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In re Wise

Supreme Court of New Jersey

October 21, 2019

In the Matter of John F. Wise

          District Docket Nos. VC-2016-0001E and VC-2016-0002E

          Bruce W. Clark, Esq., Chair Hon. Maurice J. Gallipoli, Vice-Chair Peter J. Boyer, Esq. Thomas J. Hoberman Regina Waynes Joseph, Esq. Peter Petrou, Esq. Eileen Rivera Anne C Singer, Esq. Robert C.Zmirich

          Ellen A. Brodsky CHIEF COUNSEL Barry R. Petersen, Jr. DEPUTY COUNSEL Rocco J. Carbone, III Timothy M. Ellis Elizabeth L. Laurenzano Colin T. Tams Kathryn Anne Winterle assistant counsel

         Dear Ms. Baker:

         The Disciplinary Review Board has reviewed the motion for discipline by consent (censure, three-month suspension, or such lesser sanction as the Board shall deem warranted), filed by the District VC Ethics Committee (DEC) in the above matter, pursuant to R. 1:20-10(b). Following a review of the record, the Board granted the motion and determined to impose a three-month suspension for respondent's violation of RPC 1.3 (lack of diligence), RPC 1.4(b) (failure to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information), and RPC 1, 16(d) (upon termination of representation, failure to take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests, such as surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and refunding any fee that has not been earned or incurred). The Board further determined to dismiss the charged violation of RPC 1.4(c) (failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation), RPC 1.5, presumably (b) (when a lawyer has not regularly represented a client, failure to set forth in writing the basis or rate of the attorney's fee), and RPC 1.16(a)(2) (failure to withdraw from the representation of a client if the lawyer's physical or mental condition materially impairs the lawyer's ability to represent the client).

         Specifically, according to the stipulation, sometime in 2015, grievant Allen Jenkins closed his business and retained respondent to assist him in filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Jenkins paid respondent a $2, 500 retainer fee, in three installments. After Jenkins made the final installment, on July 15, 2015, respondent did not contact him.

         In August 2015, Jenkins went to respondent's office, which was empty. On September 8, 9, and 10, 2015, Jenkins sent text messages to respondent. On September 10, 2015, respondent directed Jenkins to contact his secretary regarding any bankruptcy-related issues.

         On September 21, 2015, Jenkins retained Katrina Pin Lucid, Esq., "to protect his interests." That day, Lucid informed respondent that Jenkins had retained her and requested a refund of the unused portion of the $2, 500 retainer, as well as all documents relating to Jenkins's bankruptcy matter.

         On October 2, 2015, respondent informed Jenkins that his office was no longer located in South Orange and that he was now associated with the Goodson Law Offices in Montclair. Although respondent provided Jenkins with a phone number to call to make an appointment, he did not give Jenkins any information about his case.

         Via an October 14, 2015 e-mail, Lucid reminded respondent that she had requested Jenkins's file and a refund of the unused portion of his retainer; informed him that she had called his office several times, to no avail; and advised him to make haste with her requests so that she could act quickly to protect Jenkins's interests, as a levy had been placed on his bank account. On December 2, 2015, Jenkins e-mailed respondent to request the return of the unearned retainer and his file. The next day, respondent replied that he immediately would forward Jenkins's file and a check to Lucid. He did not keep his word.

         On December 15, 2015, Jenkins sent another e-mail to respondent, stating that, unless respondent returned his file and issued a refund, Jenkins would file a grievance against him with the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE). Respondent, however, continued to ignore Jenkins and Lucid until after Jenkins had filed a grievance and the OAE contacted respondent about the matter. Finally, on February 23, 2016, respondent sent a $2, 500 check made payable to Lucid and Jenkins. However, as of August 16, 2016, respondent had not provided Jenkins or Lucid with a copy of Jenkins's file.

         Further, in an unrelated matter, in 2014, grievant Sonya Martin retained respondent to assist her in evicting a tenant from property owned by her mother's estate. That property was the subject of a mortgage foreclosure and Martin intended to proceed with a short sale. She paid respondent a $2, 500 retainer, although there was no fee agreement.

         Respondent did not perform the required legal work. He missed appointments with the Surrogate's Court and failed to file necessary documents. Respondent also ignored Martin's attempts to communicate with him and failed to notify her that he was no longer associated with his prior firm. Finally, respondent did not comply with Martin's request for the return of her file and the $2, 500 retainer.

         The Board found that, in the Jenkins matter, respondent's lack of communication with Jenkins violated RPC 1.4(b). His failure to return the $2, 500 retainer to Jenkins violated RPC 1.16(d). In the Board's view, the stipulated facts did not support a finding that respondent violated RPC 1.4(c), as the record lacks any evidence that respondent undertook ...

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