Attorney faces ethics infraction

Staff Writer

faces ethics
Staff Writer

BRICK –– A former Brick Township Planning Board attorney has been formally charged with an ethics infraction for representing a developer in Lakewood while that developer had an application pending before Brick’s board.

The New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) filed the complaint on July 11 against John Paul Doyle, a partner in the Toms River law firm of Carluccio, Leone, Dimon, Doyle and Sacks.

ARC Properties applied to build a 200,000-square-foot shopping center on Route 70 in Brick, along the township’s border with Lakewood. Because members of his firm had business dealings with ARC, Doyle recused himself from acting as Brick’s board attorney for the application.

In the summer of 2000, Doyle represented ARC Properties before the Lakewood Township Committee, urging the members of the governing body to adopt an ordinance that would start a bidding process for a right-of-way easement to be included in the Brick development. The application was still pending before the Brick Planning Board at that time.

Attorney Ronald Gasiorowski, representing an objector to the ARC plan, entered an objection to Doyle’s possible conflict of interest. Despite that objection, Lakewood later adopted the ordinance.

At the time, the firm didn’t realize its representation of ARC could be considered a conflict of interest, according to Stephan Leone, a managing partner in the firm. After conducting an internal review of the situation, members of the firm realized that the law prohibited their representation of ARC on any matters, Leone said.

Leone called the situation "an inadvertent act," and said the firm promptly corrected the problem.

The firm recused itself from representing ARC on all matters, reported the situation to the OAE and waived the payment of all fees owed by ARC, returning $25,000 that was already earned, according to the complaint.

"If they say it was inadvertent, I have no reason to doubt that," Gasiorowski said.

Gasiorowski and Doyle appeared before the Brick Planning Board on the same side this year, contesting the application to redevelop the vacant Foodtown site as a Home Depot. Gasiorowski represented objecting party the Concerned Citizens of Brick, while Doyle appeared as an "interested party" on behalf of the Brick Township Municipal Utilities Authority.

BTMUA Executive Director Kevin Donald said he was unaware of the complaint against Doyle and declined further comment on the matter.

Brick Councilman Stephen Acropolis said he believed Doyle should step down from his duties at the BTMUA until the matter is resolved. When charged by the OAE with misconduct, disciplinary actions ranging from admonitions and reprimands at the lower end, to disbarment in the most severe cases, may brought against an atorneyBoth parties can reach a consensus on the facts and forward their conclusions to a disciplinary review board, according to OAE Director David Johnson. Otherwise, a court-like hearing on the matter will take place within the proceeding six months, he said.

Because of the firm’s quick corrective actions and full disclosure of the matter, Leone said he doubts the complaint will affect Doyle’s ability to represent the BTMUA or practice law.

John Paff, president of the nonprofit attorney ethics watchdog group Citizens for Justice in New Jersey, disagreed.

"He does have a history of disci­plinary action and that may weigh against him," Paff said.

According to OAE records, Doyle was disciplined twice before on conflict of in­terest charges. Doyle’s license to practice was suspended for six months in 1996 for failure to disclose a conflict of interest, according to OAE records. He was also privately reprimanded in 1985 for engag­ing in a conflict of interest, according to the records.

With his disciplinary history in mind, Paff questioned why Doyle has continued to receive municipal jobs.

"They’re not usually the best and brightest — they’re usually the most po­litically connected," Paff said. "This is the kind of guy, in my mind, who should be blocked from the public process."

Doyle was a Democratic member of the state Assembly from 1974-92, where he served as a majority leader and deputy speaker. He has held several municipal-level attorney positions in Brick and other Ocean County munici­palities, and was once a law partner of former Brick Councilman Steven Cucci.