Lawyer is censured for delaying treatment of her son after she accidentally shoots him
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The New Jersey Supreme Court has censured a lawyer for failing to get prompt medical attention for her son when she accidentally shot him while trying to secure her semi-automatic handgun.
The state supreme court rejected a recommendation for a three-month suspension for Wayne, New Jersey, lawyer Annmarie P. Smits in an order filed Tuesday.
Smits stipulated to violating an ethics rule banning criminal acts that reflect adversely on a lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer.
She pleaded guilty to a neglect charge in July 2018 and entered a pretrial intervention program that allows dismissal of the charge after two years of supervision, according to the disciplinary review board’s Feb. 10 decision.
The incident happened in February 2018, according to the disciplinary review board. Smits was packing her belongings for a move to a new home when a friend who was helping her picked up a bag containing Smits’ gun, which she had registered and lawfully owned.
Smits checked to see whether the gun was loaded and attempted to secure it for proper transport. But the gun fired, and a bullet traveled through a wall, striking a minor in her home in the area of his right thigh and buttock. Smits told Law.com that the minor was her son, who was 16 years old at the time.
Smits and her friend cleaned the wound with betadine and peroxide and wrapped it with a sweatshirt that had been on the floor. Smits then called her former husband, who is a part-time emergency medical technician and a surgical technician, to ask him to examine the wound. The ex-husband didn’t answer and Smits left a voice message.
The ex-husband returned the call around 35 minutes later at about 3:30 p.m. He promised to examine the wound after he went to the Home Depot to buy painting supplies for Smits’ new home. He got to Smits’ home at about 4:15 p.m., examined the wound and said it likely required stitches. The ex-husband refused to take the youth to the hospital, saying Smits should do so because she shot him.
The son posted about the shooting on social media, spurring a friend to call police. Police arrived at the home at about 5:13 p.m., saw that the wound was still bleeding and called an ambulance.
A trauma physician said there was no permanent damage from the bullet. But the physician said any gunshot victim should be taken to the hospital immediately when struck by a bullet that travels through a wall because of the possibility that foreign material on the bullet could cause an infection.
Hospital staff decided against removing the bullet. They cleaned the wound and bandaged it without stitches.
Smits had no prior discipline in 26 years of practice.
Smits’ lawyer, Robert E. Ramsey, told Law360 that a censure was the appropriate level of discipline because Smits had no disciplinary history, and the incident had nothing to do with law practice.
He said Smits was in shock after the incident and exercised poor judgement, which “happens when people are in shock.”
Smits told Law.com that her arrest wasn’t warranted because she had sought medical attention from her former husband.
“What happened to me was extremely unfair. This was an abuse of the system. Somebody was bored and didn’t have anything to do and decided they wanted to ruin my practice,” Smits told Law.com.
Smits said the gun had been stored for safety reasons at her parents’ house while her two children were young, but she retrieved it because she decided to sell it. Someone at her parents’ home apparently used the gun and left it loaded, she said.
“Because New Jersey doesn’t like guns, my case became of interest to the prosecutors,” Smits told Law.com. “When they found out they could not get me on gun charges, they went after me because they said I didn’t get him to the hospital on time.”