Sunday, June 05, 2016

Pleas Of Severe Depression Fall On New Jersey Supremes' Deaf Ears As Lawyer Gets His Bar Ticket Yanked For Filching Over $110K In Client Cash From Trust/Escrow Accounts

Law360 reports:
  • The New Jersey Supreme Court [] ended a long-running attorney disciplinary matter by disbarring a once-imprisoned real estate and trusts lawyer who misappropriated hundreds of thousands in client funds for personal use, finding unconvincing his arguments to mitigate punishment due to debilitating depression and unstable mental state.

    Frank J. Cozzarelli, a Belleville, New Jersey lawyer, lost his bid to avoid disbarment for improperly transferring funds between escrow and client accounts and misappropriating more than $110,000 in client funds for personal use.(1)

    Although Cozzarelli had held that he should be absolved of improprieties or granted mitigation in terms of the punishment imposed because he suffered from severe depression and was not mentally competent to manage client trust funds, the court adopted the state Disciplinary Review Board’s findings that the Office of Attorney Ethics “has proven knowing misappropriation by clear and convincing evidence.”

    “Respondent did not demonstrate legal excuse for his misappropriations,” the opinion said. “Moreover, in light of the pattern and timing of respondent’s misappropriations and concealment well after having received care and ongoing treatment, we conclude that his misdeeds were not aberrational.” [more]
For more, see NJ High Court Disbars Atty For Taking Client Funds (may require paid subscription; if no subscription, TRY HERE, then click the appropriate link for the story).

See, generally, Frederick Miller, "If You Can't Trust Your Lawyer .... ?", 138 Univ. of Pennsylvania Law Rev. 785 (1990) for more on the apparent, long-standing tolerance for deceit by many in the legal profession:
  • This tolerance to deception is encouraged by the profession's institutional civility. Seldom is a fig called a fig, or a shyster a shyster. No, our euphemisms are wonderfully polite: "frivolous conduct," or a "lack of candor;" or "law-office failure;" or, heaven forbid, a "peculation," a "defalcation," or a "negative balance" in a law firms's trust account.

    There is also widespread reluctance on the part of lawyers --- again, some lawyers --- to discuss publicly, much less acknowledge, that they have colleagues who engage in deceit and unprofessional conduct.

    This reluctance is magnified when the brand of deceit involves the theft of client money and property, notwithstanding that most lawyers would agree that stealing from clients is the ultimate ethical transgression.[...] The fact is, however, that theft of client property is not an insignificant or isolated problem within the legal profession. Indeed, it is a hounding phenomenon nationwide, and probably the principal reason why most lawyers nationwide are disbarred from the practice of law.
(1) The New Jersey Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to dishonest conduct of a member of the New Jersey Bar.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.