In The Matter Of John Churchman Smith, Jr. An Attorney At Law
Argued: November 15, 2018
Johanna Barba Jones appeared on behalf of the Office of
Respondent appeared pro se.
Disciplinary Review Board Bonnie 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 R.
l:20-14(a). The motion arises from respondent's one-year
suspension in Pennsylvania, based on a Joint Petition in
Support of Discipline on Consent, for respondent's
admitted violations of Pennsylvania's RPC 1.3
(lack of diligence), RPC 1.4(a)(3) (failure to keep
a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter),
RPC 1.4(a)(4) (failure to promptly comply with
reasonable requests for information), RPC 1.15(b)
(failure to hold funds separate from the lawyer's
property, failure to identify or safeguard funds),
RPC 1.15(e) (failure to promptly deliver funds to
clients or third parties), RPC 1.15(h) (commingling
funds in the trust account), RPC 8.4(b) (criminal
act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty,
trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), RPC 8.4(c)
(conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or
misrepresentation), and Pa. R.D.E. 203(b)(3)
(failure to complete annual registration requirements). By
Order dated January 25, 2019, he was reinstated to active
status in Pennsylvania.
urges us to recommend respondent's disbarment. For the
reasons expressed below, we agree with the recommendation.
was admitted to the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars in 1990.
He has no history of discipline in New Jersey. Respondent has
been ineligible to practice law in New Jersey since 2016 for
failure to pay the annual assessment to the New Jersey
Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection.
January 18, 2017, the Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary
Counsel (ODC) filed a "Joint Petition in Support of
Discipline on Consent Under Rule 215(d),
Pa.R.D.E." (petition). The petition set forth
the facts giving rise to respondent's admission that he
violated the above rules. The facts are as follows.
the relevant time, respondent represented in his Pennsylvania
registration that he had three law offices - one in Marlton,
New Jersey with the firm of Donald F. Manchel, one in
Philadelphia, and the third in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania,
with the firm of Lowenthal & Abrams, P.C.
who was not admitted in New Jersey, referred client Jennifer
Harley to respondent for a personal injury matter. Respondent
filed a lawsuit on Harley's behalf in New Jersey.
October 10, 2013, respondent appeared at an arbitration
proceeding, at which Harley was awarded $22, 500. In November
2013, respondent settled Harley's matter for the amount
of the arbitration award, which was to be paid evenly by two
defendants (Hong Huynh, d/b/a Angel Nails, and Cedar Trust
Realty). Respondent and Manchel were due 33 1/3 percent of
the settlement, together with costs.
November 12, 2013 letter, respondent informed Harley about
the resolution of the matter and enclosed a release for the
$22, 500 settlement, which Harley executed and returned.
the gross settlement, respondent and Manchel were entitled to
$7, 500 in fees, $938 in costs to Manchel, and $176.88 in
costs to respondent, for a total of $8, 614.88, leaving a
balance of $13, 885.12 for Harley.
December 12, 2013, respondent received $11, 250 on behalf of
defendant Angel Nails, and deposited the funds in his PNC
Bank IOLTA account. On his 2014-2015 Pennsylvania
Attorney's Annual Fee Form, respondent failed to identify
the PNC account as one in which he held client or fiduciary
funds. Instead, he identified Manchel's IOLTA account as
an account in which he held such funds.
December 18, 2013, respondent issued two checks from his
IOLTA account: one to himself for $3, 166.88; the other to
Manchel for $4, 938, totaling $8, 104.88. Thereafter,
respondent was entitled to an additional $510 from the
balance of the settlement he was yet to receive. On January
15, 2014, respondent issued a $2, 500 check to Harley from
his IOLTA account. She was still entitled to receive $11,
April 2, 2014, after receiving $11, 250, the balance of the
settlement from Cedar Trust Realty, respondent deposited the
check into his IOLTA account. Prior to that deposit, the
account had a balance of $756.42. Following the deposit,
respondent had sufficient funds to cover the $11, 385.12 owed
to Harley and the balance of his fee, which was $510.
Nevertheless, on June 13, 2014, respondent issued a check to
himself from the IOLTA account for $2, 000, even though he
was entitled to only $510. His account was, therefore, out of
trust in the amount of $1, 490. On July 2, 2014, respondent
issued another $4, 200 check to himself from the IOLTA
account, increasing the shortage to $5, 690, the amount he
had "misappropriated" for his own use.
admitted that, at the time he issued the checks to himself,
he knew he was not entitled to the additional $5, 690.
Therefore, his ...