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For immediate release: Nov. 28, 2005
For further information contact: Winnie Comfort or Tammy Kendig

Office of Attorney Ethics Releases Annual Report

The Office of Attorney Ethics today released its Annual Report, announced David Johnson, director of the New Jersey Judiciary's Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE).

The OAE investigates allegations of attorney misconduct. It oversees the state's district ethics committees, the district fee arbitration committees, the random audit program and the annual attorney registration process. Its annual report contains detailed information and statistics on each of these areas. The report can be found at http://www.njcourtsonline.com.

OAE Report Highlights

Public Discipline

The report shows that 1,514 new grievances were filed during 2004, which is 11 percent fewer than the 1,703 grievances filed in 2003. Of these, 283 resulted in the filing of formal complaints, an all-time high for New Jersey's lawyers. During the year, the OAE completed 1,563 investigations. There were 1,154 matters pending at the end of the year.

The Supreme Court sanctioned 176 attorneys this year, a decrease of 9 percent from 2003. The final sanctions included

20 disbarments;
11 disbarments by consent;
57 suspensions;
43 reprimands; and
23 admonitions

Fee Arbitration

The New Jersey Supreme Court created the current fee arbitration system in 1978 as a way to resolve fee disputes between clients and attorneys in a timely and inexpensive manner. Today, New Jersey is one of only nine states to offer a mandatory, statewide, attorney fee arbitration program.

In 2004, there were 1,119 fee disputes filed with the state's 17 district fee arbitration committees, slightly fewer than the 1,157 fee disputes that were filed in 2003. The committees resolved 1,130 disputes involving $16,092,611 in total billings. There were 398 cases awaiting resolution at the end of the year.

Most fee dispute cases (91 percent) were either arbitrated by the fee committees or settled by the parties after fee arbitration was initiated. The committees conducted 729 hearings involving $11,180,125 in total attorney's fees. In 32.1 percent of cases, they upheld the attorney's fees in full. In the remaining 67.9 percent of cases, the fees were reduced.

Random Audits

The random audit program ensures compliance with the Supreme Court's stringent rules regarding financial record keeping for client funds. It helps educate law firms on the proper method of fulfilling these requirements and serves as a deterrent to those attorneys who may be tempted to misuse client funds. Finally, the program detects improprieties in client fund management and makes referrals to appropriate disciplinary bodies when instances of theft or mismanagement are found. According to the annual report, the overwhelming majority of New Jersey law firms (98.8 percent) account for clients' funds properly. During calendar year 2004, the Supreme Court sanctioned two attorneys who committed serious ethical violations in managing client funds.

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