For immediate release: July 21, 2011
For further information contact:
Winnie Comfort or Tammy Kendig
Office of Attorney Ethics Releases 2010 Annual Report
Charles Centinaro, director of the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) of the New Jersey Supreme Court, today announced the release of the 2010 Attorney Disciplinary System Report.
The OAE investigates allegations of serious attorney misconduct and files formal complaints when warranted. In addition to its investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities, the OAE oversees 18 district ethics committees, 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 online at njcourts.com.
OAE Report Highlights
Improvements in Case Processing
The OAE continued to make significant improvements in case processing during year. It improved the timeliness of its investigations, resulting in 81 percent of its investigations being completed within established time goals. The district ethics committees (DECs) also improved the timeliness of their investigations, and 73 percent of those were completed within established time goals. In addition to reducing the backlog of older cases, the OAE decreased the average age of backlogged cases by almost 1½ months, and the DECs reduced the average age of their backlogged cases by more than three weeks.
Investigations and Formal Complaints
In 2010, a total of 1,431 new investigations were added, a 3 percent decline from the 2009 total of 1,476 investigations. The OAE filed 240 complaints, an increase of 3 percent over the 233 complaints filed in 2009.
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.
The report reflects an 8.1 percent decrease in the number of attorneys disciplined by the Supreme Court, from 148 orders for final discipline entered in 2009 to 136 orders for final discipline entered in 2009.
The orders for final discipline issued in 2010 included:
12 disbarments by consent
21 term suspensions
The Supreme Court also issued 24 temporary license suspensions and two license restrictions in 2009.
Fee Arbitration Program
The fee arbitration program, adopted by the Supreme Court in 1978, provides a neutral, confidential forum in which clients and attorneys can resolve legal fee disputes. The 17 fee arbitration committees rely on approximately 280 volunteers, both attorneys and members of the public, to determine the appropriateness of attorneys’ fees. In 2010, the program received 1,124 new filings and resolved 1,085 fee matters involving $12.7 million in legal fees. The program retained an active pending caseload of 604 cases at the end of the year.
Random Audit Program
The OAE conducts random audits of private law firms that handle client funds to ensure their compliance with the Supreme Court’s stringent rules regarding financial recordkeeping. The purpose of the program is to protect the public from those few attorneys who misuse client funds, and to educate and inform attorneys about proper accounting procedures. As a result of the audit program, final sanctions ranging from admonishment through disbarment were imposed on eight attorneys in 2010.