On Tuesday, July 11, 2023, the Supreme Court of New Jersey censured attorney Walter K. Abrams for failure recordkeeping deficiencies and inactive balances in his attorney trust account.

The case is entitled “In the matter of Walter K. Abrams”, and was bought by the Office of Attorney Ethics with case no. 088157.

Attorney Walter K. Abrams was found to have violated the following rules:

RPC 1.1(a) – Exhibiting gross neglect

RPC 1.1(b) – Exhibiting a pattern of neglect

RPC 1.3 – Exhibiting a lack of diligence

RPC 1.4(b) – Failing to communicate with a client

RPC 1.4(c) – Failing to explain a matter to a client to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation

RPC 1.15(b) – Failing to promptly deliver funds to the client or a third party

RPC 1.15(d) – Failing to comply with the recordkeeping requirements of Rule 1:21-6

RPC 1.16(d) – Failing to protect the client’s interests upon termination of the representation

RPC 8.1(b) – Two instances of failing to cooperate with disciplinary authorities

The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.

The Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filed a complaint against an attorney for multiple violations, including gross neglect, lack of diligence, failure to communicate with clients, and other ethical breaches. The attorney had an ATA (attorney trust account) and had not properly handled client funds, leading to recordkeeping deficiencies and inactive balances in the ATA. The OAE conducted a random audit, which the attorney was unprepared for, and he failed to provide the required documents and cooperate throughout the investigation.

The attorney also neglected various estate matters, resulting in unpaid beneficiaries and unrectified balances in his ATA. Despite several warnings and extensions, the attorney consistently failed to provide the requested information and continued to neglect his obligations. Additionally, the attorney’s ATA was closed due to suspicion of money laundering, leaving client funds in limbo.

The Decision states:

“Upon reviewing respondent’s submissions and his “bank records obtained via subpoena,”4 the OAE determined that respondent had violated Rule 1:21-6 and docketed the instant disciplinary matter against him. By letter dated April 13, 2020, the OAE advised the respondent that the matter had been docketed and directed him to provide “outstanding trust account records client files, and additional explanations for certain client matters by May 1, 2020.” The OAE sent the letter by regular mail to the respondent’s office, with an additional copy sent via e-mail.”

The Decision continues:

“On December 21, 2020, the OAE sent the respondent a letter requiring him to appear for a demanding interview on January 7, 2021. During the interview on that date, the OAE asked the respondent why the inactive balances in his ATA had not been rectified, and the respondent replied that “he did not have a reason why he failed to disburse funds to his clients.” He also admitted that he “should have disbursed the funds several years ago,” but that, due to the passage of time, he “no longer could find his client files.”

The Decision further states:

“On January 13, 2021, respondent informed the OAE, by e-mail, that he could not issue ATA checks in connection with his six inactive client matters because his “secretary was diagnosed with COVID . . . and w[ould] be unable to go into the office where [his] computer and Trust Checks [were] located until” the end of the week. On January 28, 2021, the respondent stated that his secretary had picked up the checks and that they would be issued the next day.5 By email on the same day, the OAE again attached its January 7, 2021 letter and reminded the respondent that it expected to receive all items listed, not just copies of the checks.”

After a thorough review, the court finds that the respondent violated multiple Rules of Professional Conduct (RPCs) but dismisses some of the charges due to lack of evidence. The court decides to impose a censure, taking into account both mitigating factors (respondent’s unblemished history as an attorney for 47 years) and aggravating factors (the default status of the matter).

In addition to the censure, the court imposes several conditions on the respondent. He must complete a recordkeeping course, open and maintain an attorney trust account (ATA), provide regular account reconciliations to the OAE, and provide documentation of releasing unclaimed trust account funds to their intended beneficiaries or the Superior Court Trust Fund Unit. The court noted that failure to comply with these conditions may lead to temporary suspension, and the respondent is also required to reimburse the Disciplinary Oversight Committee for administrative costs and expenses related to the prosecution of the case.

The Disposition states:

“It is ORDERED that Walter K. Abrams is hereby censured; and it is further ORDERED that respondent shall submit to the Office of Attorney Ethics (1) proof of a completed recordkeeping course pre-approved by the Office of ” Attorney Ethics within sixty days of this order, (2) open and maintain an ATA, pursuant to Rule 1:21-6(a), (3) monthly reconciliations of his attorney accounts, on a quarterly basis, for a two-year period and (4) documentary proof of the release of all unclaimed trust account funds to their intended beneficiaries, or to the Superior Court Trust Fund Unit, as Rule 1:21-6(j) requires, within sixty days of this order.”

Mr. Abrams practices in South Plainfield, New Jersey, He is licensed in New Jersey. His info can be found on lawyer.com.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.