The New Jersey Supreme Court reinstated former city public defender Saleemah Brown earlier in the month after a three-month suspension from practicing law in the Garden State. Brown was reinstated on December 10 following a three-month suspension that began on July 17.
Brown was suspended for “unethical conduct,” according to a complaint brought against her by the Office of Attorney Ethics.
She was suspended for failing “to keep a client reasonably informed about the status of the matter [case],” failing “to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions about the representation,” charging a client “unreasonable fee[s],” and failing “to promptly notify a client about the receipt of funds or to promptly turn over funds that the client is entitled to receive.”
Brown was also found to be “practicing law while ineligible” and providing “false statement to disciplinary authorities.” She was made ineligible to practice law because she was not registered with the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Fund of the Bar of New Jersey. The fund gives out grants to non-profit organizations to help low-income individuals with civil legal problems.
During her ineligibility “she practiced law nevertheless,” states the complaint. “She appeared in court at criminal trials and in landlord/tenant matters and she filed complaints.” A landlord/tenant case she took on was that of Brenda and Vonward Alford for a fixed fee of $750. Brown ended up billing the Alfords $1,500.
Brown won the landlord/tenant case for the Alfords on March 21, 2012. Compelled by the court the landlord made two payments to Brown to go to the Alfords. A check for a $778.27 and another for $613.57 was sent to Brown from the landlord.
The two checks totaled $1,391.84. Brown deposited the Alfords’s checks into her business account instead of her trust account. “She took the $1,391.84 as ‘fees ’earned,’ claiming that the Alfords had an outstanding bill of $1,500,” states the complaint. Brown never told her clients that she had collected payments for the $1,391.84 judgment that was entered against the landlord.
Alfords unaware the landlord had made payments sought a levy against the landlord’s bank account. The outcome was not mentioned in the complaint.
Brown failed to keep the Alfords appraised of their case. “During the course of the representation, respondent did not return the Alfords’ many telephone calls,” states the complaint.
The Office of Attorney Ethics inquired about the funds. Brown “claimed that she had sent an email to the Alfords, notifying them of her additional fees.” The Alfords “denied having received any invoices” for additional fees.
As all of this was taking place Brown appears to have been employed as a public defender with the city’s municipal court. She was hired on July 19, 2010 under Mayor Jeffery Jones’s administration.
She was replaced by former Business Administrator Charles Thomas in May after Mayor Jose “Joey” Torres took office. Brown worked part-time for $34,800.
Brown cured her ineligibility to practice law on July 17, 2012. “She practiced law for nine months, during her period of ineligibility,” reads the complaint.
Brown did not contest or defend herself against the charges brought against her by the Office of Attorney Ethics leading to a default judgment against her.
She was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 2008.
Jayed Rahman contributed to this report.