Peter Cammarano, III, Former Hoboken Mayor Involved in Dwek Sting Operation, is Disbarred

In re Peter J. Cammarano, III, 219 N.J. 415 (2014).  “An elected official who sells his office– who offers favored treatment to a private developer in exchange for money– betrays a solemn public trust.  This form of corruption is corrosive to our democracy and undermines public confidence in honest government, and its rippling pernicious effects are incalculable.  An attorney who engages in this form of public corruption, forsaking his oath of office and the oath taken when admitted to the bar, should expect that he will be disbarred.”  With these ringing words, Justice Albin, writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, ordered the disbarment of Peter Cammarano, III, the former mayor of Hoboken.

On multiple occasions, both before and after his 2009 election as mayor of Hoboken, Cammarano accepted bribes from Solomon Dwek.  Dwek presented himself as a real estate developer who would seek expedited treatment of his proposed development in exchange for his “contributions” to Cammarano.  Cammarano enthusiastically agreed.

It turned out, however, that Dwek was a key part of a federal sting operation that ensnared Cammarano and other New Jersey politicians.  In 2010, Cammarano pleaded guilty in federal court to a charge of conspiracy to obstruct interstate commerce by extortion under color of official right.

As a result of the guilty plea and the resulting judgment of conviction, the Office of Attorney Ethics sought Cammarano’s disbarment.  The Disciplinary Review Board found that Cammarano had violated Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) and (c) by engaging in criminal conduct involving dishonesty.  The DRB split 4-2 as to the discipline to be imposed.  The majority voted for a three-year prospective suspension, while the two dissenters advocated disbarment.  The Supreme Court granted review and ordered disbarment.

Justice Albin noted the Court’s history of disbarring attorneys who took bribes while serving as public officials, as well as attorneys who offered bribes.  He also cited cases from other jurisdictions that have disbarred “attorneys who have involved themselves in bribery schemes, whether the attorney received a bribe as an officeholder or offered one to influence a public official.”  The Court did recognize that there have been “a few exceptions” to the general rule that bribery means disbarment, citing In re Caruso, 172 N.J. 350 (2002), where a three-year suspension was ordered for an attorney who helped broker a bribe for a mayor.  But Justice Albin warned that bribe participants “are unlikely to find refuge in such exceptions.  Going forward, any attorney who is convicted of official bribery or extortion should expect to lose his license to practice law in New Jersey.”  In this particular case, the fact that the bribes to Cammarano were part of a federal sting operation was not a mitigating factor, contrary to the conclusion of the DRB majority.

The Supreme Court is charged by Article VI, section 2, paragraph 3 of the New Jersey Constitution with regulating the legal profession, including determining who is fit to practice law in New Jersey.  There should be no ambiguity in the idea that bribery will result in disbarment.  The Court rightly removed any doubt that might have existed on this score.  As Justice Albiin put it, “[s]uch conduct is wholly incompatible with the high standards expected of members of the bar and tarnishes the repute of an honorable profession.”