In The Matter Of Keirsten Klatch An Attorney At Law
Argued: October 18, 2018
Hillary K. Horton appeared on behalf of the Office of
Respondent's counsel waived appearance for oral argument.
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 motion for reciprocal discipline,
filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to
IL 1:20-14, following the Supreme Court of
Florida's March 9, 2017 imposition of a three-year
suspension, retroactive to June 16, 2016, the effective date
of respondent's suspension for contempt of court, by
failing to comply with a subpoena issued by The Florida Bar.
The three-year suspension was based on respondent's
conditional guilty plea for consent judgment in which she
admitted having violated the following Rules Regulating
the Florida Bar: 4-1.2(a) (requiring a lawyer to abide
by a client's decisions); 4-1.4(a) (informing a client of
the status of the representation); 4-8.4(a) (violating or
attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct),
4-8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or
misrepresentation), 4-8.4(g) (failing to respond to a
disciplinary agency), 5-1.1 (a) (failure to hold in trust,
separate from the lawyer's own property, funds and
property of clients or third persons that are in the
lawyer's possession in connection with a representation),
5-1.1(b) (application of trust funds or property to specific
purpose), and 5-1.2(b) (minimum trust accounting records).
above Florida Rules correspond to the following New Jersey
RPCs: 1.2(a) (abiding by a client's decisions
concerning the scope and objectives of the representation);
1.4(b) (keeping the client reasonably informed about the
status of a matter); 8.4(a) (violating, or attempting to
violate, the RPCs); 8.1(b) (failure to cooperate
with disciplinary authorities); 8.4(c) (conduct involving
dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); 1.15(a)
(failure to safeguard funds and commingling); and 1.15(d)
(recordkeeping violations). No New Jersey RPC
corresponds to Florida Rule 5-1.1(b). In addition, although
Florida did not charge a violation of RPC 1.8(a)
(business transaction with client), the OAE found the facts
to fall within that Rule and, therefore, included it
as a charged violation.
for respondent has filed a motion to supplement the record
with documents that were not part of the Florida record,
discussed in more detail below. The OAE does not object to
the motion. We determined to grant the motion.
urges the imposition of a reprimand or censure for
respondent's violation of all New Jersey RPCs, except RPC
8.4(a). Respondent seeks a reprimand.
reasons set forth below, we determined to grant the motion
for reciprocal discipline and impose a reprimand on
respondent for her violation of the New Jersey RPCs
identified above, except RPC 1.2(a) and RPC
8.4(a) and (c).
was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 2004, the New York bar
in 2008, and the Florida bar in 2011. She has not maintained
an office in this state.
has no disciplinary history in New Jersey. However, her
license to practice law was revoked, on June 4, 2018, for her
failure to pay the annual attorney assessment to the New
Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection for seven
November 1, 2017, following respondent's Florida
suspension, the Supreme Court of New York, Appellate
Division, Second Judicial Department, imposed reciprocal
discipline of a three-year suspension, retroactive to June
16, 2016. In re Klatch, 62 N.Y.S.3d 536
October 1, 2018, Office of Board Counsel received
respondent's motion to supplement the record. On October
3, 2018, the OAE informed Office of Board Counsel that it had
no objection to the motion.
documents subject to the motion are (1) respondent's
September 7, 2018 affidavit, which explains her version of
the facts underlying the ethics charges, offers facts in
mitigation of her conduct, and updates her compliance with
the Supreme Court of Florida's suspension order; (2) a
transcript of grievant Jose Carrasquillo's December 19,
2016 deposition in the Florida disciplinary proceeding; (3) a
June 8, 2017 letter from respondent's treating
psychologist, Robert Karpas, Psy.D.; and (4) a June 26, 2017
letter from Carol Mooshian, attesting to respondent's
character. Because the additional information is illuminating
in some respects, benign in others, and will not prejudice
the OAE or this proceeding, we determine to grant the motion.
facts are as follows. During an unidentified period between
2010 and 2011, respondent was a paralegal with The
Littlefield Law Group, a Florida law firm. Also, during the
unidentified period, she became acquainted with Jose
Carrasquillo, whom the firm represented in a wrongful death
case, arising from his wife's August 2007 death during
2010, Carrasquillo asked respondent to assume his
representation because, according to the Florida ethics
complaint, his prior attorney, Linda Littlefield, had been
disbarred. At the time, he was incarcerated in Florida, after
having served time in New York for another offense.
Carrasquillo wanted respondent to represent him because she
had met with him "regularly" in both prisons and,
thus, was familiar with the matter. At the time of
Carrasquillo's request, respondent was a member of the
New York bar. Although she had taken and passed the Florida
bar examination, she had not yet been admitted to practice
law in that state.
unidentified date, respondent filed an appearance in the
wrongful death action as Carrasquillo's attorney, p_ro
hac vice. Thereafter, the case was settled for an
amount not identified in the record.
to Carrasquillo, his net recovery was $100, 000. Because the
Florida Department of Corrections did not permit inmates to
keep or receive more than $5, 000 at any given time,
respondent agreed to hold Carrasquillo's funds in trust.
the years, on Carrasquillo's instruction, respondent made
the following disbursements: $25, 000 to Carrasquillo's
prison account; $30, 000 to cover respondent's legal fees
in the contested guardianship proceeding, as well as legal
fees owed to the attorney who represented Carrasquillo in his
criminal matters; and an unspecified amount to cover certain
expenses of his children.
approximately 2013, Carrasquillo, who knew that respondent
was "struggling outside," told her that, if she
ever needed to borrow money, he would let her use his trust
funds, but that she would have to let him know so that he
would be aware of how much money was available to him.
Carrasquillo also told respondent that she would have to
repay him upon his release from prison. According to
Carrasquillo, respondent declined the offer, stating that she
was "good" and that she "cannot do that,"
and that she, nevertheless, would need his specific
authorization before borrowing any of his funds.
testified that, after their discussion about the loan,
respondent "disconnected," leaving him unable to
communicate with her. Thus, in 2013, he filed a grievance
with The Florida Bar. Once Carrasquillo learned that
respondent was still holding his funds, he apologized for the
"misunderstanding," they agreed that she would
continue to hold the monies in trust until he was released
from prison, and he withdrew the grievance.
in October 2014, Carrasquillo asked respondent to e-mail some
money to his prison account, as he needed the funds for his
daughter. Respondent replied that she was out of town but
that she would do so when she returned home. Carrasquillo
heard nothing more from respondent and could not contact her.
He, thus, filed another grievance with The Florida Bar.
Carrasquillo filed the second grievance, he and respondent
agreed that she would disburse the trust funds to him in $5,
000 increments, as permitted by the Florida Department of
Corrections. Thus, "the file was closed."
2015, Carrasquillo again complained that he had lost contact
with respondent and that he "had no idea about his
money." When The Florida Bar asked respondent to reply
to Carrasquillo's allegations, she first stated that his
funds were in her New York trust account, but that she would
be transferring the monies to the Florida trust account. She
then stated that the funds would remain in the New York trust
January 6, 2016, The Florida Bar asked respondent to provide
both trust account numbers. Although she provided information
pertaining to the Florida trust account, she failed to
provide any information regarding the New York trust account.
Further, respondent did not provide "any New York trust
respondent's non-compliance with the Bar's request
for the above information, on May 17, 2016, the Supreme Court
of Florida (the Florida Court) held respondent in contempt of
court and temporarily suspended her, effective June 16, 2016.
Two days later, The Florida Bar filed an ethics complaint
against respondent. She defaulted.
six months later, on January 4, 2017, respondent entered a
conditional guilty plea for consent judgment. Two days later,
she testified at a final sanction hearing.
hearing, respondent acknowledged that she had failed to
provide The Florida Bar with the New York trust account
information. According to respondent, she was uncertain
whether she could disclose information pertaining to her New
did provide The Florida Bar with a hand-written ledger for
Carrasquillo, which, purportedly, recorded activity from 2011
until August 2014. The last notation, dated August 2014,
reads: "total funds left: $21, 540.85." Despite the
August 2014 notation, in 2012 and 2013, respondent had
borrowed the full amount. According to respondent, when she
borrowed the funds, she "misunderstood" that she
first needed to ask Carrasquillo and/or inform him. Thus, she
admitted that there may have been a
"misunderstanding" on respondent's part, that
he bore her "no ill will," and that he did not want
her to be disbarred. Loyal and devoted to respondent,
Carrasquillo testified that, on many occasions, he told her
that, if she "need[ed] anything," she should just