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Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 28335
Attorney Name Moeller, G. Jeffrey
DBP Docket No. 53 DB 2000
Supreme Court Docket No. 753 D.D. No.3
County Out of State (NJ)
Disciplinary Counsel Edwin R. Frownfelter
Counsel for Respondent Pro se
Decision Date 2002-07-10
Effective Date 2002-08-10
Case Digest Respondent is a lawyer admitted and with an active practice in in New Jersey. He is also admitted in Pennsylvania, but had been transferred to inactive status for failure to file a registration form and pay his annual fee in 1991. Respondent entered into an arrangement with a nonlawyer estate planning company to review and approve living trust applications which the company sold through representatives in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. At the company's insistence, Respondent created a letterhead listing a Pennsylvania address which was not an actual office, but with which he had an agreement for forwarding mail. For each application he reviewed, he was paid $100 out of a fee of $1995 collected by the company. The client in this matter was a Pennsylvania resident who met with a nonlawyer sales representative who took down all her information, received her check, and forwarded these to Respondent. Respondent's staff put the information into form documents, and Respondent signed a letter on the Pennsylvania letterhead advising the client that the documents were in proper legal form. Upon receipt of the signed documents, Respondent forwarded some of them to a Pennsylvania court for filing. Respondent never interviewed or communicated personally with the client. The Disciplinary Board found that the estates company had engaged in the unauthorized practice of law, and that Respondent had aided them in doing so. The Board found that by accepting payment out of a common fund, the Respondent had divided a legal fee with a nonlawyer. By submitting a document of legal significance to a Pennsylvania court, Respondent practiced law when he was not eligible to do so. The Disciplinary Board recommended a suspension for three months, with four members voting for Private Reprimand, and one member filing a dissenting opinion. The dissenting opinion stressed that Respondent had committed an act of dishonesty by using a letterhead containing a false Pennsylvania address, and recommended a suspension for a year and a day. The Supreme Court accepted the recommendation of the dissenting opinion, and suspended the Respondent for one year and one day.
Rule Violation(s) RPC 5.4(a); 5.5(a); 5.5(b); 7.1(a); 7.2(i); 7.5(a); 8.4(c)
Discipline Imposed Suspension for one year and one day.
Points of Law A nonlawyer estates company marketing living trust packages, which collects information from clients and recommends the establishment of a living trust, is engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. A lawyer who performs legal reviews of documents generated by a nonlawyer estate planning company marketing living trusts is guilty of assisting a nonlawyer in the unauthorized practice of law. A lawyer admitted to the bar of Pennsylavnia has a personal and professional responsibility to be aware of the status of his admission and eligibility to practice. A Pennsylvania-admitted lawyer who is on inactive status may not advise Pennsylvania clients on legal matters or file papers with Pennsylvania courts. A lawyer who uses letterhead containing an address which is not an actual office address commits several violations involving honesty and truthful advertising. A lawyer who receives a legal fee out of the same funds collected by a nonlawyer from a client for a package of services that includes both legal and nonlegal services shares a legal fee with a nonlawyer in violation of RPC 5.4(a).
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