Supremes: Three defenses to stealing trust account $$$

[05/03/2016; 7:14 p.m.]  In an opinion released this morning, the New Jersey Supreme Court clarified the specific psychiatric defenses that it will consider in cases of “knowing” misappropriation of client funds under the standards of In re Wilson, 81 NJ 451 (1979).

The Justices ruled in In re Cozzarelli, that there are three possible psychiatric defenses that can be raised as either an affirmative defense or by way of mitigation:
1.) Evidence of a mental illness that impairs the mind and deprives the attorney of the ability to act purposely or knowingly;
2.) Evidence of a mental illness that results in an inability to appreciate the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or
3.) Evidence of a mental illness that renders the respondent incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.

The aforesaid three defenses are ones that can and should be considered in connection with excusing wrongful conduct by an attorney, or when mitigation of the disciplinary penalty is appropriate to consider under our disciplinary jurisprudence addressing the quantum of punishment.

To read a copy of In re Cozzarelli, click here.

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