Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ethics complaint dismissed against lawyer who serves as Plainfield judge.

In an undated report that was likely issued within the past three months, a three-member panel of the Essex County-based District VB Ethics Committee recommended dismissal of charges against a West Orange lawyer accused of urging Newark officials to refrain from doing business with a company that the lawyer's client was suing.  According to the on-line New Jersey Lawyer Diary and Manual, the lawyer who faced these charges also serves as Plainfield Municipal Court judge.

According to the Hearing Panel Report, Patricia Weston Rivera, in her capacity of an attorney rather than a judge, represented Ruby Deschamps Hicks in a lawsuit against ethics grievant Jamilah Muhammad and her company, KIJ & A. Co.  According to the report, the object of the lawsuit was to absolve Ms. Hicks "of responsibility for charges on a credit card that" Muhammad had allegedly made at Home Depot.  During the pendency of the lawsuit, Rivera admitted that she wrote a letter to the Director of Newark's Department of Economic and Housing Development that detailed Hicks' claim against Muhammad and which urged the City to "not buy from [Muhammad] nor sell to [Muhammad] or her company as long as the litigation between" the parties continued.  Rivera also admitted to having made several phone calls to Newark seeking the same result.

Muhammad's grievance claimed that Rivera's efforts sought to "coerce an outcome not yet reached by a court" and violated several Rules of Professional Conduct, according to the report.  The ethics panel, staffed by attorneys Charles S. Lorber of Roseland, Karina D. Fuentes of the Federal Public Defender's Office and public member Bishop Jethro C. James, Jr., found that the prosecution did not bear its "burden of proving unethical conduct by clear and convincing evidence."  According to the report, "there was no evidence that any legal right of [Muhammad] was violated or that the purpose for submitting the documents to the City of Newark was other than to advance the rights of [Hicks]."

Muhammad has a right to appeal the dismissal to the Disciplinary Review Board.  It is unknown whether or not she has exercised that right.

A lawyer named Patricia Weston Rivera, who appears to be the same lawyer involved in the above-described event, was admonished by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2008 for "violating RPC 1.15(a) (negligent misappropriation), RPC 1.5(a) (unreasonable fee), and RPC 1.15(d) and Rule 1:21-6 (recordkeeping deficiencies)."  According to a March 13, 2008 New Jersey Law Journal article, the Disciplinary Review Board recommended that Rivera be reprimanded for keeping "sloppy books" and for charging excessive fees in 18 personal injury cases.