An attorney who represents several municipalities in Sussex County was admonished in connection with a long-ago conflict of interest case.
The New Jersey Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Review Board on July 22 concluded that John Ursin’s conduct was “improper.” It cites his conflict in representing Sussex Borough and while also representing another client in the same case, as well as his “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.”
The board dismissed two other violations brought against Ursin.
Ursin received an admonition, which is the lowest disciplinary action the board takes against attorneys. Ursin, who currently represents the municipalities of Franklin and Hopatcong, said it’s the only time he’s ever been disciplined in his 27 years of practicing law.
The board found “substantial mitigation” weighing in Ursin’s favor. It noted that at the time of his misconduct, in 2011-13, Ursin had been an attorney for more than 20 years “with an unblemished disciplinary history” and service to both the bar association and the community.
The board also found no harm done as a result of Ursin’s conduct. The borough received full reimbursement for a lien it held against the Sussex Inn. In turn, the Sussex Inn — owned at the time by Chris Parrott, who was then the Sussex Borough mayor — received double the initial offer from the New Jersey Department of Transportation for a slice of land needed to rework a right-of-way on Route 23.
“Thus,” the board wrote, “it appears that neither party affected by the conflict suffered financial harm.”
The board also noted the many years that have passed since Ursin’s misconduct. It pointed to court precedent holding that the public’s interest in prompt discipline is “irretrievably diluted by the passage of time.” The “extraordinary delay” in initiating proceedings warrants “significantly lesser discipline,” the board wrote.
‘I respect the process and the decision’
Ursin told the paper that the original complaint was filed by a “litigation adversary with his own agenda.”
He said that in his 27 years of practicing law, “I have always strived to a high level of professional conduct and I have never had a client make an ethical complaint.”
He said at the time he did not believe his representation of the Sussex Inn was likely to create any conflict with his representation of the borough. “In fact, the condemnation case concluded favorably to my client and the borough was promptly paid all of the back taxes owed out of the proceeds,” he said.
“The ethics panel analyzed whether my representations created a conflict primarily using a ‘substantial risk’ standard,” said Ursin. “Despite the favorable results for both clients, the board concluded that my representation was a conflict and issued an admonishment, which is the lowest sanction appropriate for minor violations where there was no harm to the clients.”
Ursin said he respects the court’s decision. “I accepted the decision and decided not to appeal based upon the fact that this matter dates back to 2012 and the fact that this is the lowest level of discipline,” he said. “I am focused on continuing to represent my clients with the highest level of skill and professionalism.”