NJ High Court Says Ethics Head Can Probe Tossed Complaint - Law360
by Jeannie O'Sullivan
aw360, New York (April 19, 2016, 4:25 PM ET) -- The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the state’s top attorney ethics official has the authority to investigate a complaint that was dismissed by a lower ethics official, handing a blow to a lawyer who must now answer to allegations that he misused social media in a client matter.
The unanimous opinion rejected attempts by attorneys John J. Robertelli and Gabriel Adamo to bar the director of the Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Ethics from unilaterally reviewing and reversing decisions by the District Ethics Committees assigned to each Superior Court Vicinage to screen and prosecute complaints.
The crux of the attorneys' argument was the conflict between a court rule that gives the director broad discretion to investigate any grievance and another rule that bars appeals from a DEC secretary’s decision not to docket a grievance if the secretary finds doesn’t rise to an ethics violation. In deciding the matter, the justices analyzed the roles of the OAE, DECs and the state’s third attorney ethics arm, the high court’s Disciplinary Review Board, which serves as an appeals tribunal.
In the underlying case, Robertelli and Adamo defended the Oakland Police Department against plaintiff Dennis Hernandez, who accused a police officer of hitting him with a car. A DEC secretary of the later dismissed Hernandez’s complaint that Robertelli directed a paralegal to send him a Facebook friend request in order to unearth unflattering information about him. Hernandez then through his attorney asked OAE director Charles Centinaro to investigate the matter.
Centinaro agreed and issued a formal complaint, and the justices agreed that he had a right to do so.