The state Supreme Court is considering whether to sanction an attorney who asked his cousin to revamp his firm’s website, only to learn later that the relative decided to jazz up the site by using the seal of the New Jersey Board of Attorney Certification.
The problem for Ty Hyderally, was that neither he nor any other attorney in his 14-lawyer employment law firm was certified at the time.
Although the Disciplinary Review Board dismissed the case, the Office of Attorney Ethics told the court on Monday that he deserves some measure of discipline.
The seal stayed on Hyderally’s site for two years until it came to the attention of the Court’s Committee on Attorney Advertising, which said that by using the emblem, he was claiming status as a certified attorney. It also expressed concern that other attorneys might have referred clients to Hyderally’s firm in the mistaken belief that he was certified, and that they might have received referral fees from him.
The committee referred the matter to the OAE, which called it to Hyderally’s attention. He immediately had the seal removed and has maintained that he never knew it was there.
District Ethics Committee V-C charged Hyderally with violating RPC 8.4(c), conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation, and Rule 1:39-6(b), improper use of the emblem. The DEC recommended a reprimand, finding that even if the use was unintentional, his failure to review and monitor the content of the website violated the RPC and court rule.
Although the OAE recommended either a censure or a reprimand, the DRB dismissed the complaint in July, finding a lack of clear and convincing evidence that Hyderally knowingly committed those violations.
The DRB said the OAE never refuted Hyderally’s claim that the mistake was inadvertent. The DRB also said the evidence supports his contention that he never held himself out as a certified attorney. Additionally, a violation of RPC 8.4(c) requires intent, an element absent in Hyderally’s case, the DRB said.
The DRB pointed to testimony before the DEC of the web-designing cousin, Yusuf Asgerally. The cousin, who lives in California and knows nothing of New Jersey ethics rules, said he did not realize that the certified emblem signified anything other than being licensed to practice law. Asgerally said he was not familiar with legal terminology but wanted to make the site “attractive and appealing.”
He said he came across the seal after doing a Google search for law-related images and looking at websites for other New Jersey law firms. He chose the emblem himself, he testified.
While the DRB dismissed the case, the Court decided on its own to consider the case.
OAE Counsel Walton Kingsbery III told the Court that the statement was clearly in violation of ethics rules.
“His defense, simply, is ‘I didn’t know,’” Kingsbery said. “The RPCs clearly prohibit false and misleading advertising.”
Kingsbery told the Court that he understood that the DRB may have had some misgivings because this appeared on the Internet as opposed to some other form of traditional advertising.
But, he added, “it’s advertising and it should be treated as advertising.”
Hyderally’s attorney, Frederick Dennehy, said Hyderally is not deserving of discipline.
“The decision of the DRB … could not be more clear,” said Dennehy, of Woodbridge’s Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer. “There is no clear and convincing evidence that he intended to misrepresent to anyone that he was a certified trial attorney.
“It did not register with him. If he did see, he would have taken it down.”
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner asked if it would be acceptable for lawyers to “blind themselves” to what their advertisements say.
“I don’t believe he was blinding himself,” Dennehy said. “He simply didn’t notice it.”
The emblem appeared on the website 16 times, once on each page.
Hyderally, admitted to the bar in 1994, had one previous scrape with the disciplinary system.
In 1999, he was reprimanded on a motion for reciprocal discipline based on the Judge Advocate General’s suspension of him from practice before Navy courts or boards for two years for committing a criminal act that reflected adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness and fitness to serve as a judge advocate.
The JAG found that, while in the Navy, Hyderally made sexual advances to at least two women who were his legal aid clients. The New Jersey Supreme Court found that his actions were comparable to a violation of RPC 8.4(d), conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
The pending case is In the Matter of Ty Hyderally, D-134-10.