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In re Harmon

Supreme Court of New Jersey

February 21, 2019

In The Matter Of Rhashea Lynn Harmon An Attorney At Law

         District Docket No. XIV-2017-0556E

          Ellen A. Broasky Chief Counsel.

          DECISION

          Bonnie C. Frost, Chair.

         To the Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

         This matter was before us on a certification of the record filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to R, . l:2O-4(f). The two-count formal ethics complaint charged respondent with violations of RPC 1.4(b) (failure to communicate with a client), RPC 1.16(c) (failure to comply with applicable law when terminating a representation), RPC 1.16(d) (upon termination of the representation, failure to take steps reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests), and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice) (count one); and RPC 8.1(b) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities) (count two).

         For the reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a three-month suspension.

         Respondent earned admission to the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars in 2012, and to the New York bar in 2011. During the relevant time frame, she maintained a law practice in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has no disciplinary history.

         Service of process was proper in this matter. On May 24, 2018, the OAE sent a copy of the formal ethics complaint to respondent, at her Philadelphia law office address, by certified and regular mail. According to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the certified mail was never delivered and could not be located; the regular mail was not returned.

         On June 21, 2018, the OAE sent a "five-day" letter to respondent, at her Philadelphia law office address, by certified and regular mail, informing her that, unless she 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). According to the USPS, the certified mail was "currently in transit... as of June 25, 2018," and was not confirmed as delivered; the regular mail was not returned.

         On July 17, 2018, the OAE sent a copy of the formal ethics complaint to respondent, at her Philadelphia law office address, by United Parcel Service (UPS). UPS confirmed to the OAE that the package was delivered on July 18, 2018, and accepted by "Alex."

         On August 15, 2018, the OAE sent a second "five-day" letter to respondent, at her Philadelphia law office address, by UPS, with the same warning contained in the June 21, 2018 letter. UPS confirmed to the OAE that the package was delivered on August 16, 2018, and accepted by "Alkins."

         Because respondent had not filed an answer to the complaint, the OAE certified the record to us as a default.

         We now turn to the allegations of the complaint. In 2017, respondent represented Clay Evans, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Gloucester County, in defense of a criminal charge that he had violated conditions of his lifetime supervision imposed in connection with a prior conviction. On September 19, 2017, the Honorable Robert Becker, J.S.C. reported to the District IV Ethics Committee (DEC) that respondent had failed to appear for a scheduled criminal jury trial. Judge Becker reported to the DEC that, on September 11, 2017, respondent had failed to appear for a pretrial hearing, but subsequently had attended jury selection proceedings, on September 12 and 13, 2017. On September 13, 2017, Judge Becker informed Evans, respondent, and Assistant Prosecutor Staci Sheetz that the trial would commence on September 19, 2017 at 8:45 a.m. On September 15, 2017, Assistant Prosecutor Sheetz told Judge Becker that the Philadelphia Court of Commons Pleas had issued a bench warrant for respondent's arrest, relating to a trespassing charge, which remained active.

         At 5:11 p.m., on September 18, 2017, the day prior to the trial, respondent notified Assistant Prosecutor Sheetz, copying Judge Becker and his law clerk, via e-mail, that she was "no longer the attorney on the matter . . . Evans is representing himself." Attached to the e-mail was a letter of the same date, wherein respondent admitted that she had missed court on September 11, 2017, and had arrived late on September 12, 2017. The letter further stated "[t]ake note that this correspondence represents my withdraw [sic] as [attorney for Evans] ... He will represent himself from this date forward and I will function as his private international advisor along with Chief Osiris, Foreign General Counsel." The letter contained multiple accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, in addition to numerous "sovereign citizen" elements and citations to biblical passages.[1] On September 19, 2017, respondent failed to appear for the commencement of the trial. Both Judge Becker and Evans, who was present in court with ...


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