NJ Underlying Due Diligence and Disciplinary Action
Facts: Attorney-respondent was assigned a case on August 24, 1976 by the Office of the Public Defender and had to prepare an appellate brief on behalf of a client who was convicted of murder. With extensions and notices given by the Appellate Division on four separate occasions, the attorney failed to file the appellate brief for the client’s appeal. The Court issued an Order for attorney to appear personally before it on March 20, 1978, but the attorney failed to appear. After several attempts made by the Court to reach the attorney, the Court forwarded this matter to the Supreme Court Ethics Committee to take action. A complaint was filed against the attorney by the Division of Ethics and Professional Services. The attorney, in his answer, admitted that he had not prepared the appellate brief and that he was not aware of the other hearings because he was on vacation. The attorney further explained that he was going through a very emotional period in his life and placed other matters before completing the brief.
Issue: Did the attorney’s conduct amount to unethical behavior that warranted the use of sanctions?
Ruling: The Supreme Court held the failure, refusal, or neglect to file the required materials, on behalf of a client, justifies public reprimand and reimbursement to the Ethics Financial Committee for appropriate administrative costs.
Rule: An attorney who accepts a case must act diligently in pursing the client’s interests. Furthermore, an attorney who cannot perform diligently is under an ethical obligation to petition to withdraw as assigned counsel so the appeal can still be submitted in a timely manner by another lawyer.
Lesson: When an attorney decides to accept a case from Legal Aid, they accept the person who they are representing as a client, therefore, all ethical obligations will apply. The attorney must diligently pursue the client’s case. An attorney cannot excuse his failure to follow court procedures on personal distress or the lack of familiarity with such court procedures. An attorney is responsible to file the appropriate briefs or they must file a motion for extension of time or timely seek to be relieved of the assignment if they encounter any difficulties that will impair their ability to furnish competent and diligent representation.
Tagged with: New Jersey
Posted in: New Jersey