Wednesday, December 21, 2011

NJ Supreme Court tosses ethics charge over seal on firm website

The New Jersey State Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the ethics complaint against an employment lawyer whose website bore the seal of the New Jersey Board on Attorney Certification, despite the lawyer's not having received the credential.

Ty Hyderally, who owns Hyderally & Associates in Montclair, was accused of violating the state Supreme Court's rules prohibiting "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation," for displaying the seal for two years. The seal, which appeared on 16 different pages of Hyderally's website, includes the language "New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Attorney."

In dismissing the complaint the top court concluded that there was "no clear and convincing evidence" that Hyderally had either intentionally included the seal or approved its presence on the site, the decision said.

But the court also warned members of the New Jersey bar that attorneys are responsible for monitoring the content of all communications with the public, including their websites, to make sure that those communications conform "at all times" with the Rules of Professional Conduct. Going forward, attorneys who are not authorized to use the seal "will be subject to appropriate discipline," the court ruled. The court did not specify what discipline it would consider appropriate.

The seal "represents a significant professional achievement by the lawyers who earn it," the decision said.

According to the certification board's website, to receive the designation an attorney must demonstrate "sufficient levels of experience, education, knowledge and skill in a specific area of law or practice; have passed a rigorous examination; and have been recognized by their peers as having sufficient skills and reputation in the designated specialty."

As of Dec. 2010, the most recent date for which figures are available, 87,639 attorneys were admitted to practice in New Jersey, according to Tammy Kendig, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts. Kendig said that as of Tuesday, 1,550 attorneys have been certified by the attorney-certification board.

'Unintentional and inadvertent'

Hyderally was admitted to the bar in 1994. Neither he nor any of his associates or staff had been certified when Hyderally asked his cousin, Yusuf Asgerally, a website designer based in California, to design his firm's website in 2005.

Hyderally said he never reviewed the site's content in detail and didn't know the seal had been included until 2007, when he learned the Supreme Court Committee on Attorney Advertising had received a grievance about the false designation, according to the decision.

In 2010, the Office of Attorney Ethics filed a complaint against Hyderally. During a hearing on the complaint, Asgerally testified that he had seen images of the seal and assumed that a lawyer practicing in New Jersey is certified.

Hyderally testified that he didn't tell his cousin to include the seal, and that after learning of its presence, he told Asgerally to take it down. He testified that the seal's presence "had been unintentional and inadvertent."

The hearing panel concluded that Hyderally had a duty to monitor his website and ensure that it contained no improper content, and that his conduct warranted a reprimand.

But when the Disciplinary Review Board reviewed the panel's recommendation, it concluded the complaint should be dismissed, citing Hyderally's immediate removal of the seal and the fact that he had not derived any benefit from displaying the emblem.

The Office of Attorney Ethics challenged the board's decision, arguing that the seal's improper use could not be cured simply by discontinuing its use, and that evidence of a benefit is not required to prove a violation.

In a phone interview, Hyderally said, "I'm very happy with the decision and relieved, quite frankly, that this ordeal ... concluded in a positive manner."

The Office of Attorney Ethics did not respond to a call for comment.

The case is In the Matter of Ty Hyderally, an attorney at law, Supreme Court of New Jersey, No. 068701.

For Hyderally: Frederick Dennehy of Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer

For the Office of Attorney Ethics: Walton Kingsbery III, Assistant Ethics Counsel.

By Jennifer Golson

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight

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