CSG Law Alert: Highlights of the Office of Attorney Ethics’ 2019 Annual Report

Every year, the Office of Attorney Ethics of the New Jersey Supreme Court produces an Attorney Disciplinary System Report. The report may be found here.

The report examines and provides detailed statistics on a number of topics relating to attorney discipline in New Jersey. How many disciplinary investigations are occurring? How many lead to complaint? How many hearings lead to discipline? What is getting attorneys in trouble these days?

If you do not want to read the entire, 67-page report, you may find the following facts to be of interest pertaining to 2019.

Case Statistics

  • 1,227 new disciplinary investigations were added (0.2% increase from 2018).
  • 1.65% of all active lawyers had grievances docketed (i.e., investigations commenced) against them.
  • The OAE filed 248 formal complaints following investigation (14.8% decrease from 2018, and note that these complaints include investigations that began in 2018 or in some cases earlier).
  • 174 attorneys had final discipline and were sanctioned by the Supreme Court (15.9% decrease from 2018). Of those:
    • 143 were final sanctions for discipline, including 27 disbarments, 12 disbarments by consent, 30 terms suspensions, 1 indeterminate suspension, 25 censures, 23 reprimands and 25 admonitions.
    • 31 were for temporary license suspensions for emergent cases.

Random Audit Compliance Program

  • 556 law firms were audited.
  • 14 attorneys were disciplined stemming from the audit.
  • 4 of those 14 attorneys were disbarred for knowingly misappropriating funds.

What Are the Most Common Grounds for Final Discipline?

First most common: “Other Money Offenses” – meaning, some type of money offense other than knowing misappropriation of client funds (including negligent or reckless misappropriation, serious trust account recordkeeping deficiencies, and failure to safeguard funds and escrow violations) (20.3%).

Second, “Knowing Misappropriation” of trust funds (15.4%).

Third, Dishonesty, Fraud, Deceit and Misrepresentation (14.7%).

Fourth, Gross Neglect/Lack of Diligence/Incompetence (7.7%).

Fifth, Conflicts of Interest (7.7%).

Sixth, Criminal Convictions (6.3%).

Tied for seventh, Unauthorized Practice of Law (including assisting a non-lawyer in doing so) and Non-Cooperation with Ethics Authorities (5.6%).

Tied for eighth, failure to protect client upon withdrawing/terminating representation and practicing law while ineligible (e.g., for filing to pay the annual attorney registration licensing fee, submitting updated IOLTA information or complying with CLE requirements) (3.5%).

Ninth, Candor Toward Tribunal (2.8%).

Tied for tenth, Conduct Prejudicial to the Administration of Justice, Lack of Communication and Failure to Supervise (1.4%).

Other Fun Facts

  • The Garden State ranks 6th in the nation in the number of attorneys admitted to practice. As of December 31, 2019, the attorney population (active and inactive) was 98,331 – one attorney for every 90 New Jersey citizens.
  • New Jersey ranks 43rd in the country (at $212) in annual attorney licensing fees charged.

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