A New Jersey lawyer was suspended for six months Thursday for signing a doctored contract, lying about it in court documents and continuing his deception before ethics tribunals.
The state Supreme Court adopted the Disciplinary Review Board’s findings that Karim Arzadi’s unethical conduct was supported by clear and convincing evidence and that he demonstrated a lack of truthfulness.
The key issues in the case were whether Arzadi was aware the contract had been altered when he filed documents with the court and answered interrogatories and whether he reasonably relied on the contract’s authenticity.
According to the DRB’s opinion, Arzadi, a Perth Amboy lawyer whose personal injury firm employs six attorneys, hired architect Jeffrey Kusmick in 2008 to prepare drawings for an investment property he was renovating.
The contract he signed stated Kusmick’s fee as $7,500, which actually had been changed from $34,500.
Arzadi later claimed he thought the $7,500 he paid at the outset was the entire fee. When he didn’t pay the balance, Kusmick sued him in Superior Court for breach of contract.
John Paff, a nonlawyer activist based in Somerset who is a friend of Kusmick, filed the ethics complaint.
In the District Ethics Committee VIII investigation that followed, Arzadi claimed he learned later that the fee amount was changed by his office manager, Michelle Sandrik. She was called to testify but invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.
The DRB found insufficient proof that Arzadi was complicit in altering the contract but found the evidence demonstrated he was aware of the alteration and that his pleadings in the breach-of-contract suit were not correct.
“He might not have penned the contract himself, but he certainly knew that it had been altered and for his own financial benefit,” the board said. “Moreover, he had no compunctions about swearing to its accuracy on no fewer than seven occasions, thereby demonstrating a pattern of misrepresentations.”
He “attested to the accuracy of those documents time and time again.” At last he was “caught red-handed…and had to admit that the altered contract was just that. Rather than take responsibility for his wrongdoing, he tried to divert the blame to Sandrik,” the DRB said.
Further, he falsely certified that Kusmick created two contracts and misled or pressured him into signing both, and that Kusmick failed to properly provide the services for which he was retained. He admitted later that he never signed two contracts and that Kusmick’s services were properly performed.
The DRB found Arzadi violated Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3(a)(1), knowingly making a false statement to a tribunal; 3.3(a)(4), knowingly offering false evidence; 8.4(c), engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation; and 8.4(d), engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
Deciding on discipline, the DRB found Arzadi’s refusal to admit guilt an aggravating factor that. “Instead, he continued to perpetuate a well-orchestrated charade at the DEC hearing and, therefore, before us,” the DRB said.
Two DRB members, layman Robert Zmirich and former Hudson County Assignment Judge Maurice Gallipoli, voted for a one-year suspension.
But the majority declined to go that far, finding as mitigating factors Arzadi’s unblemished 25-year legal career and “the high moral regard in which he was held by his peers and others.” ■