Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 18, 2014

NJ Supreme Court Disbars Attorney Who While Mayor Engaged in Bribes for Zoning Permit Approvals Thereby Betraying the Public Trust

Attorney, Peter J. Cammarano, III, (“Cammarano”) during his campaign for Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey and after his election as Mayor, accepted monies from cooperating government witness, Solomon Dwek (“Dwek”), disguised as a developer, and, in exchange, assured him that he would receive expedited zoning approvals for unspecified construction projects. In total, Cammarano accepted $25,000 from Dwek. Cammarano was arrested and subsequently resigned as mayor.

He pled guilty in the United States District Court to one count of conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce by extortion under color of official right, in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 1951(a). He was sentenced to two years in federal prison to be followed by two years of supervised release and ordered to make restitution of $25,000. The Supreme Court of New Jersey temporarily suspended him from the practice of law pursuant to Rule 1:20–13(b)(1). On the basis of the criminal conviction, the Office of Attorney Ethics (“OAE”) filed a motion for final discipline with the Disciplinary Review Board (“DRB”), pursuant to Rule 1:20–13(c)(2). The OAE recommended disbarment. A four-member majority of the DRB voted to impose a three-year prospective period of suspension. The majority of the DRB spared Cammarano from disbarment because he did not orchestrate the scheme and therefore his actions were less serious than cases involving attorneys who instigated the payment of bribes. The Supreme Court of New Jersey granted the OAE’s petition for review.

On review, the court stated that an elected official, who sells his office by offering favored treatment to a private developer in exchange for money, betrays a solemn public trust. An attorney who engages in this form of public corruption should expect that he would be disbarred. Accordingly, disbarment was ordered.

The Court said that the guilty plea and judgment of conviction were conclusive proof that respondent engaged in the federal crime of conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce by extortion. As a result, the DRB also found that respondent violated the Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) by committing “a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, and by engaging “in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The court further stated that certain ethical violations were, so patently offensive to the elementary standards of a lawyer’s professional duty that they per se warranted disbarment.” In re Conway, 107 N.J. 168, 180, 526 A.2d 658 (1987). Thus, “misconduct that breaches a fundamental and solemn trust is itself sufficient to triggers automatic disbarment.” Harris, supra, 182 N.J. at 610, 868 A.2d 1011. Such a breach occurs when a lawyer knowingly misappropriates a client’s funds and generally occurs when a lawyer is involved in a public-corruption bribery scheme.

The public’s confidence in honest government and our democratic system cannot be sustained when bribery is the basis for official decisionmaking. The selling of one’s office for private gain is a betrayal of a fundamental trust and has the capacity to cast unfair suspicion on all government officers who honestly toil to promote the public’s best interests.

Any attorney convicted of official bribery or extortion should expect to lose his license to practice law in New Jersey.

In re Cammarano, 2014 WL 4629601 (NJ 9/17/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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