In the Matter of Bruce C. Morrissey An Attorney At Law
Argued: January 17, 2019
Docket No. IIA-2016-0024E
R. Macklin appeared on behalf of the District IIA Ethics
Committee. Respondent appeared pro se.
A. Broosky Chief Counsel
C. FROST, CHAIR
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter originally was before us on a recommendation for an
admonition filed by the District IIA Ethics Committee (DEC),
which we determined to treat as a recommendation for greater
discipline, in accordance with R. 1:20-15(f)(4). The
complaint charged respondent with violations of RPC
1.4(c) (failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably
necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions
about the representation), RPC 1.5(b) (failure to
communicate, in writing, the basis or rate of the fee), and
two instances of violating RFC 8.4(c) (conduct involving
dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation). For the
reasons expressed below, we determine to impose a reprimand.
was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1976. He maintains a
law office in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. He has no history
2010, grievant Bruce Manalio, a retired pharmacist, retained
respondent to pursue tax assessment appeals on a multi-use
commercial building that he owned through his company, Laurel
Associates, LLC, in the Borough of Bogota (the Borough).
According to respondent, although he had handled between 175
and 200 property tax appeals, the majority were for
residential properties. He had handled only five or six
commercial tax appeals during the relevant period.
respondent did not provide Manalio with a written retainer
agreement, they agreed to a contingent fee, whereby Manalio
would pay respondent one-third of any tax savings or
recovery. Respondent claimed that he believed no agreement
was necessary. He conceded, however, that because he had not
previously represented Manalio, he should have reduced their
agreement to writing.
denied that he was aware or his financial responsibilities in
connection with the representation. Other than his knowledge
about the contingent fee, he did not know whether he would be
charged an hourly rate if the matters proceeded to trial, or
who would bear the expense of an expert witness.
respondent had been retained to challenge Manalio's 2010
taxes. If relief had been granted, it would have carried into
2011 and 2012 under the Freeze Act, N.J.S.A.
§54:3-26, barring a revaluation. Respondent explained his
understanding of the tax appeals procedures: he believed that
an appeal initially is filed with the Bergen County Board of
Taxation (Tax Board), if the matter is not resolved
satisfactorily or if the assessment is affirmed without
prejudice (AWOPed), then an appeal must be filed with the New
Jersey Tax Court (Tax Court) within forty-five days.
Manalio's behalf, respondent (1) timely filed a 2010
appeal with the Tax Board, which affirmed the 2009 assessment
without prejudice, then he timely appealed the decision to
the Tax Court; (2) filed a 2011 appeal to the Tax Board, but
did not appeal it to the Tax Court; (3) filed a 2012 appeal
to the Tax Board, but did not file an appeal to the Tax
Court; (4) did not file any form of appeal for 2013,
asserting a belief that he could not do so because of a
revaluation that occurred that year; (5) filed a 2014 appeal
to the Tax Board, but did not appeal it to the Tax Court; and
(6) filed a 2015 appeal to the Tax Board, and filed an appeal
to the Tax Court, which contested the assessments for years
2010, 2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015. For each of the years, the
Tax Board had affirmed the assessments without prejudice.
conceded that the 2015 appeal would not have revived the 2014
assessment because it was filed more than forty-five days
after the AWOP. Although he admitted that he had not
explained that point to Manalio, respondent maintained that
he had sent Manalio a copy of the 2015 appeal, and that
Manalio "wasn't bashful about asking
had not filed Tax Court appeals for the years 2011, 2012, and
2014 because, he claimed, such appeals were not required
based on an informal understanding with the Borough attorneys
that the appeals would be deemed AWOPed, his client's
rights would be preserved, and the matters would be reviewed
by the Tax Court without a Tax Court filing. Respondent
conceded that, in hindsight, he should have filed a Tax Court
appeal each year.
ethics hearing, the new Borough attorney, Craig Bossong,
testified that, in 2015, he took the position that appeals
had to be filed with the Tax Court each year, contrary to an
alleged informal agreement. Respondent did not notify Manalio
of Bossong's position, but, thereafter, as noted above,
he filed an appeal with the Tax Court for only 2015 because
he was precluded from doing so for the years 2011, 2012, and
2014 as untimely.
Bossong testified that he had significant experience in tax
appeal matters. He served as the municipal attorney for the
Borough since 2015, and as the attorney for the Borough of
Waldwick. Bossong's practice concentrated on municipal
government work, property tax appeals, land use, and zoning
law, and he represented land use boards. As of the date of
the DEC hearing, he had been involved in approximately 1, 000
tax appeals. Contrary to respondent's claim, and based on
his experience, Bossong was not aware of any industry
standard whereby a property owner's rights were preserved
without a direct appeal filed with the Tax Court. He
explained that an appeal must be filed to preserve the right
for a reduction for the year under consideration. Under the
Freeze Act, any settlement or judgment in 2010 would
have protected only two years - 2011 and 2012.
Bossong assumed the role as Borough attorney, he met with the
tax assessor and the Borough's expert to review the
outstanding tax appeals. The Laurel Associates' file
contained an appeal only for 2010 and notes from predecessor
counsel about settlement negotiations involving years where
no appeals to the Tax Court had been filed. Other than 2010,
no other years were "in play" until respondent
filed an appeal for 2015.
to Bossong, even though respondent informed him that other
appeals had been filed, he supplied Bossong only with
documentation for appeals to the Tax Board for years 2011,
2012, and 2013,  which had been AWOPed. Bossong confirmed
that, because respondent had not filed appeals with the Tax
Court, other than for 2010, no relief was available for 2011,
2012, 2013, or 2014. Respondent never divulged that
information to Manalio.
noted that, in 2013, a Borough-wide revaluation took place.
Just as in a non-revaluation year, an appeal was required.
According to Bossong, typically, the number of appeals filed
in revaluation years ...