Matter of Anis
New Jersey Supreme Court
599 A.2d 1265 (1992)
Alexander Lowenstein died in the terrorist attack on Pan American flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. However, Lowenstein’s death was not confirmed until his remains were identified 13 days later. Although unaware of the timing, attorney Magdy Anis (defendant) sent a letter to Lowenstein’s father (plaintiff) the day after Lowenstein’s death was confirmed, seeking to represent Lowenstein’s family for any wrongful-death claims. The letter stated that (1) Magdy and his brother, Fady Anis (defendant), were experienced personal-injury lawyers, (2) a one-third contingency fee was the customary fee for this type of case, and (3) the brothers would charge an unidentified but supposedly substantially reduced fee amount if hired. Lowenstein’s father filed an ethics complaint against the brothers for soliciting the family a day after Lowenstein’s death was confirmed, while the family was still grieving. The brothers argued that the letter was constitutionally protected commercial speech. However, the ethics committee determined that the letter was not constitutionally protected because it made two false or misleading statements: (1) that the brothers were experienced personal-injury attorneys and (2) that a fee of one-third of any recovery amount was customary in this type of case. First, the brothers had almost no experience as lawyers, let alone the level of experience necessary to adequately represent someone in an international airline crash caused by terrorism. Second, given a state rule impacting fees in high-value cases, a one-third contingency fee was not customary in this likely high-value case. The ethics committee recommended that both attorneys be publicly reprimanded. A review board recommended reducing the sanction to a private reprimand. However, the committee and the review board both agreed that the letter would have been permissible if it had been truthful. The matter was sent to the New Jersey Supreme Court for a final determination.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)
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