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In re Chambers

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

May 3, 2017

In the Matter of Owen Chambers, a suspended attorney. Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Judicial Districts, Petitioner; Owen Chambers, Respondent. Attorney Registration No. 3974284

         APPLICATION by the Grievance Committee for the Second, Eleventh, and Thirteenth Judicial Districts pursuant to former 22 NYCRR 691.3 to impose discipline on the respondent based upon disciplinary action taken against him by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. By decision and order of this Court dated November 12, 2014, the Grievance Committee's application to impose reciprocal discipline upon the respondent was held in abeyance pending a hearing, upon the respondent's request, and the defenses asserted were referred to the Honorable Harry E. Seidell, as Special Referee, to hear and report. The respondent was admitted to the Bar in the State of New York at a term of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the Third Judicial Department on July 24, 2001.

         In a prior separate disciplinary proceeding (Appellate Division Docket No. 2012-04785), by opinion and order of this Court dated December 12, 2012, the respondent was suspended from the practice of law for six months, effective January 14, 2013, based on disciplinary action taken against him by the State of New Jersey (Matter of Chambers, 103 A.D.3d 6). The respondent never sought reinstatement and remains suspended in New York.

          Diana Maxfield Kearse, Brooklyn, NY (Mark F. DeWan of counsel), for petitioner.

          Richard E. Grayson, White Plains, NY, for respondent.

          RANDALL T. ENG, P.J. WILLIAM F. MASTRO MARK C. DILLON RUTH C. BALKIN JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, JJ.

          OPINION & ORDER

          PER CURIAM

         By order filed March 20, 2014, the Supreme Court of New Jersey disbarred the respondent for violating New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct (hereinafter RPC) rules 1.15(b) (failure to promptly deliver funds to a third person), 8.1(b) (failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities), 8.4(b) (criminal act that reflects adversely on a lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer), 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation), 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice), and N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3 (theft by unlawful taking) and 2C:21-34(a) (third degree submission of a fraudulent claim for payment pursuant to a government contract). The order of disbarment noted that the respondent failed to appear in response to a prior order directing that he show cause why he should not be disbarred or otherwise disciplined. The order of disbarment was based on a decision of the Disciplinary Review Board (hereinafter DRB) of the Supreme Court of New Jersey dated December 16, 2013.

         The respondent was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in 2000, and maintained a law practice in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was previously suspended twice in New Jersey, the first time for three months in 2012, and the second time for six months in 2013.

         In 2012, the respondent was suspended for three months for gross negligence and lack of diligence for his failure to file a wage execution against an individual who was improperly holding his client's funds; failure to communicate with the client; failure to safeguard the client's funds and property; failure to cooperate with ethics authorities; misrepresentations about keeping inviolate property that he was required to safeguard; and failure to testify truthfully, under oath, at the ethics hearing (In re Chambers, 209 N.J. 417, 37 A3d 1134). This Court suspended the respondent for six months based on this three-month suspension by the Supreme Court of New Jersey (Matter of Chambers, 103 A.D.3d 6). The respondent never sought reinstatement in New Jersey from his three-month suspension.

         In 2013, the respondent received another six-month suspension in New Jersey, upon his default in a disciplinary proceeding, for his conduct in connection with an escrow agreement. In that matter, he failed to safeguard escrow funds when he improperly released them without a reasonable belief that he could do so; failed to promptly deliver funds to a third party; failed to communicate with the parties to the escrow agreement; failed to supervise a nonlawyer employee, his paralegal; and authorized the paralegal to falsely represent to third parties that he was holding in his trust account $648, 800, the purchase price for equipment (In re Chambers, 215 N.J. 303, 72 A3d 246).

         The December 16, 2013, decision of the DRB which resulted in the New Jersey order of disbarment in 2014 was based on a certification of default filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (hereinafter OAE). The decision noted that service of process was proper in the matter in that a certified mail receipt, signed by the respondent, indicated that he received a copy of the complaint on June 27, 2013; and that, on July 9, 2013, the OAE sent a letter, by regular and certified mail, to the same address, notifying the respondent, inter alia, that if he did not file an answer within five days of the date of the letter, the allegations in the complaint would be deemed admitted. As of the date of the certification of the record, July 16, 2013, the respondent had not filed an answer to the complaint.

         The complaint contained four counts. Summarized briefly, the underlying facts are as follows: Count one alleged that the respondent received a $25, 000 check from Innovative Property Management, Inc. (hereinafter IPM), for payment of IPM's water bill; that on November 8, 2010, the respondent deposited the check into his business account, rather than his trust account; that the following day, the respondent issued a $24, 000 business account check payable to "cash"; and that none of funds delivered were used to pay IPM's water bill. Count one also alleged that IPM issued another check to the respondent for $15, 000 for payment of its water bill; that the respondent deposited the check into his business account; that the respondent wire-transferred $13, 695 from his business account to another person's bank account; and that the respondent did not apply any of the funds received to pay IPM's water bills.

         Count two alleged that the respondent practiced law while suspended in that he (1) used letterhead which suggested he was entitled to practice law; (2) failed to advise clients to obtain new counsel; and (3) failed to file an affidavit of compliance. Count two also alleged that the respondent failed to cooperate with the New Jersey disciplinary authorities in that he failed to appear for a demand interview.

         Count three alleged that the respondent failed to safeguard funds and promptly turn over settlement funds to a client. The respondent represented a minor client in two matters: a personal injury claim and a criminal matter. In December 2008, the respondent settled the personal injury claim for $5, 000, but failed to remit to his client his ...


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