A New Jersey lawyer has received a reprimand from the New Jersey Supreme Court after it was revealed that he accepted $75,000 in improper loans from clients. During its investigation, the court found that the loans were improper because the lawyer, Michael Rehill, failed to advise his clients in writing to seek independent legal advice about the loan, and he failed to obtain his clients’ informed consent in writing prior to receiving the loans.
Rehill, an attorney in New Jersey since 1972, accepted the loans between 2006 and 2008 from two clients he had represented for nearly 40 years. Rehill memorialized the due date and interest rate for each loan in writing, but he failed to repay any of the loans on time. Rehill received the initial loan in 2006 when he was having difficulties with his law firm. The next loans came in 2008 while he was going through a divorce. During this period, Rehill was clearly having financial problems, as he had to sell his automobile and was nearly forced to close his law practice.
Rehill’s clients made several attempts to obtain they money they were owed. In 2016, with $45,000 in debt still outstanding, the clients obtained legal counsel to inquire into Rehill’s failure to pay. Two years later, after having difficulty reaching the attorney and receiving no further payments, the couple filed a complaint against Rehill with the Office of Attorney Ethics.
The Disciplinary Review Board found that Rehill accepted responsibility for his misconduct, was apologetic for the harm caused to his clients, and had no prior discipline in his nearly 50 years of practicing law in New Jersey. However, according to the Board, its investigation also revealed that Rehill committed several violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct governing business transactions between attorneys and their clients. The Board said that lawyers who borrow funds from clients have received penalties ranging from a reprimand to a period of suspension, depending on the situation. In situations involving multiple improper transactions, the baseline is a formal reprimand.
Despite Rehill’s clean record, his remorse, and his community service, the board found that the harm caused to Rehill’s clients by his failure to repay the loans was inexcusable. Ultimately, the board found that although Rehill’s background provided compelling mitigation, it did not outweigh the harm done to his longtime clients.
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