Hasbrouck, Matter of

Citation140 N.J. 162,657 A.2d 878
PartiesIn the Matter of Patricia Lynn HASBROUCK, An Attorney at Law.
Decision Date12 May 1995
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)

Walton W. Kingsbery, III, Deputy Ethics Counsel, for Office of Atty. Ethics.

Stephen S. Weinstein, Morristown, for respondent (Mr. Weinstein, attorney; Mr. Weinstein and Peter N. Gilbreth, of counsel and on the brief).


This is an attorney-disciplinary case in which the attorney's ethics violations are based on the commission of offenses relating to controlled dangerous substances. The Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) commenced this disciplinary proceeding by filing a motion before the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), seeking final discipline of respondent, Patricia Lynn Hasbrouck, pursuant to Rule 1:20-2 for violating the Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC ). The motion was based on respondent's arrest and admission into a Pre-Trial Intervention program (PTI) for obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud and for uttering a forged prescription. Although respondent did not plead guilty and was not found guilty of either offense, she stipulated that her conduct had violated RPC 8.4(b), commission of a criminal act adversely reflecting on honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness as a lawyer, and RPC 8.4(d), conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. Thus, the sole issue is the appropriate measure of discipline.

The DRB unanimously recommended that respondent be suspended from the practice of law for one year, but that the suspension be suspended while she continue outpatient treatment for one year and be subject to periodic drug testing to confirm that she remain drug free. Under this regime, the DRB recommended that the suspension go into effect only if respondent failed to meet those conditions.

Our independent review of the record leads us to reject the DRB's recommendation of a suspended suspension and order respondent's immediate suspension from the practice of law for one year.


The facts underlying the arrest are not in dispute. Respondent was admitted to practice law in New Jersey in 1981. She has been in private practice in Washington, Warren County.

An unspecified number of years ago, respondent began suffering from migraine headaches. Her father, a physician, prescribed the pain-killing medication, darvocet, for her. Gradually, she started taking the medication more frequently. In 1986, she began taking sheets from her father's prescription pads and forging prescriptions for the drug. At first, respondent had the prescriptions filled only at local pharmacies so the prescription would not be questioned. As she needed to have prescriptions filled more frequently, she traveled greater distances. In 1989, she switched from darvocet to vicodin. When respondent's father retired, his office supplies, including prescription pads, were stored at respondent's home. Respondent wrote prescriptions for herself, not only in her name, but also in the names of her husband and her sister.

On April 12, 1993, respondent was apprehended attempting to have a prescription filled in her sister's name. The pharmacist had called the telephone number on the prescription for verification and learned that respondent's father had been retired for over one year. The pharmacist telephoned the police. Respondent was arrested on that date for violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:21-1a(3), uttering a forged prescription, and violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-13, obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud.

In a statement to the Morris County Prosecutor, respondent admitted the facts underlying the charges. In the criminal proceeding, respondent executed a Waiver of Indictment and was admitted to the PTI program by order dated August 2, 1993. Respondent entered Clear Brook Manor on April 17, 1993, completed the prescribed twenty-eight day program for substance abuse and was discharged on May 15, 1993.

In disciplinary proceedings, respondent admitted that she had violated RPC 8.4(b) and (d). The OAE recommended a six-month suspension, based on this Court's decision in In re Adubato, 106 N.J. 655 (1987). The DRB found, however, that more severe discipline was warranted, and thus recommended a one-year suspension. However, the DRB recommended that the suspension itself should be suspended, finding that "no useful purpose [would] be served by imposing an active suspension on this attorney."


The privilege to practice law is dependant on an attorney's ability to maintain a high moral character. In re La Duca, 62 N.J. 133, 140, 299 A.2d 405 (1973); In re Gavel, 22 N.J. 248, 266, 125 A.2d 696 (1956); In re Pennica, 36 N.J. 401, 433-34, 177 A.2d 721 (1962). Indeed, this requirement inheres in our paramount concern in the administration of attorney discipline for the maintenance of public confidence in the integrity of the bar. In re Kaufman, 104 N.J. 509, 513, 518 A.2d 185 (1986). A criminal conviction is conclusive evidence of an attorney's guilt in disciplinary proceedings. R. 1:20-6(b)(1); In re Kinnear, 105 N.J. 391, 395, 522 A.2d 414 (1987). Yet, it is the ethics rules, and not the criminal statutes, that regulate the privilege to practice law in this State. A deviation from those rules can bring about disciplinary measures administered by this Court.

Respondent admitted that she violated RPC 8.4(b) and (d). Although respondent was not convicted of a crime, she stipulated that her conduct constituted the commission of a crime. Because that behavior does not comport with the ethics rules governing attorney conduct, respondent must be disciplined.

Moreover, discipline is proper and will be invoked even though respondent's conduct did not arise from a lawyer/client relationship, that her behavior was not related to the practice of law or that her offense was not committed in her professional capacity. In re Suchanoff, 93 N.J. 226, 230, 460 A.2d 642 (1983); In re Kinnear, supra, 105 N.J. at 395, 522 A.2d 414. Any misbehavior, private or professional, that reveals a lack of good character and integrity essential for a person to practice as an attorney constitutes a basis for discipline. In re La Duca, supra, 62 N.J. at 140, 299 A.2d 405; In re Gavel, supra, 22 N.J. at 266, 125 A.2d 696; In re Franklin, 71 N.J. 425, 429, 365 A.2d 1361 (1976). An attorney is obligated to adhere to the high standard of conduct required by a member of the bar, even though her activities do not involve the practice of law and do not directly affect her clients. In re Suchanoff, supra, 93 N.J. at 230, 460 A.2d 642; In re Rutledge, 101 N.J. 493, 498, 502 A.2d 569 (1986); In re Huber, 101 N.J. 1, 4, 499 A.2d 220 (1985); In re Franklin, supra, 71 N.J. at 429, 365 A.2d 1361.

Thus, although respondent's conduct did not involve the practice of law, she has acted in contravention of the ethical mandates that insist upon the highest moral character from those privileged to be members of the bar. Her acts allegedly did not affect her clients, for she was able to maintain her legal obligations even while she unlawfully forged prescriptions to feed her addiction to pain killers. Nevertheless, respondent's conduct warrants strict disciplinary measures because it calls into question her honesty and integrity, as well as her respect for the law.


Every disciplinary case is fact sensitive. In re Kinnear, supra, 105 N.J. at 395, 522 A.2d 414; In re Litwin, 104 N.J. 362, 366, 517 A.2d 378 (1986). The gravity of respondent's conduct lies not only in its evident disregard for the law but also in its fraudulent and deceptive nature. Dishonest conduct " 'impugns the integrity of the legal system' and destroys 'public trust and confidence' in the law and the legal system.' " In re Zauber, 122 N.J. 87, 93, 583 A.2d 1140 (1991) (citation omitted). Such conduct "places in question the lawyer's integrity and respect for the law." In re Kaufman, supra, 104 N.J. at 514, 518 A.2d 185. Violations of the criminal laws governing controlled dangerous substances that involve fraudulent conduct constitute serious ethics transgressions that justify a stern disciplinary response, see In re Adubato, supra, 106 N.J. 655; In re McCarthy, 119 N.J. 437, 575 A.2d 434 (1990); In re Zauber, supra, 122 N.J. 87, 583 A.2d 1140, and even disbarment when that conduct is particularly egregious. See, In re Zauber, supra, 122 N.J. at 93, 583 A.2d 1140.

In Adubato, a case similar to respondent's, the attorney was disciplined on the basis of being found guilty of a violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-22(a)(3), an attempt to obtain a controlled dangerous substance by fraud. Like respondent, Adubato suffered from migraine headaches for which two physicians prescribed dilaudid. He became addicted to dilaudid. When he no longer had a valid prescription, he resorted to misrepresentation and fraud to obtain the drug. A six-month suspension was imposed.

More severe discipline was imposed in McCarthy. McCarthy was found guilty of distribution of a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-19(a)(1), and obtaining a controlled dangerous substance for himself by fraud in violation of N.J.S.A. 24:21-22(a)(3). Between April 1982 and May 1984, McCarthy, a practicing psychiatrist, wrote 108 prescriptions for four patients for controlled dangerous substances, without a valid Drug Enforcement Agency number. He further stipulated that, between July 1981 and May 1984, he deceptively wrote seventeen prescriptions, using the names of family or friends, in order to obtain controlled dangerous substances for his personal use. The Court deemed twenty-seven months served, from the date of McCarthy's temporary suspension, to be sufficient discipline, and ordered reinstatement to practice law be conditioned on medical and psychiatric proofs of fitness.

The DRB here found that

[i]n light of the length of time that respondent's transgressions spanned, the repeated incidents and the careful calculation involved in her...

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52 cases
  • Hasbrouck, Matter of
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
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    ...for a period of one year for obtaining a controlled dangerous substance by fraud and for uttering a forged prescription. In re Hasbrouck, 140 N.J. 162, 657 A.2d 878 (1995). Respondent has not yet sought to be restored to On motion of the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) for final discipline,......
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