Herman, Matter of

Decision Date17 July 1987
Citation527 A.2d 868,108 N.J. 66
PartiesIn the Matter of Steven Allen HERMAN, An Attorney-at-Law.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Richard J. Engelhardt, Asst. Ethics Counsel, Trenton, on behalf of Office of Atty. Ethics.

Ronald Busch, New Brunswick, for respondent (Busch & Busch, attorneys).


This matter arises from a report of the Disciplinary Review Board (Board or DRB) recommending that respondent, Steven Allan Herman, be suspended from the practice of law for a minimum period of three years from the time of his temporary suspension. The matter came before the Board on a motion for final discipline filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics based upon respondent's guilty plea to a charge of sexual assault in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2b. Respondent does not challenge the DRB's finding that he engaged in conduct that adversely reflected on his fitness to practice law, contrary to DR 1-102(A)(3), and the only issue is the appropriate discipline to be imposed.


The DRB summarized the relevant facts as follows:

Several times between May 1, and July 31, 1984 respondent, 44, purposely touched the buttocks of a ten-year-old boy who was visiting respondent's son in respondent's home. Respondent either touched the buttocks from the outside of the boy's clothing or would insert his hand inside the boy's pants.

Respondent was arrested on September 16, 1984. On March 1, 1985 he pleaded guilty to a Mercer County accusation which charged him with committing sexual assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2b. This law provides that a person is guilty of sexual assault if he commits an act of sexual contact with a victim who is less than 13 years old and the actor is at least 4 years older than the victim. As part of the plea agreement, the State recommended dismissal of other complaints charging respondent with similar conduct with about five different boys. The State also agreed that no charges would be filed against respondent as a result of a then pending investigation involving one or two other boys.

Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:47-1 respondent was referred to the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center for examination. The examination revealed that respondent's conduct qualified him to be sentenced under the purview of the State Sex Offender Act in that there had been a pattern of repetitive, compulsive behavior. Under this Act, a court could sentence a defendant to the Diagnostic Center for a program of specialized treatment for his mental condition. Respondent was sentenced on June 14, 1985. The court was informed respondent had been undergoing counseling since the time of the incident and it would continue. Although there is a presumption of imprisonment for conviction of a second degree crime, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1d, the court placed respondent on three years probation with the condition that counseling be continued, and the counselor file a report with the probation department every 90 days. In addition, 60 hours of community service and a fine of $350 were imposed. There was no finding that the mitigating factors substantially outweighed the aggravating factors, N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1f(2).

At the time of the offense, respondent was associated with a law firm in East Brunswick, New Jersey. Within days of his arrest, he voluntarily terminated his relationship with that firm and ceased practicing law. On November 20, 1985, this Court formally suspended respondent from the practice of law pending the outcome of these proceedings. In re Herman, 101 N.J. 26, 499 A.2d 1363 (1985).

With respect to the appropriate discipline, the DRB stated:

"The principal reason for discipline is to preserve the confidence of the public in the integrity and trustworthiness of lawyers in general." Matter of Kushner, 101 N.J. 397, 400 (1986); In re Wilson, 81 N.J. 451, 456 (1979). The interests of the public, the bar and the individual involved must be considered. Kushner, supra, [101 N.J.] at 400 ; In re Infinito, 94 N.J. 50, 57 (1983); In re Mischlich, 60 N.J. 590, 593 (1972).

"Disciplinary determinations are necessarily fact-sensitive." Kushner, supra, 101 N.J. at 400 . Not only should consideration be given to the nature and severity of the crime and the relation of the crime to the practice of law, it should also be given to factors which mitigate the damage an attorney's misconduct has caused. This would include the attorney's good reputation, his prior trustworthy professional conduct and his general good character. Id. at 400-401 ; In re Infinito, supra, 94 N.J. at 57 .

Respondent, admitted to the bar in both New Jersey and New York, has no prior disciplinary history. His misconduct was not directly related to the practice of law. However, an attorney is

... obligated to adhere to the high standard required by a member of the bar even though his activities do not involve the practice of law. In re Ryan, 66 N.J. 147, 150 (1974); In re Carlson, 17 N.J. 338, 346 (1955); In re Genser, 15 N.J. 600, 606 (1954); [In re Franklin, 71 N.J. 425, 429, 365 A.2d 1361 (1976) ].

The misconduct involved here is serious. The legislature has designated this type of crime at the second highest level and has mandated that a person violating this law be incarcerated regardless of the person's background. See N.J.S.A. 2C:44-1d. Under the state's criminal code, the fundamental sentencing guideline is the punishment must fit the crime and not the criminal. See State v. Hodge, 95 N.J. 369, 376 (1984). However, the central concern in attorney ethics "is the fostering of public confidence in the bar, not the punishment of wrongdoing attorneys. In re Hughes, 90 N.J. 32, 36 (1982)." Kushner, supra, 101 N.J. at 400 . In In re Addonizio, 95 N.J. 121 (1984) the Court noted that

[a]n Ethical Consideration in the Code of Professional Responsibility adopted by the American Bar Association states: "Because of his position in society, even minor violations of law by a lawyer may tend to lessen public confidence in the legal profession. Obedience to law exemplifies respect for law. To lawyers especially, respect for the law should be more than a platitude." Model Code of Professional Responsibility EC 1-5 (1980) [Id. at 124].

As a representative of a profession that advocates the law, an attorney must set an example that the law will be obeyed. An attorney is an attorney 24 hours a day, not eight hours, five days a week. See State v. Postorino, 53 Wis.2d 412, 193 N.W.2d 1, 4 (1972).

The discipline to be imposed must accord with the seriousness of the misconduct in light of relevant circumstances. In re Nigohosian, 88 N.J. 308, 315 (1982). The Board finds in mitigation that respondent has no prior disciplinary history and he cooperated with law enforcement officials following his arrest. However, the Board concludes the aggravating factors substantially outweigh the mitigating factors. This was a serious crime of moral turpitude involving a child of tender years. The young victim required weeks of counseling, but a traumatic event such as this will long leave its scar on the victim. Childhood should be a time of trust and happiness, not one of abuse by an adult seeking sexual gratification. The Board unanimously recommends respondent be suspended from the practice of law for a minimum of three years, running from the time of his temporary suspension. Respondent also must continue with active counseling as directed by the criminal court. Prior to any restoration to the practice of law, the Board recommends respondent be psychiatrically evaluated by an independent physician appointed by the Board to determine whether it is likely that this type of conduct could recur.

We share the views of the DRB that respondent's offense was serious. We note, however, that respondent has cooperated with law enforcement authorities and that he voluntarily suspended his practice of law on or about ...

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10 cases
  • Attorney Grievance v. Childress
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • April 19, 2001
    ...with no possibility of reinstatement for two years for attorney who sexually assaulted eleven year old nephew); In re Herman, 108 N.J. 66, 527 A.2d 868, 871 (1987) (attorney suspended for three years for sexual assault of ten year old boy); In re Wong, 275 A.D.2d 1, 710 N.Y.S.2d 57, 61 (200......
  • Christie, Matter of
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Delaware
    • January 23, 1990
    ...his own, where the Supreme Court of New Jersey imposed a three-year suspension which was effective retroactively. In the Matter of Herman, 108 N.J. 66, 527 A.2d 868 (1987). V Proceedings for discipline are not criminal in character, but are "in the nature of an investigation by the Court in......
  • Roth, Matter of
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • August 2, 1990
    ...to the high standard required by a member of the bar even though his activities do not involve the practice of law." In re Herman, 108 N.J. 66, 69, 527 A.2d 868 (1987). "This remains the benchmark of the legal profession, even though the commercial market place may accept a lower standard."......
  • X, Matter of
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • July 27, 1990
    ...urges that discipline short of disbarment is appropriate in this case. He places particular reliance on our decision in In re Herman, 108 N.J. 66, 527 A.2d 868 (1987). In Herman, we suspended respondent for a period of three years for having committed second-degree sexual assault. Id. at 70......
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