Get your fee agreement in writing

by admin on May 24, 2009

Retainer Agreement

I was cogitating about a matrimonial lawyer whose client executed a retainer agreement pursuant to R. 5:3-5. The dispute arose when the attorney claimed that he entered into a subsequent oral agreement with his client modifying the original retainer agreement;  allowing him a fee for coaching her in a domestic violence case.  His client denied the existence of an oral agreement.

The trial judge disallowed a significant portion of the attorney fee, and he appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed, saying:

“The failure to prevail on a fee claim such as this informs both the bench and bar of the danger of supplementary oral agreements and the benefits of written retainer agreements, especially in the family practice,” wrote Judges Philip Carchman and Rudy Colement per curiam in Romanowski v. Mace, A-4135-07,

“Where oral agreements subsume the written agreement, fee disputes are inevitable, and on one’s interest is properly served.”

In an unrelated matter, a prominent matrimonial lawyer was disciplined by the Disciplinary Review Board for use of nonrefundable retainer agreements in violation of court rule and ethics rule requiring return of unearned legal fees.

These two cases are reminders of best practices in our law practices. Whether your are a matrimonial attorney executing a retainer agreement pursuant to R. 5:3-5; or a personal injury attorney working with a contingent fee agreement, don’t be lazy. Get your fee agreement in writing!

Please comment. Your opinion matters!

{ 1 comment }

Veteran Jurist charged with Ethics Violations

by admin on May 23, 2009

You better high tail it out of town

It is high noon and Marshall James Cita is making the the world a safe place for you and I. In an unusual move by the Appellate Division Panel hearing a criminal appeal by Alex Ramirez, the Judges lodged an ethics complaint with the ACJC against Judge Cita.  Judge Cita mocked Ramirez, an immigrant defendant, over his inability to speak English, to suggest he was on welfare and to offer to have him escorted back to Mexico in leg irons.

Judge Cita thought Ramirez was out of line when Ramirez explained why he violated his parole. Judge Cita responded:

Now so let me understand this. Not only do we have to let him come into the country illegally and stay here, not only do we have to provide him with public assistance, not only do we have to provide him with free health care, not only do we have to provide him with a free attorney when he gets in trouble, now he wants a bilingual probation officer, because otherwise it’s inconvenient for him.

State v. Earl Peeples

Earl Peoples  is found guilty by a jury of his peers for the attempted murder of his girlfriend; whom he stabbed 11 times and left her for dead. Peoples came before Judge Cita for sentencing.  Here’s what Cita admits:

On Nov.22, 2002, when the victims mother attacked People’s veracity, he agreed with her, calling him a ‘pathological liar.’  He said then that Peeples’ picture should be next to the word  ‘domestic violence’ in the dictionary and that the only difference between him and O.J. Simpson was that Simpson had more money and ‘got off for some reason  in a land of fruits and nuts.’

Judge Cita acknowledges that his comments in the Ramirez case, were “comments better left unsaid”, and says they were the result of  “exasperation and frustration,  “brought about by a lengthy court calendar that day and by years spent handling “the most horrific, sadistic, and emotionally charged criminal trials and sentencing.”

In the Peeples’ case, Judge Cita has no remorse because he wanted to make it clear to Peeples, in language he would understand, why he was imposing a 15 year sentence.  Judge Cita was sensitive to the victims family, who were present in court for sentencing, that the victim was absolutely and completely without fault. He was not buying anything that Peeples said in his defense.

Judge Cita has the dubious distinction of ranking 365  of 366 state judges in the category of courtesy and respect for lawyers and litigants


I have the utmost respect for the vast majority of New Jersey judges who give everyone who appear before them a fair shake. They are courteous, intelligent, and patient with lawyers and litigants. There are always exceptions to the general rule.

I am sensitive to the pressures a judge faces during 17 years on the bench; especially in criminal and family court. A lot of emotion and unrelenting pressure to do the right thing. But, judges are the heart and soul of our system of justice. They promise to mete out even handed, even tempered justice for all.

With that said, Cita violated every aspect of that public trust. I’m sure there are people who look at Judge Cita as a stand up guy, keeping our world safe from all “those people”. You know the  immigrants, nuts, fruits, and any one who commits a crime and comes before His Honor for sentencing.  My question to Judge Cita is now that your diatribes are public, what defense attorney worth her salt is not going to move to have you disqualified? What criminal case can you hear now and claim to be impartial, without any predisposition against the defendant?

Why am I qualified to make these comments? I have practiced law for 33 years and appeared before a countless number of judges. I am 60 years old and have shown every jurist total respect when appearing before them. I love the law.  I have never had an ethics complaint filed against me in handling more than 4000 cases.  That’s why.

We all know who those few intemperate, rude, uncivil judges are. They don’t belong on the bench. Kudos to the Appellate Division Panel for not giving  Marshall Cita a free pass.

I feel very strongly about this. How about you? I am sure there are many Judge Cita fans out there.  Please step up and be counted. I’d love to hear why the Appellate Division was wrong in lodging the complaint with the ACJC.

Please comment. Your opinion matters!


“Personal Injury Cogitations”

May 23, 2009

What’s all this fuss about Personal Injury Cogitations? If you’re having cogitations, see a doctor. Why write about it? Emily, cogitations means thinking about a topic, paying attention to something. It’s not a disease. Oh, that’s different…Never mind!

Read the full article →