Monday, December 29, 2008

Censure Urged for Attorney Whose Paralegal Acted as Lawyer in Court

A lawyer who sent his paralegal to court to represent a client is now facing possible censure from the Disciplinary Review Board. Neal Pomper of Highland Park, New Jersey, breached Rules of Professional Conduct 5.5(a)(2), assisting the unauthorized practice of law, and 8.4(a), violating ethics rules, inducing someone else to do so or violating them through someone else's actions.

But the paralegal, Larissa Sufaru, is not without blame. She identified herself as a lawyer, entered an appearance on record, allowed herself to be addressed as "counsel" (that's probably a good time to say, "Excuse me, I'm actually not a lawyer"), and advocated for the client. The hearing officer reported Sufaru to the Supreme Court Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law, and she entered into an agreement with the Committee acknowledging that she did not correct the hearing officer or ask for an adjournment when it became clear that the hearing was not simply about receiving the results of a paternity test, as Pomper had originally thought.

The notice for a "hearing after blood test" stated, "You may bring an attorney with you, although an attorney is not required."

Even if there was confusion, nonlawyers are also not allowed to represent clients at paternity hearings and Pomper admitted he did not handle paternity matters, the DRB pointed out.

Pomper testified he had "severely admonished" Sufaru for going ahead with the support hearing and had "taken steps" to prevent a recurrence.

The client's retainer was also refunded.


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