A Cherry Hill attorney with no prior disciplinary record received a censure after representing that his client was a first-time DWI offender in two different municipal court proceedings on the same day, according to a decision issued by the Disciplinary Review Board.
On the morning of Dec. 18, 2017, attorney David S. Bradley and his client, Edward Coyle, appeared in the Berlin municipal court, where Coyle entered a guilty plea for a DWI as a first offender, according to the decision.
Later that afternoon, Coyle and Bradley appeared in the Stratford municipal court in the matter of a second DWI incident. Again, Coyle entered a guilty plea to DWI and the prosecutor recommended he be sentenced as a first offender, according to the decision.
“Coyle’s driver’s abstract had not yet been updated to reflect his Berlin DWI conviction from that same morning and, thus, neither the Stratford municipal court nor the prosecutor were aware of Coyle’s prior conviction,” stated the Disciplinary Review Board decision. “Coyle provided the court with a factual basis for his plea, and the court, upon examining Coyle’s driver’s abstract, asked respondent whether Coyle was a first-time offender.”
“’I looked at the driver’s abstract,’” Bradley stated in court, according to the DRB decision. “‘It was just run today, Judge. There are no priors.’”
According to the DRB decision, the Stratford municipal court sentenced Coyle to the mandatory minimum penalties for a first-time DWI offender. And, the decision stated, Bradley knew that Coyle’s driver’s abstract had not been updated to reflect the guilty plea entered that morning in Berlin. This matter was previously before the board on Oct. 21, 2021, on a recommendation by the District IV Ethics Committee of an admonition for Bradley. The DRB “determined to treat the admonition as a recommendation for greater discipline, pursuant to R. 1:20-15(f)(4), and to bring the matter on for oral argument.”
The formal ethics complaint, according to the DRB decision, charged Bradley with RPC 1.4(c)—failure to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation; RPC 3.3(a)(5)—failure to disclose to a tribunal a material fact knowing that the omission is reasonably certain to mislead the tribunal; RPC 8.4(c)—conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and RPC 8.4(d)—conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.
“At the ethics hearing, in his answer to the formal ethics complaint, and at oral argument before us, respondent claimed that he was unaware, at the time of Coyle’s court appearances, that his tactic was unethical,” stated the DRB decision. “Specifically, respondent believed that he had no responsibility to provide the Stratford municipal court or prosecutor with information detrimental to Coyle, even when it would impact a mandatory sentence, based on the principles in State v. Kane.”
“Incredibly, respondent also rationalized that he would have been found ‘ineffective’ for disclosing Coyle’s prior conviction from that same morning,” stated the decision.
The DRB decision stated that Bradley failed to appreciate his duty of candor to the court. But despite that lack of understanding, the DRB stated that Bradley ”admitted that he had ‘deceived’ the municipal court and prosecutor into believing that Coyle was a first offender, in violation of RPC 3.3(a)(5), RPC 8.4(c), and RPC 8.4(d).”
As to the charge of violating RPC 1.4(c) by failing to discuss with Coyle the risks inherent in being sentenced twice as a first offender, Bradley denied he committed a violation. The DEC agreed with Bradley and found that he did not, by clear and convincing evidence, violate RPC 1.4(c).
“Ultimately, respondent’s refusal to comply with his duty of candor led the Stratford court to improperly sentence Coyle as a first-time DWI offender, instead of the increased penalties he should have faced as a subsequent offender,” stated the decision. “Respondent’s dishonesty in response to a direct question from the court further constituted conduct prejudicial to the administration of the justice system, in violation of RPC 3.3(a)(5); RPC 8.4(c); and RPC 8.4(d).”
The DRB found that there is insufficient evidence to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that Bradley violated RPC 1.4(c).
“As the DEC correctly found, and as respondent testified, respondent did not appear to have a premeditated strategy to mislead the Stratford municipal court into sentencing Coyle as a first-time offender,” stated the decision.
The range of disciplinary measures generally imposed for the violations committed by Bradley range from reprimand to a long-term suspension, according to the decision.
“In aggravation, based on respondent’s unreasonable justifications for his misconduct and his ongoing lack of appropriate remorse or contrition, we find that he not only has failed to appreciate the seriousness of his deception, but also has failed to understand that misrepresentation cannot serve as a permissible litigation tactic, even when carried out in the name of zealous advocacy,” stated the decision.
“Although respondent’s misconduct placed him on the precipice of a suspension, in light of his otherwise unblemished career, we determine to impose a censure and note that, going forward, respondent must adhere to the duty of candor required of all attorneys in order ‘to comply with the high standards that our profession demands,’” stated the decision.
Seven members of the DRB voted for censure, while Chair Maurice Gallipoli voted for a three-month suspension. The New Jersey Supreme Court issued an order imposing a censure on Bradley for violation of RPC 3.3(a)(5); RPC 8.4(c); and RPC 8.4(d).
Bradley, who appeared pro se in the matter, declined to comment for this story.