Hello everyone and welcome to this edition of the JACPA Ethics Alert. This Ethics Alert will discuss the recent (October 5, 2011) disciplinary opinion censuring a New Jersey lawyer for altering his law school transcript to increase his class grades and providing multiple altered law school transcripts to two New Jersey law firms with whom he was employed. The case is In the Matter of Philip C. Prothro, An Attorney at Law, Disciplinary Review Board Docket No. DRB 11-061, District Docket No. XII-2010-008E.
According to New Jersey Supreme Court opinion and the report of the Disciplinary Review Board, the lawyer applied for employment as a summer associate for a New Jersey law firm called Sills Cummis in 2002. He submitted an unofficial, self-prepared transcript for the fall 2001 semester which had a grade of “B+” in both Torts and Legal Research and Writing, even though he had received only a “B” in each class. He then applied for employment as summer associate with the same firm in 2003 and submitted another unofficial, self-prepared transcript for the fall 2001 and spring 2002 semesters. In addition to the falsified “B+” grades for Torts and Legal Research and Writing, the transcript was also falsified to show a grade of “B-” for Constitutional Law instead of the actual grade of “C+”.
In 2008, the lawyer then applied for employment as an associate with a New Jersey law firm called Herrick, Feinstein and provided that firm with an unofficial copy of his law school transcript, which he had again falsified, and he began working at that firm in October 2008. That law firm required that he provide an official law school transcript. A year after he was hired by the firm, the lawyer provided what he claimed was his official law school transcript. The “official” transcript that he provided had an alleged note to “Elise” with an indelible black marker over the grade for his Constitutional Law class. When an individual at Herrick, Feinstein held up the piece of paper to a light, they noticed that the grade that he received in that class was a “C+” and not the “A” that was on the transcript that he had previously provided to the firm.
The law firm then terminated the lawyer and gave him an opportunity to report himself to the Bar; however he failed to do so and the firm subsequently reported him. The lawyer denied that he had falsified the transcript that he provided to the Sills Cummins law firm; however, he later admitted that he falsified all of the transcripts.
The lawyer represented himself before the New Jersey disciplinary review board and expressed remorse for “an indefensible decision that I have regretted ever since” and he also apparently apologized to some lawyers in the Herrick, Feinstein law firm. The disciplinary review board split on whether to suspend the lawyer from practice and ultimately recommended that he receive the censure/reprimand. The New Jersey Supreme Court adopted the Board’s recommendation and censured the lawyer in its October 5, 2011 opinion.
Bottom line: this is another example of how false and/or falsified statements in any material documents, including professional resumes, and the altering of official transcripts documents to try to improve a lawyer’s standing and/or potential employability, can come back to haunt the person who engages in such misconduct; however, in this case, the conduct did not result in the lawyer’s suspension from practice.
Be careful out there!
As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, do not hesitate to contact me.
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