Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Former Morris Township judge faces ethics charge.

On October 6, 2015, the District XA Ethics Committee filed a formal ethics complaint against a Morris Township attorney who, while representing a buyer in a $2.5 million dollar real estate transaction, allegedly deceived the seller's attorney by not informing him that he had returned the buyer's $50,000 deposit check two weeks after the contract of sale had been signed.

The matter is captioned District XA Ethics Committee v. Robert J. Nish, Docket No. XA-15-0010E.  The attorney for the ethics committee, William C. Mack of Lake Hopatcong, wrote that Nish, who used to be the Morris Township municipal court judge, received a $50,000 check from his client, Kurien Chacko, as the initial deposit on Chacko's purchase of a $2.5 million Bernardsville home owned by John and Jane Petrillo.  The $50,000 deposit check was tendered to Nish's law firm on April 6, 2013 and the contract called for Chacko to make an additional $50,000 deposit on April 15, 2013 with the full cash balance being paid at the May 15, 2013 closing.

According to the ethics complaint, Nish "did not immediately deposit the check in his attorney trust account" and instead gave it back to Chacko while the contract was still under attorney review.  On April 19, 2013, Chacko allegedly came to Nish's office and "insisted that [he] return the initial deposit" and promised that he would wire funds to Nish when attorney review was completed. Chacko, however, never did wire Nish any money and the real estate deal ultimately fell through.

The thrust of the case against Nish is that after attorney review was completed, he never told the Petrillos' attorney, Eric S. Wasser of Somerville, that the original $50,000 had been returned to Chacko.  Rather, Nish allegedly let the Petrillos and Wasser believe that he had the $50,000 in his trust account and advised them only that the second $50,000 had not been paid.  It was only after the Petrillos hired a litigation attorney, presumably to recover the $50,000 deposit as damages due to Chacko's breach of contract, did Nish finally admit that he didn't have the $50,000.

In his answer, which is also at the above link, Nish claimed that his failure to advise Wasser that Chacko's deposit had been returned "was an oversight, not intended to mislead."  He also said that after the attorney review period was over, he typically has paralegals in his office handle correspondence and that "the entire file was not properly reviewed by the paralegal to confirm the retention of the initial deposit." He also said that he was distracted during that time period because of his wife's serious illness and that he regretted having a client--Chacko--"who apparently duped everyone."

The matter will now be be heard by a hearing panel consisting of two lawyers and one non-lawyer member.  After hearing evidence, the panel will, if it recommends that Nish be disciplined, make its report to the Disciplinary Review Board which will in turn report its findings to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  While the hearing before the panel is public, the public rarely attends because hearing dates, hours and locations are not readily made public.  Anyone who wishes to attend the hearing should contact Mr. Mack at the address or phone number listed on the complaint.