High court to hear tax matter and case about client’s right to choose counsel
Attorneys for the state’s largest lawyers group will appear as
amicus before the New Jersey Supreme Court this week on a pair of cases that could have wide implications for New Jersey residents.
On Monday, Immediate Past President Susan A. Feeney is scheduled to add the association’s voice to
Prime Accounting Department v. Township of Carney’s Point. On Tuesday, Shalom Stone will present argument in
Nostrame v. Santiago. Arguments will be held in Trenton.
A taxing matter
In a case that could be felt by property owners across New Jersey, the Supreme Court will weigh in on a fight over block 218, lot 12 in a slip of a Salem County town that looks over the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
The matter centers on how tax appeals will be handled in the courts, and involves a 2009 challenge to the assessed value of a property.
In a friend-of-the-court brief, the state bar association argued the case will have a lasting impact, and that it is necessary to “address the public’s interest in preserving the ability of an individual or entity responsible for paying property taxes to file a tax appeal and have it properly heard by the tax court, even where it may be difficult to ascertain the record owner of the property.”
The state bar also argued that requiring attorneys to conduct title searches on the property at issue would make it more difficult to file a tax appeal within the proper timeframes.
In the original claim Prime Accounting Department was listed on the town’s tax rolls as the property owner. Lawyers eventually learned the taxpayer was another entity, Bocceli LLC, and sought to make the substitution.
A tax court judge dismissed the appeal. An Appellate Division panel said Bocceli didn’t raise the tax appeal in time.
Counsel of one’s own
Frank J. Nostrame, a Jersey City solo practitioner, agreed to represent Natividad Santiago in 2007 under a contingent fee agreement.
Later that year he filed a complaint on her behalf in Hudson County Superior Court. One week later, Santiago sent Nostrame a letter discharging him and directing him to send her file to another law firm, Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman LLC in Roseland, which eventually settled the lawsuit for $1.2 million, earning fees of $358,000.
Nostrame asserted a lien of about $11,600 for his preliminary work and sued the law firm for tortuous interference with a contract, claiming the firm had “induced” the change in representation.
A trial court denied Mazie Slater’s motion to dismiss, but an Appellate Division panel granted its motion for leave to appeal
The New Jersey State Bar Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the high court to reject Nostrame’s claim and affirm an attorney’s right to solicit retained clients, so long as proper means are used.
“Mr. Nostrame hopes to recover from the successor attorney the value of the legal services that (he) expected to perform. (This) suit would undoubtedly have a chilling effect upon the client’s fundamental right to choose and discharge her counsel,” states the brief.
The state bar association further noted the Rules of Professional Conduct expressly permit lawyers to initiate personal contact with a prospective client, within certain guidelines.