Hasbrouck, Matter of

Decision Date30 January 1998
Citation705 A.2d 350,152 N.J. 366
PartiesIn the Matter of Patricia Lynn HASBROUCK, an Attorney at Law.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Richard J. Engelhardt, Assistant Ethics Counsel, on behalf of the Office of Attorney Ethics.

Stephen S. Weinstein, Morristown, for respondent (Mr. Weinstein, attorney; Gail S. Boertzel, on the brief).


This attorney-disciplinary matter is based on respondent's criminal convictions in Warren County Superior Court on four counts of third-degree burglary, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2, three counts of third-degree theft by unlawful taking, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3, and one count of fourth-degree theft by unlawful taking, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-3. Having pleaded guilty to all eight counts on which she was charged, respondent, Patricia Lynn Hasbrouck, was sentenced to four years of imprisonment and was ordered to pay a $400 Violent Crimes Compensation Board penalty, a $600 Safe and Secure Communities Program fee and $4,178.38 in restitution.

This is not respondent's first disciplinary matter to come before this Court. In May 1995, we suspended respondent 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 practice.

On motion of the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) for final discipline, the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) unanimously recommended that respondent be disbarred, rejecting the OAE's recommendation that respondent be suspended for three years. We adopt the recommendation of the DRB.


Respondent was admitted to practice law in New Jersey in 1981. Until her suspension in 1995, she was in private practice in Washington Township, Warren County. She served on the Fee Arbitration Committee and was an officer of the Warren County Bar Association. Her ethical record as an attorney was unblemished. Tragically, beginning sometime around 1986, an addiction to prescription pain-killers changed respondent's life. The undisputed facts leading to respondent's initial one-year suspension were set forth in this Court's opinion:

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 [Pre-Trial Intervention] 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 [Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC ) ] 8.4(b) and (d).

[In re Hasbrouck, supra, 140 N.J. at 165-66, 657 A.2d 878.]

Respondent averred in that disciplinary proceeding that she had overcome her addiction to pain-killing medications, and sought to introduce her rehabilitation as a mitigating factor before both the DRB and this Court. Id. at 169-70, 657 A.2d 878. Finding that respondent had "given us no indication that she would have attempted to control her addiction to painkillers if one of her forged prescriptions had not been detected," the Court declined to give significant weight to her efforts to achieve rehabilitation, noting that "[i]t was the heavy arm of the law, rather than her own conscience, that convinced respondent to seek help." Id. at 170, 657 A.2d 878.

The facts giving rise to this subsequent disciplinary action arose during the very period when respondent's initial disciplinary action was pending before this Court. Her misconduct is described in the Offense Information Report, an excerpt from which is quoted in the DRB opinion:

Between 11/94 and 02/95, Patricia Hasbrouck burglarized the homes of doctors in four (4) different counties (Warren, Hunterdon, Somerset and Morris). She was attempting to obtain keys to the doctors' offices in order to obtain prescription drugs. After she obtained the keys, she would go to the doctors' offices and take the samples of prescription drugs.

Ms. Hasbrouck would also take jewelry and the purses of the doctors' wives from the homes. The purses contained cash, credit cards and address books. These address books would have other doctors' names and addresses in them. Ms. Hasbrouck would also obtain the addresses of doctors from the tax maps as well as the IRS tax returns.

Police Reports indicate that the burglaries and thefts were sometimes in isolated areas. The victims were sometimes home and sleeping when she entered the homes. She used gloves so [as] not to leave fingerprints. She would also call the victims to see if anyone was home.

After her arrest, respondent consented to her temporary suspension on March 16, 1995, approximately two months before this Court issued its decision ordering her one-year suspension on the initial disciplinary charges.


A criminal conviction of an attorney is conclusive evidence of guilt in a disciplinary proceeding. R. 1:20-13(c)(1); In re Howard, 143 N.J. 526, 529, 673 A.2d 800 (1996); In re Kinnear, 105 N.J. 391, 393, 522 A.2d 414 (1987). Once an attorney is convicted of a crime, the sole issue to be considered is the extent of discipline to be imposed. R. 1:20-13(c)(2); In re Zauber, 122 N.J. 87, 92, 583 A.2d 1140 (1991); Kinnear, supra, 105 N.J. at 393, 522 A.2d 414; In re Goldberg, 105 N.J. 278, 280, 520 A.2d 1147 (1987). In assessing the measure of discipline to be imposed, the background facts and circumstances of the case drawn from presentence reports, plea agreements, and other reliable documentation are also to be considered. In re Spina, 121 N.J. 378, 389-90, 580 A.2d 262 (1990).

The principle goal of disciplinary proceedings is to foster and preserve public confidence in the bar, not to punish wrongdoing attorneys. Howard, supra, 143 N.J. at 529-30, 673 A.2d 800; Kinnear, supra, 105 N.J. at 397, 522 A.2d 414; In re Wilson, 81 N.J. 451, 456, 409 A.2d 1153 (1979). As noted by the DRB, even a minor violation of the law by an attorney tends to lessen public confidence in the legal profession as a whole. In re Addonizio, 95 N.J. 121, 124, 469 A.2d 492 (1984). The commission of a criminal act by an attorney also constitutes a violation of that attorney's duty to uphold and honor the law. In re Bricker, 90 N.J. 6, 11, 446 A.2d 1195 (1982). Pursuant to RPC 8.4(b), it is professional misconduct for an attorney to "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects."

Determining the appropriate discipline for criminal misconduct by an attorney requires a consideration of many factors, including "the nature and severity of the crime, whether the crime is related to the practice of law, and any mitigating factors such as respondent's reputation, his [or her] prior trustworthy conduct, and general good conduct." In re Lunetta, 118 N.J. 443, 445-46, 572 A.2d 586 (1989). That respondent's conduct did not involve the practice of law, was not committed in her professional capacity, and allegedly has harmed none of respondent's clients, does not preclude strong discipline. Hasbrouck, supra, 140 N.J. at 167, 657 A.2d 878; In re Schaffer, 140 N.J. 148, 156, 657 A.2d 871 (1995); In re Suchanoff, 93 N.J. 226, 230, 460 A.2d 642 (1983). Some criminal conduct is so utterly incompatible with the standard of honesty and integrity that we require of attorneys that the most severe discipline is justified by the seriousness of the offense alone.

In In re "X", 120 N.J. 459, 577 A.2d 139 (1990), we disbarred an attorney based on his convictions on three counts of second-degree sexual assault against his minor daughters. The Court in "X" agreed with the finding of the DRB that "respondent's atrocious acts justify his disbarment. * * * A less severe discipline would undermine the gravity of the ethics offenses, the seriousness of the crimes, and the confidence reposed by the public on the members of the legal profession and on the judicial system." Id. at 464, 577 A.2d 139. Citing In re McAlesher, 93 N.J. 486, 461 A.2d 1122 (1983), a case in which we disbarred an attorney who pled guilty to second-degree murder, the Court indicated that it was "break[ing] no new ground in disbarring an attorney based on a conviction for a second-degree offense unrelated to the practice of law." "X", supra, 120 N.J. at 464, 577 A.2d 139. In In re Goldberg, supra, 105 N.J. 278, 520 A.2d 1147, we disbarred an attorney convicted of a federal felony for conspiracy to distribute a...

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