formal complaint against a Newark lawyer for representing both a man and his ex-wife in the Woodland Park Municipal Court on a charge of operating a vehicle without insurance.
Underlying the ethics complaint is N.J.S.A. 39:6B-2 which imposes penalties on a driver "who knows or should know from the attendant circumstances that the" vehicle is uninsured and also on an owner "who operates or causes [the uninsured vehicle] to be operated."
Ethics officials say that Kenyatta K. Stewart, a partner in the Newark law firm of Hunt, Hamlin & Ridley, represented both the owner and the driver and claim that such a dual representation "created a substantial risk that representation of [one client] will be limited by [Stewart's] responsibility to the other." Officials also assert that Stewart violated the Rules of Professional Conduct by not obtaining written "informed consent" from both the driver and the owner before undertaking the dual representation.
According to the complaint, Stewart entered a court appearance for both Monroe Gilbert, the driver of the vehicle and Brenda Gilbert, who is Monroe's ex-wife and owner of the vehicle that Monroe was driving when the summons was issued. Stewart was retained by Monroe and officials claim that Stewart "did not have a formal written retainer agreement with [Brenda]."
Brenda pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced by Judge Toni Belford Damiano to pay $439 in fine and costs and to serve 30 days community service. Brenda's conviction was later overturned after she filed a motion for post-conviction relief and Monroe pled guilty to the charge.
In his response, Stewart conceded that he entered an appearance on Brenda's behalf "without indicating that [he] was doing it as a friend of the Court." He also asserted that "both parties were aware of their possible penalties and wanted to go forward."
Since 1995, attorney disciplinary hearings have been open to the public. Anyone who is interested in being notified in advance of any hearings on this matter may complete and send a hearing request form to Ethics Secretary Natalie S. Watson via fax to 973-624-7070.