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I, the JuryStephen Orlofsky, who left the federal bench in 2003 because he was tired of drug cases, can’t seem to escape them. On April 20, he was the last juror seated in a Camden County case that ended up convicting Kyle Burnett of possessing and distributing cocaine near a school.

Defense counsel James Leonard Jr., who was out of peremptory challenges, asked Judge Linda Baxter to disqualify Orlofsky for cause. Defense lawyers try to create doubt, and that’s harder to do with an ex-federal judge on the jury.

But Baxter turned Leonard down, and Burnett faces 20 years in jail because of a prior conviction.

Leonard plans an appeal and Orlofsky’s presence on the jury will likely be one of the grounds. Burnett had less than an ounce of cocaine and there was no evidence of distribution and no expert testimony. That might be enough to convict, Leonard says, but not at the speed of this verdict: under an hour.

“I’ve learned my lesson and will always keep one peremptory in my back pocket,” says Leonard, an Audubon solo.

Orlofsky, now a partner with Cherry Hill’s Blank Rome, says his first time as a juror was “a great experience” and “the system worked the way it is supposed to work.”

Bounced Checks, Turned CheeksRupert Hall Jr. couldn’t have picked a better victim. He took $3,500 from a church, the minister preached forgiveness and the Disciplinary Review Board decided to give Hall a second chance.

Hall, a Willingboro solo, gave a personal injury client $3,500 from his trust account. But when the check bounced, he went to another client, Good Shepherd Church in Willingboro. He falsely said the church owed $3,500 in fees, the minister wrote a check and Hall gave the proceeds to the other client, the DRB said on April 22.

A special master found misappropriation, but instead of the traditional mandatory disbarment, the DRB gave Hall an indeterminate suspension. He can seek reinstatement in five years.

Hall represented himself, but had in his corner Rev. J. Evans Dodds, who wrote the check. He had concluded his testimony to the special master with a sermon about guilt and redemption.

He told of a condemned man who wanted to share the secret of growing a fruit-bearing pomegranate tree. Anyone can dig the hole, the thief said, but only someone who had done nothing wrong could plant the seed. No one, including the governor, could do that.

The minister concluded by asking for “leniency in dealing with a man whom I believe may have made some foolish mistakes.” The spirit apparently was contagious. The DRB quoted ethics prosecutor John McGill III as saying there was “room for redemption” in Hall’s character.

No Free List – In an age when lists of the “best” crop up in every field, along comes “The Ten Leaders of Criminal Defense Law in Northern New Jersey.”

The list was created by Digital Press International, a Fort Lee-based distributor of articles to weekly newspapers. DPI president Stephen Clark said the selections were based on a three-month survey of attorneys in northern New Jersey, including more than 65 interviews and 120 peer referrals. All 10 lawyers listed – Thomas Ashley, Michael D’Alessio Jr., Gerard Hanlon, Gerald Krovatin, Richard Lehrich, John McDonald, Brian Neary, Jack Venturi, Alan Zegas and Blair Zwillman – were referred by at least three and, in some cases, eight or nine peer lawyers, said Clark.

“I was very flattered when they asked,” says Krovatin. “My mother will get a big kick out of it.”

But an April 24 New York Times advertisement featuring the North Jersey 10 notes that the nominees “agreed to underwrite some of the distribution costs.”

Zwillman acknowledges that fact. “I would not be included if I did not lay out the money,” he says, adding that his comfort level improved based on the caliber of the other nine lawyers.

This Won’t Hurt . . . Much – The State Bar Association is trying one more time to defeat a measure to charge lawyers to help fund malpractice-insurance relief for doctors hit hard by rising premiums, but no one seems to feel the lawyers’ pain.

The Assembly on March 15 approved A-50, which would assess every lawyer $50 annually for three years. On March 29, the Senate passed an amended bill, upping the ante to $75.

With the revised bill now headed for an Assembly vote this month, State Bar President Karol Corbin Walker wrote Bar members on April 6, asking them to oppose the $75 assessment. She attached a copy of the Assembly voting record on the original bill, with the names of lawyer assemblymen in bold. Presumably, those members might be the more sympathetic to the Bar’s plea.

One such lawyer, Assemblyman Neil Cohen, D-Union, one of the sponsors, predicts that the Bar’s opposition will have little effect. He says the only serious opposition from lawyers was that of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America-New Jersey, which argued for deleting a proposed $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases.

Besides, the bill is “an investment in a larger problem,” he says. “It’s $75 a year for three years, then it will terminate.”

- By Mary P. Gallagher, Henry Gottlieb, Charles Toutant and Michael Booth

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