On May 5, 2008, she received a reprimand, on a certified record, for gross neglect in a divorce proceeding, based on her failure to file an answer on behalf of her client, and for failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities. In re Wright, 194 N.J. 503 (2008).

         On July 16, 2015, respondent received a censure, also in a default matter, for failure to expedite litigation, failure to return a client's file upon termination of the representation, and failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities in one client matter, and lack of diligence, failure to communicate with the client, failure to refund all or part of an unearned retainer upon termination of the representation, and failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities in a second client matter. In re Wright, 222 N.J. 27 (2015).

         On September 8, 2017, respondent was suspended from the practice of law for six months, in a third default matter, for knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal, failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities, and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. In re Wright, 230 N.J. 345 (2017).

         On November 22, 1993, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order, effective December 22, 1993, transferring respondent to inactive status for failure to pay her annual fee. By letter dated November 30, 1993, Elaine M. Bixler, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board, informed respondent that she had been placed on inactive status, based on her failure to comply with Pennsylvania Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement (Pa.R.D.E.) 219. The letter further informed respondent that she was required to comply with the Pa.R.D.E. and Disciplinary Board Rules, and enclosed copies of Pa.R.D.E. 217, Pa.R.D.E. 219, and Form DB-25 (Statement of Compliance). Respondent received Bixler's letter on December 7, 1993, but failed to file a verified statement, pursuant to Pa.R.D.E. 217(e), within ten days of the effective date of her transfer to inactive status.

         By subsequent order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, dated January 31, 1994, effective thirty days thereafter, respondent was transferred to inactive status for failure to comply with Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirements. By letter dated February 4, 1994, sent by certified letter, Bixler notified respondent of her transfer to inactive status for failure to comply with CLE requirements. The letter again informed respondent that she was required to comply with the Pa.R.D.E and Disciplinary Board Rules, and enclosed copies of Pa.R.D.E. 217, and Form DB-25 (Statement of Compliance). Respondent received Bixler's letter on February 7, 1994, but failed to file a verified statement, pursuant to Pa.R.D.E. 217(e), within ten days of the effective date of her transfer to inactive status.

         On September 1, 2010, respondent was administratively suspended, pursuant to Pa.R.D.E. 2l9(k)(l) and (2), for failure to maintain an active registration status within one year of the annual attorney registration year, beginning July 1, 2009. Hence, as of September 1, 2010, respondent was ineligible to practice law in Pennsylvania.

         In June 2010, respondent represented Jason C. Bush in a child support action pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Burlington County. On June 17, 2010, the plaintiff, Deborah D. Chaney, "caused a New Jersey support Order from the Burlington County, New Jersey action to be registered for enforcement in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Domestic Relations Division, under docket number 10-0792." The Superior Court had ordered Bush to pay $245 per week in child support, and $50 per week in child support arrears. As of April 2010, Bush's arrears were approximately $37, 000.

         On July 1, 2010, Chaney served a Petition for Writ of Contempt on Bush, and, on July 2, 2010, she filed the petition. On July 27, 2010, respondent signed and filed an entry of appearance with the Family Division of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. She inserted her Pennsylvania Attorney Registration Number on the appearance form.

         Also, on July 27, 2010, the judge informed the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) that respondent's Pennsylvania law license had been suspended. The ADA privately spoke to respondent, who denied that she was ineligible to practice law. Respondent insisted that the ineligibility had been mistakenly reported.

         When her case was called, respondent identified herself as the attorney appearing on behalf of Bush. She told the court that she had "advised" her "client" to be "as cooperative as possible," that her "client" was willing to deposit a lump sum to be held pending a challenge to the New Jersey child support order, and that in her "professional opinion," no child support should have been ordered. She requested that the Chaney matter be relisted so that she could research whether her "client" actually owed the child support. Respondent dated and signed an order providing that, if her "client" failed to appear in court on September 7, 2010, he would be subject to a warrant for his arrest.

         On September 7, 2010, respondent appeared telephonically before the Honorable Holly J. Ford on behalf of Bush, but did not inform the court that she was ineligible to practice law in Pennsylvania.

         The matter was relisted for October 5, 2010. On that date, respondent again appeared telephonically, before the Honorable Diane Thompson, and requested that the court grant a continuance so that respondent could file pleadings in New Jersey pertaining to the support order. She did not inform the court that she was ineligible to practice law in Pennsylvania. Judge Thompson relisted the matter for December 8, 2010, and provided respondent ten days to file a petition to modify the support agreement, and send proof of the filing to the District Attorney's Office.

         On December 8, 2010, Valerie Holman, a paralegal from respondent's law office, faxed a request for a continuance of the enforcement hearing to the court's customer service line, and asked that the judge assigned to the Chaney matter, and the ADA, be copied on the request. Attached to the cover sheet was a signed letter, dated December 6, 2010, on letterhead from "The Law Offices of Katrina F. Wright," stating that respondent was licensed in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The letter was copied to the "Honorable Diane Thompson," and referenced New Jersey and Pennsylvania court docket numbers. The letter stated that Bush had no legal obligation to the daughter ...


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