Lawyer disbarred for abandoning clients after moving across the country to 'play jazz'
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A New Jersey lawyer has been disbarred for dropping work on two bankruptcy cases, vanishing from New Jersey and keeping retainers of $1,500 and $1,410.
One of the clients learned that lawyer James Peter Byrne had moved through the lawyer’s Facebook page, according to a report by the New Jersey Supreme Court Disciplinary Review Board.
Byrne wrote that he was closing his law office and moving to Washington state to “play jazz.”
The review board had proposed a two-year suspension in its September 2018 report, but the New Jersey Supreme Court decided instead to disbar Byrne in an April 25 order. The Legal Profession Blog has coverage.
The review board also referred to another case in which it had recommended that Byrne receive a three-month suspension for abandoning a third client, without refunding $2,500 that she paid him. The New Jersey Supreme Court imposed the recommended suspension Oct. 2.
Byrne has been suspended since December 2016 for failing to comply with a fee arbitration.
The allegations in the latest case against Byrne were deemed admitted because he did not respond to a copy of the complaint sent by certified and regular mail to his home address in Washington. In the prior case, there was an illegible signature on the certified mail card after it was forwarded to a second address in Washington.
In the latest case, the review board said “a pattern of abandonment becomes apparent” when all three cases are considered together.
In all three matters, Byrne failed to file the bankruptcy petitions, stopped all client communications in mid-2016, “and then vanished with the unearned fees, apparently to play jazz in Washington state,” the review board said.