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In re Ousmane Dhu'l-Nim Al-Misri

Supreme Court of New Jersey

April 25, 2019

In the Matter of Ousmane Dhu'l-Nim Al-Misri An Attorney At Law

          Ellen A. Brodsky 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 IL 1:2O-4(f). The formal ethics complaint charged respondent with violations of RPC 1.1(a) (gross neglect), RPC 1.3 (lack of diligence), RPC 1.4(b) (failure to keep the client reasonably informed about a matter and to reply to the client's reasonable requests for information), RPC 5.3(a) (failure to adopt and maintain reasonable efforts to ensure that the conduct of nonlawyers retained or employed by the lawyer is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer), RPC 5.3(b) (failure, by a lawyer having direct supervisory authority over a nonlawyer, to make reasonable efforts to ensure that the nonlawyer's conduct is compatible with the professional obligations of the lawyer), RPC 5.3(c) (a lawyer shall be responsible for conduct of a nonlawyer employee that would be a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct if engaged in by a lawyer under certain circumstances), RPC 5.5(a)(2) (assisting a person who is not a member of the bar in the unauthorized practice of law), and RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).

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

         Respondent was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1978 and the New Jersey bar in 1979. On September 30, 1996, he received an admonition (when he was known as Ronald A. Davis) for failing to communicate with a client and improperly depositing a former client's check into his trust account as a favor to the client, even though the check did not bear on a client matter. In the Matter of Ronald A. Davis. DRB 96-271 (September 30, 1996).

         On December 20, 2002, respondent received a second admonition for gross neglect, lack of diligence, failure to prepare a written fee agreement, and failure to communicate with the client in a real estate matter. In the Matter of Ousmane D. Al-Misri DRB 02-351 (December 20, 2002).

         On February 13, 2009, respondent received a censure for grossly neglecting a real estate matter, commingling personal and trust account funds, recordkeeping violations, practicing law while ineligible for failure to pay the annual attorney assessment to the New Jersey Lawyers1 Fund for Client Protection, and for conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, after placing personal funds in his attorney trust account to prevent a levy by a personal creditor. In re Al-Misri. 197 N.J. 503 (2009).

         Service of process was proper in this matter. On August 23, 2018, the OAE sent a copy of the complaint, by certified and regular mail, to respondent's office. United States Postal Service tracking information indicated delivery of the certified mail on August 29, 2018. The regular mail was not returned.

         On September 14, 2018, the OAE sent a letter to respondent, at the same office address, also by regular and certified mail, informing him that, if he failed to file a verified answer to the complaint within five days of the date of the letter, the allegations of the complaint would be deemed admitted, the entire record would be certified directly to us for the imposition of discipline, and the complaint would be amended to include a charge of a violation of RPC 8, 1(b). The certified mail return receipt card was returned signed on September 18, 2018, but the signature is illegible. The regular mail was not returned.

         The time within which respondent may answer the complaint has expired. As of the date of the certification of the record, respondent had not filed an answer.

         In March 2014, respondent employed Ian Z. Winograd, Esq., to handle Pennsylvania cases in respondent's office, and as a paralegal for New Jersey matters. At that time, Winograd was not admitted to the practice of law in New Jersey.[1]

         On July 9, 2014, Roberto Barnes retained respondent to file a civil complaint. Barnes met with both respondent and Winograd, who told him that he "had a good case." Thereafter, respondent assigned the case to Winograd, despite the fact that he was not a licensed New Jersey attorney. All of Barnes' communications were with Winograd, including e-mails, which were signed, "Ian Z. Winograd, Esq." Respondent was copied on all of this correspondence. Winograd also provided Barnes with his law firm business card, which read, "The Law Office of Ousmane D. Al-Misri, LLC, Ian Z. Winograd, Esq., Attorney at Law." The business card contained the address and telephone numbers for Al-Misri's Newark, New Jersey office, but failed to indicate the jurisdiction in which Winograd was licensed to practice law.

         Several of Winograd's communications led Barnes to believe that Winograd was a licensed New Jersey attorney. For example, on April 16, 2015, Barnes sent an e-mail to respondent and Winograd, requesting to "speak with the ...


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