In the Matter of Adam Luke Brent An Attorney At Law
Argued: March 21, 2019
District Docket Nos. XIV-2016-0608E, XIV-2016-0609E, and
Zweig appeared on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics.
Respondent appeared pro se.
C. Frost, Chair
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter was before us on a recommendation for the imposition
of a censure or three-month suspension, filed by the District
IV Ethics Committee (DEC). The formal ethics complaint
charged respondent with having violated RPC 1.1(a)
(gross neglect), RPC 1.3 (lack of diligence),
RPC 1.4(b) (failure to communicate with the client),
RPC 1.5(b) (failure to set forth, in writing, the
basis or rate of the fee), RPC 1.15(b) (failure to
promptly deliver to the client any funds or other property
that the client is entitled to receive), RPC 1.16(d)
(upon termination of a representation, failure to surrender
papers to which the client is entitled), RPC 8.4(c)
(conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or
misrepresentation), and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct
prejudicial to the administration of justice).
reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a three-month
suspension on respondent for his violation of all charged
RPCs, except RPC 1.15(b) and RPC 8.4(d).
was admitted to the New Jersey and Pennsylvania bars in 2003.
On March 6, 2019, the Court temporarily suspended respondent
from the practice of law for failure to cooperate with the
Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE). He remains suspended to
day of the DEC hearing in this matter, the hearing panel
chair called respondent's office because neither
respondent nor his counsel appeared for the hearing. A
representative told the chair that respondent was not in the
office and that he would not be attending the hearing.
Respondent, who attended oral argument before us, claimed
that his counsel had not informed him of the DEC hearing
ONE (XIV-2016-0609E - The DeGrace Matter)
one of the complaint charged respondent with having violated
RPC 1.1(a), RPC 1.3, RPC 1.4(b), RPC 1.16(d), and
RPC 8.4(c) and (d).
2005, Richard DeGrace, his wife Carol, and his parents John
and Patricia DeGrace, purchased two residential building lots
from the Eagle Rock Resort, Inc. (Eagle Rock) in Hazelton,
Pennsylvania. Richard's friend, Jon Gropper, bought a
third lot. In 2008, the DeGraces attempted to begin
construction on the lots, but could not obtain permits to
connect the properties to sewer services.
2010, the DeGraces retained respondent to institute suit
against Eagle Rock, based on claims of misrepresentation and
breach of contract. At that time, the Pennsylvania statute of
limitations already had expired. Accordingly, in October
2010, respondent filed suit in New Jersey, which has a longer
statute of limitations. Prior to filing the complaint,
respondent had not reviewed the contracts between Eagle Rock
and the DeGraces. After Eagle Rock filed its answer,
contending that Pennsylvania was the appropriate forum,
respondent reviewed the contract, realized that the DeGraces
lacked standing in New Jersey, and agreed to dismiss the New
never informed the DeGraces that the New Jersey complaint had
been dismissed. Instead, for the next five years, he embarked
on a course of misrepresentation and deception, leading the
DeGraces to believe that the litigation was proceeding and
that he was engaged in settlement negotiations with Eagle
respondent's answer to the formal ethics complaint, he
admitted that, two years after the DeGraces' complaint
had been dismissed, he misrepresented to Richard that the
matter was being litigated and that, if Eagle Rock did not
make an acceptable settlement offer, the case would go to
trial. Respondent also admitted having misrepresented to John
that negotiations were ongoing, that a settlement was
imminent, and, later, that Eagle Rock had made a $200, 000
argument before us, respondent admitted that he had lied to
the DeGraces, asserting: "I will absolutely, one hundred
percent take responsibility for the DeGrace matter. As I
said, that's uncontested."
record contains a number of e-mails that demonstrate both
respondent's deception and the DeGraces' frustration
with respondent's lack of communication. In these
e-mails, the clients believed that depositions had been
scheduled, that respondent had engaged in "settlement
discussions yesterday," and that treble damages could be
recovered from Eagle Rock. Also in the e-mails, respondent
asked the DeGraces for settlement figures; John stated that
he was "still waiting for your report of the meeting you
attended last week;" John thanked respondent for his
recent "update;" respondent stated they [Eagle
Rock] are suppose [sic] to call me tomorrow if we don't
reach a settlement tomorrow lets [sic] go to trial as quickly
as possible;" and, finally, respondent claimed that he
had filed a motion to compel the issuance of deeds, that the
judge had imposed sanctions, that deeds had been issued but
they were incorrect, and that he was awaiting a settlement
point, respondent advised the parties to stop paying taxes on
their properties. John followed respondent's advice.
Richard, however, continued to pay taxes and monthly mortgage
payments on the property, in order to protect his credit. As
of Richard's July 24, 2018 testimony, he still was making
sent John a fabricated general release and a fabricated
release of the deed. The release stated that the case had
settled for $140, 000, but John testified that respondent had
never discussed that amount with him. Moreover, the release
from Richard did not remove his obligation to continue paying
the mortgage on a property that he would no longer own. The
release forms required the DeGraces to return the property to
Eagle Rock. The DeGraces did not sign the releases because,
in their view, the parties had not reached an agreement. John
and Richard surmised, correctly, that respondent had
fabricated the documents.
September 18, 2015, John e-mailed respondent that he would
accept a $200, 000 settlement, which respondent had proposed
in a telephone call shortly before. Respondent replied:
"Understood there is no formal offer of 200k now but I
think I can get them there and hopefully very soon."
Respondent also stated that he would communicate to Eagle
Rock "the urgency in which they must comply."
thereafter, respondent stopped communicating with the
DeGraces. John later learned from his personal attorney,
Robert Altshuler, that no lawsuit had been filed. Between
October 19 and December 9, 2015, Altshuler sent three letters
to respondent, requesting information about the status of the
case, as well as a copy of the file. Respondent ignored the
letters and never returned the file.
too, consulted with a New Jersey attorney, who also was
unsuccessful in his attempts to communicate with respondent
or obtain the file from him.
October 2016, the DeGraces filed a complaint against
respondent in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden
County, charging him with negligence in the handling of the
Eagle Rock lawsuit, in addition to having made
misrepresentations to them. The record does not reflect the
outcome of the litigation.
DEC hearing, John was not certain of the status of the Eagle
Rock property, testifying that, after he and Carol had
stopped paying the taxes and fees, the property was
foreclosed. According to John, respondent's conduct
caused the loss of profits that would have been earned after
the properties had been developed and sold, in addition to
engineering and surveying costs.
TWO (XIV-2016-0643E - The Ramirez-Calixto Matter)
second count of the complaint charged respondent with having
violated RPC 1.1(a), RPC 1.3, RPC 1.4(b), and RPC 1.5(b).
Although respondent denied the ...