An attorney with an unblemished 30-year record was censured following a random audit that revealed recordkeeping deficiencies and the impermissible use of a firm name or letterhead, despite his contention that he had ceased practicing law two years earlier.
Andrew Giles Freda was first declared ineligible to practice law on Aug. 28, 2017, for failure to pay the annual assessment for the New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, according to the New Jersey Disciplinary Review Board’s decision. Although Freda subsequently satisfied that matter and was reinstated, failure to complete mandatory continuing legal education requirements and another instance of failure to pay his assessment to the NJLFCP resulted, again, in ineligibility to practice law. According to the DRB decision, both matters remain unresolved and Freda remains ineligible.
In the current ethics investigation, the Office of Attorney Ethics charged Freda with violating RPC 1.15(d) by failing to comply with recordkeeping rules, RPC 5.5(a)(1) for practicing law while ineligible, RPC 7.5(e) for using an impermissible firm name or letterhead, and RPC 8.1(b) for failing to cooperate with disciplinary authorities.
Freda, who maintained law offices in Oradell and Saddle River, was notified in 2018 that he had been selected for a random audit by the OAE.
Freda provided the records requested for his attorney business account and attorney trust account but stated that his law office had been closed for a year, according to the decision.
On review of the records, the OAE determined that there were deficiencies. Freda did not maintain the required ledger sheets detailing attorney funds held for bank charges, maintain a business receipt or disbursement journal, or use an LLC designation on the bank account, among other findings.
In addition to the recordkeeping issues, Freda used improper identifying language in his law firm name. Freda used the firm name “Freda Law Group, L.L.C.” despite the fact that he was a solo practitioner, in violation of RPC 7.5(e).
Freda was given 45 days to correct the recordkeeping and to provide proof he had done so. “The OAE also directed respondent to provide an explanation why—based on the ABA records he had provided—it appeared that he had been practicing law, despite being administratively ineligible to do so,” stated the decision. “Respondent failed to reply within the forty-five days.”
Multiple attempts by the OAE to contact Freda to comply with the random audit produced no results, which led to the OAE docketing the matter for a disciplinary investigation, according to the decision.
Following a subpoena served to Freda, a phone call took place between the OAE and the attorney. According to the decision, during the recorded phone call, Freda stated that he no longer maintained a law office and had not practiced law for two years. During the review of Freda’s ABA bank statements, the OAE revealed that he had been practicing law while ineligible, according to the decision.
“We find that the facts recited in the complaint support all the charges of unethical conduct,” stated the decision. “Respondent’s failure to file an answer to the complaint is deemed an admission that the allegations of the complaint are true and that they provide a sufficient basis for the imposition of discipline.”
“Although respondent’s unblemished disciplinary history should be accorded significant weight, the totality of his misconduct, as exacerbated by his default in this matter, operate to place the aggravating and mitigating factors in equipoise,” stated the decision. “We thus determine that a censure is the quantum of discipline necessary to protect the public and preserve confidence in the bar.”
In a 7-1 vote, the DRB favored censure, with DRB member Regina Waynes Joseph voting for a reprimand.
A Supreme Court order filed June 23 issued a censure for Freda.
Attempts to contact Freda were unsuccessful.