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Twenty years after they started, random audits continue to trip up New Jersey lawyers whose serious wrongdoing would have gone undetected. The auditors nailed two practitioners last year. One was suspended and one was disbarred, the Office of Attorney Ethics said in its annual report. The report also shows that the vast majority of visits turned up nothing but squeaky-clean books and records. Of the 7,254 audits between 1981 and 2001, just 1.2 percent turned up serious problems and only 93 lawyers were sanctioned, the OAE said. Not surprising to practitioners who believe they are over-regulated, New Jersey is one of only seven states with such a program, and the OAE’s staff of five auditors is the country’s largest. The two lawyers punished in 2001 for transgressions disclosed by random audits were Leonard Franco of Hoboken, disbarred by consent for misuse of client trust funds, and Isadore May of Ventnor, suspended for participating in an unethical fee-sharing arrangement with another attorney. Random audits help practitioners spot accounting errors and faulty procedures that could develop into unknowing misappropriation, the OAE said. In addition, the OAE said: “Just knowing that there is an active auditing program is an incentive, not only to keep good records, but also to avoid temptations to misuse trust funds. While unquantifiable, the deterrent effect on those few lawyers who might be tempted otherwise to abuse their clients’ trust is undeniably present.” NEGLIGIBLE RISE IN DISCIPLINES Beyond the special section on the random audits, this year’s OAE report is mostly a list of who was disciplined in the preceding year and why. It’s a list of 204 that was 3 percent larger in 2001 than the 198 sanctioned in 2000. The modest increase seems even more modest, given the 3.3 percent growth in the number of lawyers in the state. Even better, the number of grievances against attorneys rose by less than 1 percent, from 1,320 to 1,330. For the record, there were 75,177 lawyers in New Jersey at the end of 2001, one for every 113 New Jersey residents. If all the lawyers lived in one place, it would be the 12th-largest town in the state. More lawyers would have been disciplined but for a seldom-mentioned wrinkle in the rules that went into effect in 1995 when the state supreme court opened district ethics disciplinary proceedings to the public. Under the rule that allows diversion of minor offenses from the public system, 64 lawyers confessed to bad behavior and became eligible for lenient punishments, including attendance at the state Bar’s ethics school. This year’s report has a new section, a list of 99 attorneys who have been punished more than three times for unethical behavior in the past decade, a Who’s Who of recidivist New Jersey attorneys. At the top of the list with seven sanctions was Raymond Page of Woodbury, whose last punishment, in October 2000, was a one-year suspension for taking a client’s retainer and doing no work. In other neglect cases going back to 1997, he had been admonished, reprimanded, suspended for three months and suspended for six months. Four lawyers were sanctioned six times, and nine were sanctioned five times. “These habitual offenders require greater focus by the attorney disciplinary system for the protection of the public and the bar,” the OAE said. For the most part, the distribution of repeat offenders by county matched the lawyer population. The counties with the most lawyers, Essex and Camden, had the most attorneys on the list. The exception was Bergen County, which has the third-largest lawyer population but was home to only three of the repeaters. Bergen “appears to be a little under-represented in the overall list of habitual offenders,” the OAE said. The OAE said two of the significant disciplinary matters in 2001 involved lawyers disciplined for failure to supervise their practices and personnel, reminding lawyers that they are responsible for the conduct of nonlawyers in their practices. Laurence Hecker of Toms River was suspended for six months after a clerical employee stole money from a trust fund. Hecker should have known better than to trust the employee, the Disciplinary Review Board found. The same employee had gone to prison for stealing from Hecker’s accounts in the 1990s and the lawyer hired him again, showing that his efforts to protect his client’s funds were not sufficient. The supreme court disbarred Dalwyn Dean of Newark because she entrusted her accounts to an office manager who had served a prison term for real estate fraud. Given full reign, the manager stole $66,000 from trust accounts, even after the OAE had warned Dean about account irregularities.

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