A New Jersey lawyer with a history of license suspension is facing another one, this time for neglecting to file immigration petitions for a client.
Things could be worse for Dorca Delgado-Shafer, however: She escaped a recommendation for disbarment by a 4-2 vote of the Disciplinary Review Board.
The latest case is the fourth since 2009 in which she has been up on ethics charges, and in each of the prior ones, her “character has proven to be questionable, if not wholly deficient,” the board said.
In the present case, Eusebio Cuevas paid Delgado-Shafer a $7,220 retainer in February 2007 to file immigration applications for his wife, his three sons, and his parents. She never filed the applications and did not return his numerous phone calls. Cuevas made a claim to the N.J. Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection for reimbursement and got $7,000 back.
The ethics case Cuevas was certified a default after Delgado-Shafer failed to appear for an Office of Attorney Ethics interview or to file an answer to the complaint.
In addition to violations of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1(a), gross neglect; 1.3, lack of diligence; and 1.4(b), failure to communicate with a client, the DRB found a breach of RPC 8.1(b), failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities.
For an attorney with an ethics history, or a pattern of not cooperating with disciplinary authorities, such offenses call for a reprimand, the DRB said.
“However, the extraordinary nature of respondent’s history, particularly her failure to learn from prior mistakes and her disturbing pattern of not cooperating with disciplinary authorities on any level, is so troubling that we simply cannot impose less than a suspension in this case.”
In the first disciplinary case, Delgado-Shafer she drew a two-year suspension for misrepresenting to a bank that she was holding $41,000 on behalf of her clients in a real estate transaction, and attached an altered bank statement to support her false claim.
In the second, she was suspended one year for failing to file a custody motion on her client’s behalf and to oppose a motion filed by her adversary; for filing two motions that were dismissed as procedurally deficient; and for directing her brother to commit in acts of intimidation against the client. She also failed to comply with a fee arbitration award, prompting a payment of $7,459 from the Lawyers Fund to her client.
In the third case, she was suspended three years for filing six successive and deficient petitions for bankruptcy, apparently for the purpose of delaying a civil case against her.
In the present case, DRB chair Bonnie Frost, attorney members Edna Baugh and Bruce Clark and public member Robert Zimrich favored a one-year suspension. Attorney Morris Yamner and public member Jeanne Doremus voted for disbarment.
Delgado-Shafer, when reached for comment about the Dec. 17 decision, said she had been “on medical leave,” which prevented her from defending herself. She declined to describe the nature of her illness except to say “I don’t take drugs, don’t drink alcohol. It’s not self-inflicted.”
She said disciplinary authorities misstated many key facts of the case. For instance, she said she did render services to Cuevas for the fee he paid.
Delgado-Shafer said she could not afford an attorney but hoped to set the record straight at some later date and to return to the practice of law.
The state Supreme Court will make the final decision on discipline.