For immediate release: April 18, 2007
For further information contact: David E. Johnson Jr.
Office of Attorney Ethics Releases Annual Report
David E. Johnson Jr., director of the New Jersey Judiciary's Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), today announced the release of the 2006 Report of the Attorney Discipline System.
The OAE investigates allegations of attorney misconduct and files formal complaints where warranted. 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 njcourtsonline.com.
OAE Report Highlights
The report shows that 1,429 new cases were filed in 2006, a decrease of 3.1 percent from the previous year. The number of formal complaints and other charging documents filed after investigation increased 6.6 percent, from 226 in 2005 to 241 in 2006. The number of minor violations diverted to non-disciplinary treatment changed little, from 88 in 2005 to 83 in 2006.
The Court imposed final sanctions on 122 attorneys in 2006, a decrease of 16.4 percent from 2005, when 146 final sanctions were imposed. The final sanctions included
- 16 disbarments
- 13 disbarments by consent
- 39 suspensions
- 15 censures
- 24 reprimands
- 15 admonitions
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 the disciplinary office. According to the annual report, only 1.3 percent of the audits conducted in the past 25 years have found serious ethical violations, such as misappropriation of clients' trust funds. The Random Audit Program conducts an average of 400 audits of law firms each year. Due to financial improprieties uncovered during random audits, the Supreme Court imposed final discipline on 7 attorneys who committed serious ethical violations. These sanctions ranged from disbarment for an attorney who knowingly misappropriation of more than $10,000 in clients' trust funds to reprimanding an attorney whose poor record-keeping resulted in the misappropriation of client funds.
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. Only a few other states offer a mandatory, statewide attorney fee arbitration program similar to New Jersey's.
In 2006, the state's 17 district fee arbitration committees received 987 new fee disputes, compared with 981 fee disputes filed in 2005. The committees resolved 942 disputes, and 607 cases were pending resolution at the end of the year.