Disciplinary proceedings instituted by the Departmental Disciplinary Committee for the First Judicial Department. Respondent, William N. Stahl, was admitted to the Bar of the State of New York at a Term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court for the Second Judicial Department on March 28, 1979.
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and subject to revision before publication in the Official Reports.
Luis A. Gonzalez, Presiding Justice, Angela M. Mazzarelli, John W. Sweeny, Jr., Dianne T. Renwick, Rosalyn H. Richter, Justices.
M-4101, M-4866 -- November 2, 2009
Respondent William N. Stahl was admitted to the practice of law in the State of New York by the Second Judicial Department on March 28, 1979 under the name William Norton Stahl. At all times relevant to this petition, respondent maintained an office for the practice of law in New Jersey, where he was admitted to practice law in 1983.
In this reciprocal discipline proceeding, the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (Committee) seeks an order pursuant to 22 NYCRR 603.3 imposing reciprocal discipline upon respondent, suspending him from the practice of law for a period of no less than one year based upon a one year suspension imposed on him by the Supreme Court of New Jersey, or in the alternative, for such sanction as this Court deems appropriate. By a cross motion, respondent requests an order dismissing the petition or, in the alternative, for a hearing.
The present disciplinary charges stem from respondent's conduct while performing per diem work for another attorney who filed a disciplinary complaint against respondent with the Supreme Court of New Jersey, District Ethics Committee (DEC). In November 2005, DEC served a formal complaint on respondent who thereafter filed a verified answer.
In November 2006, a Hearing Panel of DEC convened to hear testimony on the complaint. Respondent appeared with counsel and testified on his own behalf. By a report dated May 6, 2006, DEC found that respondent violated various Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC) and recommended an indeterminate suspension*fn1.
New Jersey's Disciplinary Review Board (Review Board) thereafter convened a hearing in October 2008, to review de novo the findings of DEC and to hear oral argument. Two weeks before oral argument, respondent attempted to offer into evidence a "Certification" of a witness who wished to testify on respondent's behalf. The Review Board declined to consider this Certification because the prior proceedings had been concluded, the record was closed for testimony purposes, and because the presenter did not have an opportunity to cross examine the witness.*fn2
By a report dated December 4, 2008, the Review Board agreed with most of the Hearing Panel's factual findings and the recommended sanction of a one year suspension. The Review Board found that the underlying misconduct occurred in the context of respondent's performance of legal services 12 years earlier, on a per diem basis, for Linda Strumpf, an attorney with a heavy debt-collection practice. The case that led to Strumpf's grievance against respondent involved a client by the name of KBI Securities Services (KBI). Strumpf had provided prior legal services to KBI. Robert King was the president of the company, while his son, Stuart King, was in charge of KBI's New Jersey operation. KBI hired Strumpf to file a New Jersey suit against J. Sepenuk & Sons, Inc. (Sepenuk), who owed KBI $12,000. Although Sepenuk filed an answer and counterclaim, no one appeared on its behalf at the trial, which she personally handled. As a result, Strumpf obtained a default judgment against Sepenuk and later levied on its bank account. Subsequently, Sepenuk filed a motion to vacate the default.
In February 1996, Strumpf retained respondent to prepare opposition to the motion to vacate and to appear on its return date. The court vacated the default judgment and set a trial date for March 1996. Strumpf continued to retain respondent's services for KBI's representation at the trial. His compensation arrangement remained unchanged, $200 for each day of trial. At the end of a four-day jury trial, respondent obtained a favorable verdict for the entire amount sought in KBI's complaint, plus interest and attorney's fees.
In April 1996, respondent visited Strumpf's office to prepare Strumpf's counsel fee's affidavit. Then, in early June 1996, respondent prepared a motion, supported by a memorandum of law, for the entry of the final order and judgment. Both documents identified Strumpf and respondent as attorneys for KBI and listed Strumpf's office address and telephone number. Strumpf's name appeared above that of respondent. The judgment, which ...