Ethics Grievance filed against First Assistant County Counsel

By Tina Renna | October 6, 2014

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I have recently filed an ethics grievance against Mr. Norman Albert, Esq., formerly Union County’s First Assistant County Counsel. Albert has since been promoted to Director of Personnel, salary $120,566, while maintaining a private law firm in Cranford, NJ.

The Office of Attorney Ethics acts as the investigative and prosecutorial arm of the Supreme Court of New Jersey in discharging the Court’s constitutional responsibility to supervise and discipline New Jersey attorneys.

The complaint was submitted to District XII Ethics Committee:
Michael F. Brandman, Esq., Secretary
WEILER & BRANDMAN
123 North Union Avenue, Suite 103
Cranford, New Jersey 07016

E. NATURE OF GRIEVANCE:

This complaint issues from the conduct of Mr. Norman Albert, Esq., while representing the County of Union, New Jersey, in a matter adjudicated by the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The matter involved motions for summary judgment brought by Union County and Ms. Renna (Docket No. 20 and Docket No. 23). Ms. Renna prevailed, and her motion for summary judgment was granted in the opinion issued by Judge Kevin McNulty, USDJ, of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on May 29, 2014. The opinion, Civ. No. 2:11-3828 (KM)(MAH), is attached and is hereinafter referred to as “Opinion”.

The Opinion presents the background and details of the dispute, which centered on the county’s allegation that the Union County seal was protected by trademark rights under the Lanham Act, and Ms. Renna’s use of the seal infringed on the those rights. Judge McNulty determined that the seal was not a protected mark.

During Mr. Albert’s representation of Union County he violated the following Rules of Professional Conduct (“RPC”) and engaged in unethical conduct.

RPC 3.1 requires that a lawyer not proceed with a matter unless the lawyer “knows or reasonably believes that there is a basis in law or fact…” Mr. Albert was fully aware that the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) had twice refused registration of the County Seal because “the applied for mark consists of an insignia of a U.S. municipality”, citing U.S.C. § 1052(b) as an “absolute bar” to registration on the Principal and Supplemental Registers. (Opinion 6,7). After two rejections by the USPTO Mr. Albert could not continue to reasonably believe that there was any basis in law or fact to continue to defend the county’s action. In so doing Mr. Albert’s action constitutes unethical conduct under this RPC.

RPC 8.4 (c) identifies dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation as professional misconduct. “In his April 21, 2011 letter to Renna’s counsel, Albert peremptorily announced: ‘For your information, this Seal is in fact now trademarked under federal law.’ That statement carried the misleading implication that some intervening event had solidified the trademark status of the Seal. In fact the opposite was the case…” (Opinion 10,11). Mr. Albert knew the statement was not true and in presenting it as fact his action constitutes unethical conduct under this RPC.

Albert made further misleading implications by citing N.J.S.A 56:3-13-29(c) (taken by the judge to be a typo for 56:3-13-2(c)), mischaracterizing its meaning, and attempting to revive in state law the rejected federal position. (Opinion 11). Further, Albert’s letter included a “non sequitur” in which Albert cites to N.J.S.A. 52:2-4, a criminal statute; Judge McNulty commented that, “[i]t is hard to discern any purpose, other than general intimidation, for the citation of this criminal statute in any official communication to a citizen, even one represented by counsel.” (Opinion 12).

Renna vs Union County Decision

Tina Renna is president of the Union County Watchdog Association. She can be reached at tinarenna@unioncountywatchdog.org.