Lawyer admonished after he's caught on mic saying he has prosecutor in his pocket

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The New Jersey Supreme Court has admonished a lawyer who was caught and recorded on a courtroom microphone saying he has the prosecutor “in my pocket.”

The court admonished divorce lawyer William Laufer of Morristown in a May 28 order filed Friday.

Laufer had said he was joking and speaking facetiously when he made the comments to the opposing counsel during a recess in a contentious divorce case. Laufer represented the wife, and he told ethics regulators that her husband had sued Laufer, his wife, his law partners, their spouses and judges in the case.

Laufer wanted to refer the husband for prosecution because he apparently obtained video by remotely by logging into the security system of the marital residence. The judge was calling the prosecutor when Laufer made the remarks in December 2014, according to a November 2018 opinion by the Disciplinary Review Board.

The opposing counsel asked Laufer if he and the prosecutor were former partners. “Oh yeah, he is in my pocket,” Laufer replied.

“Obviously,” the opposing lawyer said.

“He does what I ask he does,” Laufer added. “Twenty years he is my partner.”

Later in the conversation, Laufer asserted that he got the prosecutor his job. “I didn’t want him around anymore. He wasn’t very productive so I said [inaudible], ‘Why don’t you become the Morris County prosecutor?’ ” Laufer said.

Laufer and the prosecutor had been partners in the same law firm. But the prosecutor wasn’t appointed to his Morris County prosecutor post until five years after he and Laufer stopped practicing law together. They didn’t socialize, and they considered themselves neither friends nor enemies, according to the Disciplinary Review Board.

The Disciplinary Review Board said it is undisputed that Laufer’s comments “were wholly false” and the evidence was overwhelming that he “engaged in reckless banter.”

The board also noted that Laufer had no disciplinary history in his 43 years of practicing law, showed genuine remorse over the incident and had a reputation for good character.

The Disciplinary Review Board had recommended a censure for violations of two ethics rules. One bars conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice. The second bars lawyers from stating or implying an ability to improperly influence a government official.

Two Disciplinary Review Board dissenters said censure was too severe and Laufer should receive the lesser punishment of an admonishment. “We are dealing here with an attorney with a distinguished and unblemished record who made a momentary mistake,” the dissent said.

The New Jersey Supreme Court opted for the lesser punishment recommended by the dissenters. The court said there was insufficient evidence that Laufer violated the ethical ban on statements about influence, and it was basing its punishment on the violation of only the ethical ban on conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Laufer didn’t immediately reply to the ABA Journal’s email seeking comment.

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