For immediate release: March 25, 2008
For further information contact: Winnie Comfort or Tammy Kendig
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 2007 Report of the Attorney Discipline System.
The OAE investigates allegations of attorney misconduct and files formal complaints where warranted. It oversees the 507 volunteers on the state's 17 district ethics committees, the 292 volunteers on the state's 17 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 progress in improving the time to disposition on disciplinary matters. The statewide compliance figures for pending investigations improved from 64 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2007. The average age of all pending investigations open on Dec. 31, 2007 was 212 days, or about 7 months, a significant improvement over last year's figure of 239 days, or about 8 months. The time goal for these investigations is six months for standard investigations and nine months for complex investigations.
Statewide, investigative filings increased by almost 9 percent in 2007, with 1,553 grievances filed compared to 1,429 in 2006. However, the number of formal complaints filed following investigations declined by 9 percent, from 241 in 2006 to 219 in 2007. Discipline was imposed on 155 attorneys in 2007, compared to 139 attorneys in 2006, an increase of 11 percent. Disciplinary sanctions are imposed by the Supreme Court and include both final discipline, which is imposed after the completion of an investigation, hearing and review by the Disciplinary Review Board, and emergent actions, which are imposed to protect the public while the disciplinary case is pending.
During 2007, the Supreme Court issued 121 orders for final discipline including16 disbarments
15 disbarments by consent
33 term suspensions
In addition, the Court took emergent action in 37 cases, including 30 temporary suspensions and four temporary license restrictions.
The fee arbitration program, which was adopted by the Supreme Court in 1978, provides clients and attorneys with the means to resolve fee disagreements in a neutral forum that is efficient, cost-effective and confidential. Overseen by the Office of Attorney Ethics, the 292 volunteers who serve on the state's 17 fee arbitration committees refer fee disputes to three-member panels comprising two attorneys and one public member. In 2007, the district fee arbitration committees received 1,003 new filings and carried an active pending caseload of 607 cases from the previous year. The committees resolved 1,038 cases, and 572 cases were pending at the end of the year.
Through the random audit compliance program, the Office of Attorney Ethics helps protect the public by reviewing a random selection of private law firms that handle client funds. The program educates and informs attorneys about proper accounting procedures and the Supreme Court's stringent rules regarding financial record-keeping. It also serves as a deterrent to those attorneys who may be tempted to misuse client funds. During 2007, the Supreme Court imposed final discipline on nine attorneys whose ethical violations were detected through the random audit program. These sanctions included reprimands, admonishments and even disbarments for attorneys who either negligently or knowingly misappropriated client funds.