New Jersey Supreme Court Reconsiders Permanent Disbarment
The Supreme Court of New Jersey has long taken a hard line on knowing misappropriation of attorney trust funds. Ever since In re Wilson, 81 N.J. 451, 453, 461 (1979),
the Court has held that every such case shall result not just in disbarment, but in permanent disbarment, with no possibility of future reinstatement.
In a recent opinion, however, the Court took steps
to reexamine whether disbarment should be permanent in such cases. In the Matter of Dionne Larrel Wade
, the Court considered the case of an attorney who engaged in several instances of “borrowing” from client funds, but who presented compelling evidence of her personal and professional achievements. The Disciplinary Review Board
found that the “Respondent is a remarkable person who has overcome tremendous personal obstacles . . . to become a pillar of her church and local community and what appeared to be an excellent member of the New Jersey bar.”
The Supreme Court declined to reconsider the rule of automatic disbarment established in the Wilson
case but decided to reevaluate the practice that such disbarment should be permanent. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote, “The question – and the challenge – is whether and how to create a rigorous system that can determine if a lawyer disbarred for those reasons deserves a second chance years later… If the Court revises the current approach to permanent disbarment, Respondent and others would be able to reapply for admission in accordance with a new court rule.”
The Court entered an order disbarring Wade, but also directing the Court Administrator to convene a committee of attorneys and nonlawyer members of the public to study whether disbarment should continue to be permanent in all Wilson
cases and recommend standards that might apply if New Jersey were to adopt a rule allowing reinstatement after a period of time.
Disciplinary Cases Address Probation Violation, Disrespectful Conduct, Unlicensed Practice
The Disciplinary Board has decided cases involving some unusual fact situations in the past two months.
In 2021, the Supreme Court imposed a suspension for one year on William N. Conner
of Philadelphia, stayed in its entirety by a one-year period of probation. One of the terms of the probation was that Connor was required to meet twice a month and maintain weekly contact with a sobriety monitor. In February 2022, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a probation violation petition alleging that Conner had failed to maintain the required level of contact with his sobriety monitor. A member of the Disciplinary Board presided over a hearing and found that Conner had failed to comply with the agreed schedule. He maintained his sobriety and continued to meet with his AA sponsor but failed to prioritize the meetings with his sobriety monitor. Based on these facts, the Member recommended that Conner’s probation be extended for one year, which the Supreme Court ordered.
A three-member panel of the Disciplinary Board approved a Joint Petition for Discipline on Consent to impose a public reprimand on Allegheny County attorney Milton Raiford
based on his conduct in two cases. In one case, Raiford expressed a personal opinion that his client was guilty in a motion to withdraw; in another, he refused to proceed with representation of a client until Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala, Jr. met with him regarding what he felt was discriminatory treatment of his clients.
A three-member panel of the Disciplinary Board approved a Joint Petition for Discipline on Consent to impose a public reprimand on Jay L. Yackow
, a New York-admitted attorney who is not admitted to the bar of Pennsylvania. Yackow submitted two memoranda and appeared at a virtual conference in a Pennsylvania case without obtaining pro hac vice admission. He also failed without cause to respond to a supplemental DB‑7A request for information or to the petition for discipline. He offered in defense that he did not realize the submission of legal memoranda required pro hac vice admission and noted that the court to which the documents were sent took no action to strike them or enjoin his participation in the case. Yackow acknowledged that this belief was incorrect and that he was subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Board and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania under the terms of Rule 8.5(a) of the Rules of Professional Conduct
Are Lawyers Generally Rude and Aggressive? Court Officials Say No
The rude, aggressive lawyer who won’t take no for an answer and runs roughshod over all he meets may be a stereotype in popular culture. Certainly, abrasive and abusive lawyers appear occasionally in the disciplinary cases, but is that a true picture of the legal profession? New Jersey court officials interviewed in a story
in The Legal Intelligencer
say no. Such behavior, they maintain, is the exception rather than the rule.
Marie Lihotz, a 20-year veteran of the state Superior Court now in private practice, told the Intelligencer,
“Does it happen? It does. Does it happen a lot? No. Generally, it’s not a problem. Generally, most lawyers are extremely respectful of the court and most of them understand they can’t be rude or unprofessional to each other or to the other litigants.” She added that people become frustrated with the results or the process and sometimes say things that are inappropriate, but added, “I don’t think that’s something that happens a lot.”
Deborah Gramiccioni, who served as a New Jersey Superior Court judge from 2017 to 2021, agreed that verbal abuse of court staff was rare during her time on the bench. She noted that during her time in family court, emotions often ran high, and lawyers as well as litigants sometimes expressed their frustrations vocally. Gramiccioni said, “What I like to remember is, lawyers are human, judges are human, staff are human.” She expressed the view that it was the role of the judge to take a break and encourage the parties to step back when emotions became heated. “That’s what we tell our children to do in school and I think it’s no less important in the courtroom,” she said.
Referrals of lawyers for unprofessional conduct are relatively rare. J. Nicholas Strasser, Chairman of the Hudson County Bar Association’s Professionalism Committee, said that three or four attorneys have been referred to the committee in the last three years. Strasser said, “It’s not something that doesn’t exist, but in my experience, it’s a very small minority as opposed to a majority.”
County Judge Arrested for Cattle Rustling
Yes, this story arose in a year beginning with 20, believe it or not.
The only judge in the county with the smallest population in the United States has been arrested on charges of cattle rustling
, a 71-year-old of Mentone, Texas, has been arrested on three counts of theft of livestock worth less than $150,000 and one count of organized criminal activity arising from a year-long investigation by the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association into the theft of cattle.
Jones, in addition to his extracurricular activities, is the judge and most prominent elected official of Loving County, Texas
, which, though three-fifths the size of Rhode Island, is the nation’s least populated county
with just 57 residents. Jones has been the county judge of Loving County since 2007 and earns an annual salary of $133,294. His father was the sheriff for 28 years, his mother was the county appraiser, his sister is the county clerk, his cousin’s husband is the county attorney, and his nephew is the constable.
According to law enforcement officers, Jones and his accomplices rounded up stray cattle and sold them without obeying procedures mandated by the state agriculture code.
“He’s had free reign for the entire time since he’s been the judge,” said Constable Brandon Jones, the aforementioned nephew. “That’s given him a sense of power and impunity that he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants. Even the feeling of self-righteousness. That he can do no wrong.”
Susan Hays, a lawyer who has wrangled with Jones and his family in the past, commented, “You can’t make this [stuff] up. It’s a pain in the [rear] to round up cattle and take them to market. And then to risk real trouble for it? It’s just asinine to me.”