A New Jersey attorney has been censured for multiple violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, including one count that alleged he steered 19 clients to use his employer, All-Pro Title Group, for real estate closings without written permission waiving the conflict of interest or providing them the opportunity to employ another title company.
Angelo Bagnara consented to discipline in the matter, filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics. According to a letter issued by the Disciplinary Review Board, the stipulation stated that between Jan. 1, 2019 and April 30, 2020, Bagnara was employed by All-Pro when he steered his clients to the company for real estate closings. Since he did not obtain their written consent to waive the conflict of interest or provide them with the opportunity to employ an alternative title company, he violated RPC 1.7(a) 19 times, according to the letter.
The DRB letter stated that Bagnara had also comingled personal funds in his attorney trust account and had issued a client’s check from his ATA after mistakenly depositing funds in his attorney business account.
“However, the facts support a theory of negligent, as opposed to knowing, misappropriation, because there was no evidence in the record to suggest that respondent intended to invade his clients’ funds,” stated the DRB letter. “Rather, from the facts presented, respondent failed to adhere to the recordkeeping rules, and promptly corrected his errors once he was made aware of them.”
“There was no evidence that he utilized client funds for his own purposes,” read the letter. The negligent misappropriation, comingling, and failure to adhere to Rule 1:21-6 recordkeeping requirements resulted in violations of both 1.15(a) and 1.15(d), according to the letter.
However, the DRB dismissed 19 instances of violation of 1.8(a)—improper business transaction with a client. In the letter, the DRB stated that it found no evidence that Bagnara reaped any benefit from All-Pro for procuring title insurance clients beyond the typical goodwill of an employer-employee relationship.
“Therefore, the Board determined that respondent neither entered into a business transaction with his clients, nor acquired an ownership, possessory, security, or other pecuniary interest adverse to his clients,” stated the letter.
The letter stated that the range of discipline for the violations committed by Bagnara could fall anywhere from censure to short-term suspension. In mitigation, the DRB found that Bagnara had a 20-year unblemished record. Additionally, Bagnara was contrite, consented to discipline, caused no harm to clients, and corrected his errors.
“Thus, considering the totality of respondent’s misconduct balanced against the mitigating factors, the Board determined that a censure was the quantum of discipline required to protect the public and preserve confidence in the bar,” stated the letter.
In a New Jersey Supreme Court order filed Dec. 30, 2022, Bagnara was censured.
Counsel to Bagnara, Marc D. Garfinkle of solo practice, declined to comment for this story.