Thursday, August 20, 2015

Navigating New Jersey's Attorney Disciplinary System.

Many are not aware that the public is allowed to attend and observe disciplinary hearings against New Jersey attorneys.  This article is intended to provide an overview of the disciplinary system and help the public navigate it.

A citizen's first step is to learn which attorneys have active complaints against them.  This can be ascertained by reviewing the Office of Attorney Ethics' on-line Public Hearing List.  This list, which is updated monthly, is a snapshot of active ethics cases pending at the time the list is generated.  Since this list changes every month, I'll use the August 2015 list for the following examples.  Look through the list and see if you know of any attorneys on it.  (While uncommon, it is not unheard of for a public attorney, such as a municipal attorney or prosecutor to appear on this list.)

The 26th page of the list references a pending "Threatening Criminal Prosecution" charge against Camden County attorney Yaron Helmer.  The complaint, which was filed March 20, 2015 (resulting from an investigation that began on November 20, 2012), has been assigned docket number XIV-2012-0606E. In order to find out more about the case, one would need to obtain a copy of the complaint which would contain detailed allegations against the lawyer.

The disciplinary system is administered through several local ethics committee and a centralized Office of Attorney Ethics.  Contact information for all of these is on-line here.  The correct committee an interested citizen should contact is determined by the Roman numeral that begins the matter's docket number.  In Helmer's case, the docket number begins with XIV meaning that the proper office to contact for further information is the Office of Attorney Ethics in Trenton.  A citizen who wanted to know exactly what Helmer did to warrant this charge could send an e-mail to the OAE, such as:
Jason Saunders, Deputy Ethics Counsel
Office of Attorney Ethics
via e-mail only to jason.saunders@judiciary.state.nj.us
Dear Ms. Saunders: 
Would you please e-mail me the formal complaint in XIV-2012-0606E (Yaron Helmer) as well as Helmer's formal answer?
I have already completed this step on Helmer's case and have blogged about the charges against him.

The next step is to learn the date, hour and location of the next public hearing at which the case against Helmer will be presented.  In order to do this, complete this form and submit it to the same official to which you sent your request for the complaint and answer.  As you can see from an e-mail I received from OAE Director Charles Centinaro, the disciplinary system honors such requests and will notify a requestor in advance of the next hearing.

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