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Public Charges


Under Supreme Court Rule 1:20-9(c), after a grievance is investigated, the matter will become public on the filing of public charges in the forum of a formal ethics complaint, a stipulation waiving the filing of a formal complaint, a motion for reciprocal discipline (from another state or agency), or a motion for final discipline (based on a criminal charge) or the approval of a motion for discipline by consent. In the case of a formal complaint, that document becomes the basis for a public hearing at which evidence is presented. Thereafter, a hearing panel or special ethics master (in some complex cases) decides whether or not the attorney has committed unethical conduct. Stipulations, motions for final or reciprocal discipline and motions for for discipline by consent proceed directly before the Disciplinary Review Board.

The Office of Attorney Ethics publishes a list of all pending hearings throughout the state on a monthly basis.

To see charges for the latest month, CLICK HERE. Hearings are grouped on the list by the district (I - Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem Counties up to XIV - Office of Attorney Ethics) in which they are handled.

Nature of Formal Complaints

A formal complaint is an allegation and accusation of unethical conduct. Every attorney is presumed to be innocent of all allegations until and unless the attorney is found to have acted unethically after a hearing before a panel of a district ethics committee or a special ethics master. Furthermore, no finding of unethical conduct by either such a panel or special master is final until that finding has also been reviewed and decided by the statewide Disciplinary Review Board and, in some cases, the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

Description of Public Hearing List

The public hearing list contains basic information about the formal charges against a New Jersey attorney, including the primary person in charge of deciding the matter and the general nature of the charges.

The public hearing list is sorted by the district (Districts I through XIII) in which the matter is being processed. A list of the secretaries shows this geographic breakdown. Cases handled by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) are listed as "District XIV." In addition to listing all hearings on complaints filed by the OAE, the last page of the public hearing list also shows Motions for Final Discipline (Criminal Convictions of New Jersey Attorneys) and Reciprocal Discipline (Discipline from Another Jurisdiction Where a New Jersey Attorney is Also Admitted). All of these cases are filed with and heard by the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB). The DRB meets monthly in Trenton, New Jersey. Further information about these cases can be obtained directly from the DRB at (609) 292-1012.

Useful Definitions

In reviewing the public hearing list, the following definitions may be helpful:

Complaint Date is the date that a formal complaint is filed against and served on a respondent-attorney.

County usually refers to the last county where the attorney practiced.

Docket Date is the date on which the case was first opened. Case docketed may be placed in untriable status, for example, where there is pending civil or criminal litigation or for other appropriate reasons.

Docket Number is the identifying number of a case reflecting the district (in Roman numerals), the year and the sequential number given to the case when it was docketed. XIV cases are those involving the Office of Attorney Ethics.

Formal Complaint is the document that is filed by a district ethics committee or the Office of Attorney Ethics against a respondent after an investigation has been conducted. The formal complaint officially charges the respondent with committing specific acts of unethical conduct and is filed only in those cases where the committee chair or the Director, Office of Attorney Ethics, concludes there is a reasonable prospect of proving unethical conduct by clear and convincing evidence.

Grievant is the person or entity who files an initial grievance against a respondent-attorney.

Hearing Case Type reflects the type of legal matter the respondent-attorney was handling which led to the grievance and formal complaint.

Hearing Dates are the dates on which a formal hearing has been held or has been scheduled. The panel chair or special master is the person who has the most current information on dates to be scheduled.

Hearing Violation Code indicates the general nature of the charges of unethical conduct.

Master refers to a Special Master.

Panel Chair is an attorney-member of a district ethics committee who presides over a hearing.

Presenter is an attorney (from a district ethics committee or the Office of Attorney Ethics) who prosecutes the charges of a formal complaint at a hearing.

Respondent is the attorney charged in a formal complaint with allegations of unethical conduct.

Special Master is an attorney or judge who presides over a hearing based on charges in a formal complaint that are deemed complex in nature.

Review of Public Complaint Files

Anyone wishing to review the public portion of a file in which a formal complaint is filed may do so as follows:

1. Any docket numbers other than those beginning with XIV (i.e. I through XIII) are district ethics cases and may be reviewed at the office of the secretary of that district ethics committee.
2. Any docket numbers beginning XIV are cases filed and prosecuted by the Office of Attorney Ethics. These files may be reviewed at the Office of Attorney Ethics in West Trenton.

To minimize the possibility of delay, advanced notification of such visits is recommended.

Reproduction Costs for Public Documents

A. Amount

Copies of public records of formal complaints are available for the following fees, paid in advance:

For Letter Size Page .... $0.05 per page
For Legal Size page .... $0.07 per page

(Mailing charges will be added where necessary.)

B. Method of Payment

Payment must be made in advance by check or money order.

C. Lead Time Necessary

Generally, where workload permits, copies will be made within seven business days after receipt of payment in full.

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