A public defender for a Burlington County borough who was censured a little more than a year ago is facing two new ethics charges arising out legal work done outside the scope of her municipal duties.

The first matter is District IIIB Ethics Committee v. Lenti, Docket No. IIIB-2022-0005E which was filed against Mount Holly attorney Mary Elizabeth Lenti on February 22, 2023. Lenti serves as public defender for Pemberton Borough (Burlington County). The ethics complaint, to which Lenti has not yet filed an answer, can be downloaded here.

According to the complaint, Lenti made a commitment to a client, assuring him that she would file a motion on his behalf. However, she failed to fulfill this promise and did not actually submit the motion. Furthermore, the complaint asserts that Lenti later confessed to ethics authorities, acknowledging not only her failure to file the motion but also her misleading the client by falsely claiming that two court dates had been scheduled when, in fact, they had not.

The second matter is Office of Attorney Ethics v. Lenti, Docket No. XIV-2021-0204E which was filed against Lenti on June 3, 2022. Both the ethics complaint and Lenti’s answer can be downloaded here.

Attorneys operating limited liability companies are required by court rules to maintain professional malpractice insurance and submit certificates of insurance to the Clerk of the Supreme Court annually. However, according to the ethics complaint, attorney Lenti failed to respond to the Clerk’s requests for her certificate of insurance on four occasions over a five-month period in 2021. As a result, the Clerk reported Lenti’s repeated failures to respond to the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE) in June 2021.

Over the next six months, the OAE repeatedly requested the certificates from Lenti. Although she did provide responses to the OAE, she either submitted incorrect or inadequate documents, as stated in the complaint. It wasn’t until December 30, 2021, that Lenti finally submitted the required certificates to both the OAE and the Clerk. The ethics complaint accuses Lenti of “failure to cooperate with disciplinary authorities.”

In Lenti’s response to the ethics complaint on September 12, 2022, she admitted to the factual allegations but presented mitigating circumstances. Lenti explained that she had sent her insurance policy (though not the certificates) to the Administrative Office of the Courts instead of the Clerk of the Supreme Court. She claimed to have been unaware of the annual requirement to file insurance certificates with the Clerk. Lenti apologized for her behavior and clarified that she did not intend to prolong the matter or mislead OAE investigators. She acknowledged that her conduct was “poor behavior on [her] part.”

These two complaints aren’t Lenti’s first scrape with ethics authorities. On April 1, 2022, she was censured by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The court found her guilty of several violations, including lack of diligence, failure to communicate with a client, failure to supervise a non-lawyer assistant, false statement of material fact in a disciplinary matter, and conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. As part of the censure, Lenti was ordered to pay $1,250 to a former client and reimburse the disciplinary system for administrative costs associated with prosecuting the complaint against her. The decision to censure Lenti was based on a recommendation from the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), with six members voting for censure and three members voting for a three-month suspension of her law license. The DRB’s recommendation, spanning forty-three pages, reviewed Lenti’s conduct in three divorce cases, one custody case, and a probate case.

In the review, the DRB found that Lenti had not diligently pursued the claims of three clients. In one divorce case, she failed to file a motion for four weeks despite her client’s repeated attempts to contact her, as foreclosure on the marital residence was imminent. In another divorce case, she delayed filing necessary pleadings for approximately a year, and she also failed to submit her client’s custody application for five months. Lenti later admitted that the custody application “was insufficient and poorly prepared.”

In another divorce matter, the DRB found that Lenti failed to “communicate honestly and sufficiently” with her client. The client was under the impression that the case was progressing, unaware that it had been dismissed. Lenti had delegated the matter, including the preparation and filing of a request to enter default, to her paralegal, who had no relevant experience and failed to file the request, resulting in the dismissal of the client’s case.

Additionally, the DRB discovered that Lenti provided misleading information to an ethics investigator by falsely claiming that a motion had been filed in a divorce matter when it had not. She was also found to have made three false statements to one of her clients.

Considering Lenti’s misconduct, the DRB concluded that she had violated eleven Rules of Professional Conduct across five client matters, with three clients experiencing “egregious harm.” In terms of mitigation, the DRB noted that Lenti had no prior history of ethical violations, accepted responsibility for her actions, expressed genuine remorse, and did not personally benefit from her misconduct.

The two pending charges against Lenti are only allegations that have yet to be proven, although she has admitted to many of them. She will have an opportunity to have her matters heard by an ethics panel. Like all ethics hearings, Lenti’s are open to the public. Anyone wishing to find out the dates and locations of any future hearings should contact District IIIB Ethics Committee Secretary John M. Hanamirian at 609-332-5252.

Chairman of the New Jersey Libertarian Party's Open Government Advocacy Project. Please send all comments to [email protected]