Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lawyer, formerly of Scotch Plains, charged by ethics authorities with $40,000 escrow violation.

On July 6, 2016, the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filed a formal complaint alleging that an attorney who formerly practiced in Scotch Plains improperly disbursed $40,000 that she was holding in escrow for a real estate purchaser and then "misrepresented that she was still in possession of the $40,000 when, in fact, the money had already been disbursed to others." 

The complaint is against Annette P. Alfano, who ran a one-woman law office at 1812 Front Street in Scotch Plains at the time she held the escrowed funds. In March 2010, Alfano allegedly disbursed $40,000 she was safeguarding for real estate purchaser Jaswans Masson without Masson's permission.  She allegedly disbursed Masson's $40,000 at the direction of her client, Kerry Gillon, who operated The Community Group, a for-profit company that bought, rehabilitated and sold buildings.  When Masson's lawyer, Alan J. Gottlieb of East Brunswick, demanded that the $40,000 be returned, Alfano allegedly told him that the money was still in her trust account even though she knew that it had already been disbursed. The complaint and Alfano's answer are online here: Office of Attorney Ethics v. Annette P. Alfano, Esq., Docket No. XIV-2015-0373E.

In her answer, Alfano admits to nearly all of the complaint's factual allegations.  She claimed that she "believed she had authority to disburse the funds" and that even if she did act improperly, "it was only minor misconduct."  Alfano's defense also noted that she had fully cooperated with ethics authorities, that she did not financially benefit from the $40,000 disbursement and that she "no longer maintains personal office business and trust accounts" because she is now employed by the Branchburg-based Law Office of Peter N. Laub, Jr. & Associates, LLC

This is only a summary of the complaint and answer and readers who want more information and context are directed to the filed documents which are on-line at the link above. None of the allegations against Alfano have been proven. The charges will be tried before an ethics panel and the burden is on the ethics authorities to prove their allegations.

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 the OAE in care of Barbara Cristofaro via fax to 609-530-5238.