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Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis LLP Client Alert

What You Need to Know

In a Notice to the Bar dated June 29, 2023, the New Jersey Supreme Court Special Committee on the Duration of Disbarment for Knowing Misappropriation (often referred to as the “Wade Committee”) announced its recommendation, reached by a substantial majority, for a pathway for attorneys to readmission following disbarment.

The Wade Committee was formed under former Justice Virginia A. Long’s Chairmanship as a consequence of the Court’s 2022 decision In the Matter of Dionne Larrel Wade, which reaffirmed that disbarment was mandatory where a lawyer knowingly misappropriated client and escrow funds. Because Ms. Wade admitted to the knowing unauthorized use of client and escrow funds, she was disbarred.

The Wade Court, however, noted that unlike in a vast majority of other states, disbarment in New Jersey is permanent. Recognizing the harshness of that comparison, the Court directed the formation of a Special Committee to examine and recommend whether there should be a pathway to readmission following disbarment. If so, the Committee was charged with recommending what that process should be, including what factors should be considered to qualify a person for readmission and any conditions to be imposed.

Leaving untouched the disbarment mandate for knowing misappropriation, the Wade Committee has now recommended that disbarred lawyers in those cases should be given an opportunity for a second chance with appropriate safeguards. Those mandatory conditions are as follows:

The Wade Committee also recommended discretionary conditions that could be imposed in a particular case. Examples of these conditions are annual audits, client disclosure of prior disbarment, mandatory professional liability insurance, CLE in trust accounting, and treatment for mental health conditions, substance abuse and other addictive behavior. The Committee acknowledged the possible effects of bias in the disbarment and readmission processes and recommended review of the processes and outcomes to address equity concerns. Finally, the Committee concluded that the readmission option should be extended to all attorneys disbarred for any reason and not just in cases involving knowing misappropriation.

The Court has invited written comments on the report and recommendations of the Committee. The comment period ends on August 1, 2023, following which time the Court will decide whether to accept these recommendations in whole or in part and what process for readmission, if any, it will establish. Comments may be submitted via email or postal mail as indicated in the report.

Robert B. Hille, the author of this Alert, is a former President of the New Jersey State Bar Association and a member of its Amicus Committee. Mr. Hille participated in drafting the NJSBA’s Amicus Curiae brief and argued on behalf of the Bar in the Wade matter.  

Robert B. Hille

Robert B. Hille
Partner, Litigation and Healthcare Departments