Bribery: Still Illegal
Lawyers have many tactics at their disposal, but
bribery isn't one of them. That's the reassuring message from the
New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board, which this summer recommended
that a former in-house attorney be suspended because he "essentially
bribed" two plaintiffs' lawyers not to sue his company.
Karel Zaruba worked in the law department of Warner-Lambert
Company until his retirement in 1999. (The drug manufacturer has
since merged with Pfizer Inc.) According to the disciplinary board,
Zaruba made a secret deal in 1997 with plaintiffs' lawyers Mark
Hager and John Traficonte that they would drop a planned class
action against Warner-Lambert over the effectiveness of its head
lice product, Nix. Under the settlement, Hager and Traficonte
received $225,000 in "fees and expenses," while their 90 clients got
a maximum of $10,000 in refunds. The two lawyers agreed not to
disclose the deal, even to their clients.
The New Jersey
disciplinary board voted 5 to 4 to recommend a one-year suspension
for Zaruba. The majority wrote in its July 29 opinion that efforts
"to buy off plaintiffs' counsel by secret agreements . . . will be
viewed as extremely serious." The board's dissenters had sought a
tougher three-year suspension. The case is one of only a few
involving a breach of Rule of Professional Conduct 5.6(b), which
bars settlement agreements that restrict the right to practice law.
The case went directly to the board after Zaruba waived a
hearing. The 71-year-old attorney, who did not retain counsel,
admitted to the charges. In his written response to the board, he
said he would "accept any appropriate sanction." Zaruba could not be
reached for comment for this story. The suspension order will be
automatically adopted by the state supreme court.
formerly taught at the American University law school in Washington,
D.C., was suspended for three years in December 2002 by the D.C.
Court of Appeals. No formal ethics complaint has been filed yet
against Massachusetts-based Traficonte, according to an official
with the state's Board of Bar Overseers.
2003 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights
Read More About This
Says Lawyer Made Secret Deal
Professor Faces Ethics Charges
Misconduct in Lice Case Puts Professor's Job in Jeopardy
DCCA Opinion No. 01-BG-995: re: Mark M. Hager
Office of Attorney Ethics, Docket
re: Zaruba Disciplinary Action