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JOHNJ.ROBERTELLIandGABRIELADAMO,PlaintiffsAppellants,
v.
THENEWJERSEYOFFICEOFATTORNEYETHICSandCHARLESCENTINARO,Defendants
Respondents.
Nos.A62SeptemberTerm2014,075584
SupremeCourtofNewJersey.
ArguedFebruary1,2016.
DecidedApril19,2016.
MichaelS.Steinarguedthecauseforappellants(PashmanStein,attorneysMr.SteinandJanieByalik,onthebriefs).
StuartM.Feinblatt,AssistantAttorneyGeneral,arguedthecauseforrespondents(JohnJ.Hoffman,ActingAttorney
General,attorneyMr.FeinblattandSusanM.Scott,DeputyAttorneyGeneral,onthebrief).
JUSTICESLaVECCHIA,ALBIN,PATTERSON,FERNANDEZVINAandSOLOMON,andJUDGECUFF(temporarily
assigned)joininCHIEFJUSTICERABNER'sopinion.
CHIEFJUSTICERABNERdeliveredtheopinionoftheCourt.
NewJerseyhasarobustdisciplinarysystemdesignedtoaddressallegationsofattorneymisconductandprotectthepublic.
Theprocessreliesonbothalargegroupofdedicatedvolunteers,whoserveonlocalDistrictEthicsCommittees(DECs),
aswellasfulltimeprofessionalsemployedbytheOfficeofAttorneyEthics(OAE).
Inthisappeal,theCourtconsiderswhethertheOAEmayinvestigateagrievanceafteraDECsecretaryhasdeclinedto
docketthematter.WefindthattherelevantcourtrulespermittheOAEtoproceed,consistentwiththebroadauthoritythe
rulesgranttheDirectoroftheOAEandtheimportantaimsofthedisciplinaryprocess.Asaresult,theOAEmaycontinue
topursueallegationsthatplaintiffs,twoNewJerseyattorneys,violatedtheRulesofProfessionalConduct(RPCs)when
theyallegedlydirectedaparalegalto"friend"anadverse,representedpartyonFacebookandgathernonpublic
informationabouthim.

I.
Torecountthefacts,wedrawontheallegationsintheOAE'spendingcomplaintbeforetheDECandplaintiffs'complaint
filedwiththeSuperiorCourt.Wemakenofindingsabouttheaccuracyofthefactualallegationsineithercomplaint.
OnMarch10,2007,apolicecardrivenbyasergeantwiththeOaklandPoliceDepartmentallegedlystruckapedestrian,
DennisHernandez.HernandezclaimedthathesufferedpermanentinjuriesandfiledalawsuitagainsttheBoroughof
Oakland,thepolicedepartment,andthesergeant.
PlaintiffsJohnJ.RobertelliandGabrielAdamo,bothlicensedattorneysinNewJersey,workedatthelawfirmthat
representedthedefendantsinthepersonalinjurylawsuit.TogatherinformationaboutHernandez,plaintiffsdirecteda
paralegaltosearchtheInternet.Amongothersources,theparalegalaccessedHernandez'sFacebookpagemultipletimes.
Atfirst,thepagewasopentothepublic.Atalaterpoint,theprivacysettingsontheaccountwerechangedtolimitaccess
toFacebookuserswhowereHernandez's"friends."AccordingtotheOAE,plaintiffsdirectedtheparalegaltoaccessand
continuetomonitorthenonpublicpages,andshesubmitteda"friendrequest"toHernandez.Theparalegaldidnot
misrepresentheridentity,butshealsodidnotrevealthatsheworkedforplaintiffs'lawfirmandwasinvestigating
Hernandez.
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Hernandezacceptedthefriendrequest.Helearnedaboutthefirm'sactionsbeforetrialwhenplaintiffssoughttoaddthe
paralegalasatrialwitnessanddisclosedprintoutsfromHernandez'sFacebookpageandhisfriends'pages.Throughhis
attorney,Hernandezobjectedtotheuseofthedocumentsattrial.HealsofiledagrievancewiththeDistrictIIBEthics
CommitteeonMay18,2010,andassertedthatitwasaviolationoftheRPCsforplaintiffstocontacthimdirectlythrough
hisFacebookpagewithoutfirstcontactinghisattorney.
Weekslater,onJune22,2010,theSecretaryoftheDistrictIIEthicsCommitteeadvisedHernandezinwritingthatshehad
reviewedthegrievanceanddeterminedthattheallegations,ifproven,wouldnotconstituteunethicalconduct.The
Secretaryconsideredonlythefaceofthecomplaintanddidnotconductaninvestigation.Withtheagreementofapublic
memberoftheCommittee,theSecretarydeclinedtodocketthegrievance.
Hernandez'sattorneynextsentalettertotheDirectoroftheOAEonJuly30,2010.Theletterrecountedplaintiffs'conduct
andofferedsomeadditionaldetailsnotintheoriginalgrievance.Thecoreallegationsinbothdocuments,though,were
essentiallythesame.Accordingtocounsel,"[t]hemisuseoftheinternetandsocialhostingwebpagesisnothingshortofan
endrunontelephonecommunicationsand/orwrittencorrespondencewithclientsrepresentedbyattorneys."Forthat
reason,Hernandez'scounselmadea"formalrequest"thattheOAE"reviewthematterandhaveitdocketedforafull
investigationandpotentialhearing."
TheDirector,inturn,investigatedthematterand,onNovember16,2011,filedacomplaintagainstplaintiffswiththeDistrict
XIVEthicsCommittee.ThecomplaintallegedthatplaintiffsengagedinmisconductinviolationofRPC4.2(communicating
withapersonrepresentedbycounsel)RPC5.1(b)and(c)(failuretosuperviseasubordinatelawyerchargedonly
againstRobertelli)RPC5.3(a),(b),and(c)(failuretosuperviseanonlawyerassistant)RPC8.4(a)(violationoftheRPCs
byinducinganotherpersontoviolatethemordoingsothroughtheactsofanother)RPC8.4(c)(conductinvolving
dishonesty,fraud,deceit,andmisrepresentation)andRPC8.4(d)(conductprejudicialtotheadministrationofjustice).
Plaintiffsfiledananswertothecomplaintandstatedthattheyactedingoodfaithatalltimesandhadnotcommittedany
unethicalconduct.Theyexplained,inpart,thattheywereunfamiliarwiththedifferentprivacysettingsonFacebook.
Sixmonthslater,plaintiffsaskedtheDirectoroftheOAEtowithdrawthecomplaint.TheyarguedthatRule1:203(e)(6)and
caselawbarredtheOAEfromproceedingaftertheSecretarydecidednottodocketthegrievance.[1]TheDirectordeclined
therequest.HereliedontheauthoritycontainedinRule1:202(b).Headdedthatplaintiffscouldfileamotiontodismiss
thecomplaintunderRule1:205(d)iftheybelievedtheDirectorfailedtostateacauseofactionorthattheDEClacked
jurisdiction.PlaintiffsinsteadfiledtheinstantcomplaintinSuperiorCourtonSeptember13,2012.Theyaskedthecourt(1)
todeclarethattheDirectorlackedauthorityto"review"theDEC'sdecisionnottodocketthegrievance,pursuanttoRule
1:203(e)(6),and(2)toenjointheOAEfrompursuingthegrievance.
TheOAEmovedtodismissthecomplaint.ThetrialcourtconcludedthatbecausetheSupremeCourtandtheethicsbodies
itestablishedhaveexclusivejurisdictionoverattorneydisciplinarymatters,theSuperiorCourtlackedauthoritytoreviewor
enjointheactsoftheOAE.Thetrialcourtthereforedismissedthecomplaintandaddedthatplaintiffscouldmovefor
dismissaloftheethicalcharges"inthecontextofthependingdisciplinaryaction."
TheAppellateDivisionaffirmed.Itexplainedthat,"[e]xceptforconstitutionalchallenges,whichplaintiffsdidnotraise,the
SupremeCourthasexclusivejurisdictionandauthorityovermattersofattorneydiscipline,includingtheactionsofthose
ethicsbodiesvestedwiththeauthorityoverattorneydisciplinaryproceedings."
Wegrantedplaintiffs'petitionforcertification.222N.J.15(2015).

II.
Webeginwithanoverviewofthedisciplinarysystemtoprovidecontextforthisappeal.TheStateConstitutiondeclares
that"[t]heSupremeCourtshallhavejurisdictionovertheadmissiontothepracticeoflawandthedisciplineofpersons
admitted."N.J.Const.art.VI,2,3.ThisCourtthus"hasboththeauthorityandobligationtooverseethedisciplineof
attorneys."R.M.v.SupremeCourtofNewJersey,185N.J.208,213(2005).Ourresponsibilityinthisareais"exclusive."
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Statev.Rush,46N.J.399,411(1966).
TheCourthascreatedvariousentitiestoassistinitsdisciplinaryrole.Mostpertinenttothiscase,theyincludetheDECs,
theOAE,andtheDisciplinaryReviewBoard(DRB).Theyare"armsofthe[C]ourt,"andafilingwiththem"isineffecta
filingwiththeSupremeCourt."Toftv.Ketchum,18N.J.280,284(1955)(discussingcountyethicsandgrievance
committees)seealsoMiddlesexCty.EthicsComm.v.GardenStateBarAss'n,457U.S.423,433,102S.Ct.2515,2522,
73L.Ed.2d116,125(1982).Toguideattorneysandthepublic,theCourthasalsoadoptedrulesthatoutlinetheattorney
disciplinaryprocess.SeeR.1:20.
Thesystemasawholeisdesignedtofosterafairandeffectiveprocessthatenablesthepublictovoicecomplaintsabout
attorneybehavior,empowersinvestigatorybodiestoreviewandthoroughlyinvestigategrievances,givesattorneysan
opportunitytorespondtoallegationsanddefendthemselveswithvigor,and,intheend,protectsthepublicfromunethical
conductbyunfitlawyers.SeeInreCammarano,219N.J.415,420(2014).Throughthoseefforts,thedisciplinaryscheme
helps"promotepublicconfidencein[the]legalsystem."InreGallo,178N.J.115,122(2003).
Ingeneral,twoentitieshavetheauthoritytoinvestigateandprosecutegrievancesagainstattorneyslicensedinNew
Jersey:theDECsandtheOAE.R.1:203R.1:202(b).Unlikestatesthathaveafullycentralizeddisciplinarysystem,New
JerseyusesahybridapproachwithacentralOAEandlocalDECsineachvicinage.Agrievancemayfolloweitheroftwo
pathsthemorecommoncoursestartsintheDEC,theotherbeginsintheOAE.
Anotherbodyplaysanimportantroleinthereviewprocess.TheDRBsitsasan"intermediateappellatetribunalin
disciplinarymatters."SeeR.1:20R.1:2015.TheSupremeCourt,consistentwiththeconstitutionalmandate,isthefinal
arbiterofethicsmatters.SeeR.1:2016.
Therolesofeachentityrequireamoredetailedexplanation.TheDECs"screen,investigate,prosecute,andhear
disciplinary"matters.R.1:20.EachvicinagehasoneormoreDECs,whichservea"definedgeographicalarea."R.1:20
3(a).DECshavenofewerthaneightvolunteermembers,atleastfourofwhommustbeattorneysandtwoofwhommust
belaypeople.Ibid.
TheDirector,afterconsultationwiththecommitteechair,appointsaSecretaryforeachDEC.R.1:203(c).Secretaries
mustbelicensedattorneys,andtheyreceiveandreviewallgrievancesonbehalfoftheDECs.R.1:203(c)(e).Whenthe
factsalleged,"iftrue,wouldconstituteunethicalconduct"undertheRPCs,aSecretarymustdocketthegrievance.R.1:20
3(e)(1).Ontheotherhand,whenthefactsalleged,"iftrue,wouldnotconstituteunethicalconduct,"theSecretaryshall
declinetodocketthegrievance,providedapublicmemberagrees.R.1:203(e)(3).Noinvestigationisdoneinthelatter
casetheSecretaryreviewsonlythefaceofthecomplaint.
ItappearsthatDECSecretariesdeclinetodocketthemajorityofgrievancessubmitted.A1993reportfromtheNewJersey
EthicsCommission[2]notedthatasmanyaseightypercentofgrievanceswerenotdocketed.ReportofNewJerseyEthics
Commission,at75(February26,1993)(MichelsCommissionReport).ASecretary'sdecisiontodeclinetodocketa
grievancecannotbeappealedtotheDRB.SeeR.1:203(e)(6).
WhenaSecretarydocketsagrievance,theDECchairassignsanattorneymembertoinvestigatethematter.R.1:20:3(g)
(1).Aftertheinvestigatorpresentsawrittenreportandrecommendation,thechairmayfileacomplaint,R.1:203(i)(3)(B),
requestthattheDirectorapproveanagreementinlieuofdisciplineforminorunethicalconduct,R.1:203(i)(2)(B)(i),or
dismissthecharge,R.1:203(h).Ifthechairdecidestodismissagrievanceafteraninvestigation,eithertheDirectororthe
grievantmayappealthedecisiontotheDRB.R.1:203(e)(6)R.1:203(h)R.1:2015(e)(1),(2).
TheCourtcreatedtheOAEin1984,aspartof"theincreasedcentralizationofthedisciplinarysystem."SeeKevinH.
Michels,NewJerseyAttorneyEthics,42:1at106263(2016).TheOAEisstaffedbyfulltimeprofessionals.Boththe
OAEanditsDirectorhavebroadauthorityundertherulesbothtoadministerthedisciplinarysystemandtoinvestigateand
prosecuteallegationsofattorneymisconduct.SeeR.1:202.
TheDirector,whomtheCourtappoints,has"alloftheinvestigativeandprosecutorialauthority"oftheDECs.R.1:202(b).
Undertherules,hehasdiscretionaryauthorityto"investigateanyinformationcomingtotheDirector'sattention,whetherby
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grievanceorotherwise."R.1:202(b)(2).TheDirectoralsohasexclusiveinvestigativeandprosecutorialjurisdictionin
certainareas,includingserious,complex,oremergentmatters,R.1:202(b)(1)(A),aswellasanycasetheDRBorthe
CourtassignstotheDirector,R.1:202(b)(1)(E).TheDirectorcanappealtotheDRBadecisionbytheDECchairto
dismissamatterafterinvestigationwithoutthefilingofanycharges,oradecisiontodismissafterahearing.R.1:2015(e)
R.1:203(h).
DisciplinaryproceedingsmayalsobeginattheOAE.AgrievantcanraiseanethicscomplaintdirectlywiththeDirector.See
R.1:202(b)(2)Baxtv.Liloia,155N.J.190,211(1998)(notingthatattorneyscanreportunethicalbehavioreithertoOAE
orlocalDECtosatisfyRPC8.3(a)and"informtheappropriateprofessionalauthority").
WhenaDECchairortheDirectorfilesacomplaintafteraninvestigation,thematterproceedsbeforeahearingpanelof
threeDECmembers,R.1:206(a)(1),oraspecialmaster,R.1:206(b)(3).Respondentsreceivewrittennoticeduringthe
investigativephaseunderRule1:203(g)(2),andwrittennoticeofthehearingunderRule1:206(c)(2)(A).Theymayappear
atthehearingwithcounsel,crossexaminewitnesses,andpresentevidence.Ibid.Afterthehearing,"[i]fthetrieroffact
findsthattherehasbeennounethicalconduct,"thecomplaintisdismissed.R.1:206(c)(2)(E).Onceagain,thegrievantor
DirectormayappealthatdecisiontotheDRB.R.1:2015(e)(1),(2).Thepanelorspecialmastermayalsorecommendan
admonition,reprimand,censure,suspension,ordisbarment.R.1:206(c)(2)(E).
TheDRB"theintermediateappellatetribunalindisciplinarymatters,"R.1:20isaninememberbodyoflawyersand
laypeople.R.1:2015(a).Itsprimaryroleistoreviewrecommendationsfordisciplineandappealsfromfindingsofno
unethicalconduct.R.1:2015(e),(f).ThisCourtreviewsallrecommendationsfordisbarment,R.1:2016(a),andmay
reviewanyotherdeterminationbytheDRB,R.1:2016(b).

III.
PlaintiffsarguethattheSuperiorCourthadjurisdictiontodecidethemeritsofthiscase.Theycontendthatthematter
calledforaninterpretationofcertaincourtrules,whichtheyclaimfallswithinthegeneraljurisdictionoftheSuperiorCourt
evenwhenaruletouchesonattorneydiscipline.Plaintiffsmaintainthattheirapplicationwasnotaninvitationforthetrial
courttoresolveadisciplinarymatterandthereforedidnotencroachonthisCourt'sexclusivejurisdiction.Inanyevent,
plaintiffsarguethatthequestionofsubjectmatterjurisdictionissecondarynowthattheirappealisbeforethisCourt.
Astothemerits,plaintiffs'centralcontentionisthat,underRule1:203(e)(6),theDirectorwasnotauthorizedtoconsideran
appealoftheSecretary'sdecisionnottodocketagrievance.PlaintiffsclaimthatthelettertheOAEreviewedfrom
Hernandez'scounselwas"tantamounttoanimpermissibleappeal."
PlaintiffsassertthatthereisaconflictbetweenthecourtrulethatgivestheDirectordiscretiontoinvestigateanygrievance,
R.1:202(b)(2),andtherulethatbarsappealsfromaSecretary'sdecisionnottodocketagrievance,R.1:203(e)(6).To
resolvethattension,theyurgetheCourttoprohibittheDirectorfromunilaterallyreviewingandreversingtheDEC's
decision.Forsupport,plaintiffsreasonfromrelateddisciplinaryrulesandrely,inpart,ontheMichelsCommissionReport
andonlateramendmentstothecourtrules.
TheOAE,representedbytheAttorneyGeneral,contendsthatthetrialcourtproperlydismissedplaintiffs'complaint.
BecausethisCourthasexclusivejurisdictionoverattorneydisciplinematters,theOAEsubmitsthatthetrialcourtcouldnot
entertainadirectchallengetotheprosecutionofanattorneyethicsgrievance.AccordingtotheOAE,thislawsuit,atits
core,isaboutadisciplinarycaseandnotadisputeoverthemeaningofcourtrules.Asaresult,theOAEcontendsthat
plaintiffs'argumentscanandshouldbeconsideredduringthedisciplinaryproceedings.
Inanyevent,theOAEmaintainsthattheDirectorwaswellwithinhisauthoritytoevaluateandinvestigatetheunderlying
allegations,evenaftertheDECSecretarydeclinedtodocketthegrievance.TheOAEreliesontheDirector'sbroad
authorityinRule1:202(b).TheOAErejectsplaintiffs'readingofRule1:203(e)(6)andcontendsthattheruledoesnotbind
theDirector,whodoesnotactasanappellatebody.

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IV.
Wefirstconsidertheissueofsubjectmatterjurisdiction.PlaintiffsseektopreventtheOAEanditsDirectorfrom
prosecutingthedisciplinaryallegationsagainstthem.TheircomplaintspecificallyaskstheSuperiorCourttorestrainthe
OAE"fromtakinganyactioninfurtheranceofthedisciplinarychargesagainstthem"andto"declar[e]thattheOAElacks
jurisdictiontopursuethegrievance."ThetrialcourtandtheAppellateDivisioncorrectlyfoundthattheSuperiorCourt
lackedsubjectmatterjurisdictionoverthisdirectchallengetotheattorneydisciplinaryprocess.
Subjectmatterjurisdictioninvolves"athresholddeterminationastowhether[acourt]islegallyauthorizedtodecidethe
questionpresented."Gilbertv.Gladden,87N.J.275,28081(1981).Whenacourtlackssubjectmatterjurisdiction,its
authoritytoconsiderthecaseis"whollyandimmediatelyforeclosed."Id.at281(quotingBakerv.Carr,369U.S.186,198,
82S.Ct.691,699,7L.Ed.2d663,674(1962)).
UndertheStateConstitution,thisCourthasjurisdictionoverattorneydisciplinematters.N.J.Const.art.VI,2,3.As
notedearlier,theCourt'sresponsibilityinthisareaisexclusive.InreLiVolsi,85N.J.576,583(1981)(citingRush,supra,
46N.J.at41112).
TheSuperiorCourtcanconsiderchallengestotheconstitutionalityofadisciplinaryrule.InreFelmeister,95N.J.431,444
(1984).ButtheSuperiorCourtlacksjurisdictionovertheregulationoftheBarandmattersthatintrudeonthedisciplinary
process.SeeLiVolsi,supra,85N.J.at59697(findingnorightofreviewofdeterminationoffeearbitrationcommittee,via
prerogativewritactioninSuperiorCourt,becauseConstitutiongrantsSupremeCourt"plenaryauthoritytoregulatethe
Bar")O'Boylev.DistrictIEthicsCommittee,421N.J.Super.457,47374(App.Div.)(rejectingconstitutionalchallengeto
Rule1:203(e)(6)andnoting"[i]twouldmakelittlesensetoallowtheSuperiorCourt,LawDivision,toreviewadecisionofa
districtethicssecretary"inlightoflanguageofruleandreasoninginLiVolsi),certif.denied,208N.J.601(2011)GECapital
Mortg.Servs.,Inc.v.N.J.TitleIns.Co.,333N.J.Super.1,23(App.Div.2000)(holdingFundforClientProtectioncould
"notbesuedinSuperiorCourtbyadisappointedclaimant").
WenotethattheSuperiorCourthasonoccasioninterpreteddisciplinaryrulestoresolveanissueinanondisciplinary
matter.See,e.g.,Eichen,Levinson,&Crutchlow,LLPv.Weiner,397N.J.Super.588,598(App.Div.)(interpretingRules
1:2019and1:2020todeterminewhetherfirmthatreceivedreferralsfromdisbarredattorneywasrequiredtoremitreferral
feestoattorneytrusteemanagingdisbarredattorney'spractice),certif.denied,195N.J.418(2008)Statev.Stroger,185
N.J.Super.124,13133,136(LawDiv.1981)(interpretingconfidentialityprovisionofformerRule1:205anddenying
motiontosuppressevidencethatDRBgavetoprosecutor'soffice),aff'd,97N.J.391,413(1984).Innoneofthosecases,
however,didthecourtsinterveneintheoperationoftheethicssystemorthedisciplineofanattorney.
Here,plaintiffsseektobartheOAEfromprosecutingadisciplinarymatter.Theircomplaintattemptstointerferedirectly
withtheoperationofthedisciplinaryprocess.LikethetrialcourtandtheAppellateDivision,wethereforeconcludethatthe
SuperiorCourtlackedsubjectmatterjurisdiction.
PlaintiffsarguethatthetrialcourtandAppellateDivisionshouldhaveaddressedwhattheyperceiveasaconflictbetween
thecourtrules.Amongotherpoints,theycontendthatjudgesoftheSuperiorCourtarebetterequippedtointerpretthe
rulesthanthemixoflawyersandlaypeoplewhoserveontheDECsandDRB.Butthequestionofsubjectmatter
jurisdictionisoneofauthority,notexpertise.SeeGladden,supra,87N.J.at28081.Inaddition,plaintiffs'argument
extendsbeyondtheinterpretationofacourtrulethereliefplaintiffsseekgoestotheheartofthedisciplinaryprocess.
Werecognize,nonetheless,thatthisappealraisesanimportantquestionabouttheauthorityoftheOAEDirectorandthe
functioningofthedisciplinarysystemmattersthatfallsquarelywithintheCourt'sconstitutionalcharge.Ifthecasewere
toproceedthroughadecisionbytheDRB,theCourtwouldthenbeabletoreviewthatdetermination.R.1:2016(b).Under
thecircumstances,werelaxthecourtrulesintheinterestofjusticetoaddressthelegalauthorityoftheDirectornow.See
R.1:12(a)seealsoStatev.Luna,193N.J.202,211(2007)(relaxingrulesininterestofjustice"[i]nlightofthecritically
importantquestionpresented").

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V.
Weturntotheissueatthecenterofthisappeal:whethertheOAEDirectorcanreviewanallegationofunethicalconduct
andfileacomplaintafteraDECSecretaryhasdeclinedtodocketasimilarclaim.Inthismatter,theDECSecretary
believedthattheallegation,iftrue,wouldnotconstituteunethicalbehavior.Withtheconcurrenceofapublicmemberofthe
Committee,theSecretarydeclinedtoproceed.
PlaintiffsrelyheavilyonRule1:203(e)(6),whichstates,"[t]hereshallbenoappealfrom"theSecretary'sdecision.They
arguethattherulebarstheOAEDirectorfromtakingfurtheraction.Forseveralreasons,wedisagree.

A.
Weapplyfamiliarcanonsofstatutoryconstructiontointerpretthecourtrules.HopewellValleyCitizens'Grp.,Inc.v.
BerwindProp.Grp.Dev.Co.,L.P.,204N.J.569,578(2011)(citingWiesev.Dedhia,188N.J.587,592(2006))Statev.
Clark,191N.J.503,508(2007).Welookfirsttotheplainlanguageoftherulesandgivethewordstheirordinarymeaning.
BridgewaterRaritanEduc.Ass'nv.Bd.ofEduc.ofBridgewaterRaritanSch.Dist.,SomersetCty.,221N.J.349,361
(2015)N.J.S.A.1:11.
Wealsoreadthelanguageofarule"incontextwithrelatedprovisionssoastogivesensetothe[courtrules]asawhole."
Wiese,supra,188N.J.at592seealsoSheltonv.Restaurant.com,Inc.,214N.J.419,438(2013)("Statutesthatdealwith
thesamematterorsubjectmattershouldbereadinparimateriaandconstruedtogetherasaunitaryandharmonious
whole."(quotingInrePetitionforReferendumonTrentonOrdinance0902,201N.J.349,359(2010))).
Ifthetextoftherulesisambiguous,wecanturntoextrinsicevidence,includingcommitteereports,forguidance.CastArt
Indus.,LLCv.KPMGLLP,209N.J.208,222(2012)(quotingDiProsperov.Penn,183N.J.477,49293(2005)).

B.
WestartwiththeplainlanguageofRule1:203(e)(6)andconcludethat,whenreadincontext,itpreventsgrievantsfrom
appealingtotheDRBaSecretary'sdecisionnottodocketagrievance.Therule,eitherbyitsexpresstermsorwhenread
alongsideotherrules,doesnotbartheOAEDirectorfromacting.
Theshortrulehastwosentences.Thefirstsentence"[t]hereshallbenoappealfromadecisiontodeclineagrievance
madeinaccordancewiththisrule"doesnotspecifywheretheforbiddenappealmightlie.Thesecondsentencereveals
more.Itdeclaresthat"[a]nappealmaybetakenfromdismissalofagrievanceafterdocketinginaccordancewithRule
1:203(h)."
Rule1:203(h),inturn,statesthatiftheDECdismissesagrievanceafteraninvestigation,theDirectorandthegrievant
have"therighttoappealtotheBoardwithin21daysasprovidedbyRule1:2015(e)(2)."(Emphasisadded).Rule1:20
15(e)(2)likewiseoutlinesthewaytofileanoticeofappeal"withtheBoard"incertaininstances.(Emphasisadded).Viewed
incontext,thephrase"noappeal"attheoutsetofRule1:203(e)(6)referstoanappealtotheDRB,nottheOAE.
IfaDECSecretarydecidesnottodocketagrievance,Rule1:203(e)(6)doesnotbartheOAEfromevaluatingthematter
foranotherreason:alettertotheOAEisnotan"appeal."Theterm"appeal,"asordinarilyunderstood,is"[a]proceeding
undertakentohaveadecisionreconsideredbyahigherauthorityesp.,thesubmissionofalowercourt'soragency's
decisiontoahighercourtforreviewandpossiblereversal."Black'sLawDictionary117(10thed.2014)seealsoid.at
1514(defining"appellatereview"asan"[e]xaminationofalowercourt'sdecisionbyahighercourt,whichcanaffirm,
reverse,modify,orvacatethedecision").
Tobesure,theOAEDirectorhascertainadministrative/supervisoryresponsibilitiesovertheDECs.TheDirectorhasthe
powerto"recommendtotheSupremeCourttheappointmentandreplacement"ofDECmembers,R.1:202(b)(13)tohire
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anddischargeDECSecretariesandrecommendtheircompensation,R.1:202(b)(12)toselectmembersofhearing
panelsandapprovevolunteerinvestigators,R.1:202(b)(17),(18)andtotransferdisciplinarymattersamongDECs,R.
1:202(b)(7).IfaDECdoesnotresolveagrievancewithinoneyearoffiling,theDirectormayassumejurisdictionoverthe
matter.R.1:202(b)(1)(D).
TheDirector,however,doesnothavetheauthoritytooverridethedecisionsoftheDECthehallmarkofappellatepower.
TheDirectorcannotaffirm,reverse,modify,orvacatedecisionsoftheDEC.Infact,whentheDirectorinvestigatesand
decidestoprosecuteamatter,asinthiscase,theOAEfilesacomplainteitherwiththeDEC,andpresentsitscasetoa
DEChearingpanel,orwithaspecialmaster.SeeMichels,supra,42:32at1073.Inaddition,asnotedearlier,ifthe
DirectordisagreeswithcertainDECdecisions,theDirectormayappealthemtotheDRB.R.1:203(h)R.1:2015(e)(1)(i),
(ii).Buthecannotreversethemonhisown.TheDRB,nottheOAE,reviewsDECdecisionsonappeal.R.1:2015(e).
Viewedinthatlight,Rule1:203(e)(6)protectstheDRBfrombeingoverwhelmedwithappeals.Undertherule,grievants
cannotappealtotheDRBthehundredsofdecisionsthatDECSecretariesmakeeachyeartodeclinetodocketgrievances.
FinalityhelpsalleviatetheburdenontheDRBinthatregardtheDirector'sdiscretionaryauthoritytostepinwhen
appropriatedoesnotunderminetheDRBoraddtoitsburden.
AnarrowreadingofthefirstsentenceofRule1:203(e)(6)isalsoatoddswiththebroadauthoritytherulesaffordthe
Director.Wetrytointerpretthedisciplinaryrulesasa"unitaryandharmoniouswhole."Shelton,supra,214N.J.at438.
TheyconferontheDirector"alloftheinvestigativeandprosecutorialauthorityofanEthicsCommittee."R.1:202(b).They
alsoempowertheDirectorto"investigateanyinformationcomingtotheDirector'sattention,whetherbygrievanceor
otherwise,which,intheDirector'sjudgment,maybegroundsfordiscipline."R.1:202(b)(2).ThefirstsentenceofRule
1:203(e)(6)doesnotoverridethosecleargrantsofauthority.
Inaddition,plaintiffs'readingofRule1:203(e)(6)doesnotcomportwiththepurposesofthedisciplinaryrules:topromote
thefairandthoroughinvestigationanddefenseofallegationsofunethicalconductbyattorneys,andtoprotectthepublic.
Thismatterpresentsanovelethicalissue:whetheranattorneycandirectsomeoneto"friend"anadverse,represented
partyonFacebookandgatherinformationaboutthepersonthatisnototherwiseavailabletothepublic.Noreportedcase
lawinourStateaddressesthequestion.Consistentwiththegoalsofthedisciplinaryprocess,thecourtrulesdonotclose
offfurtherinquiryifaDECSecretarydeclinestodocketanimportant,novelissueastowhichthereislittleguidance,or
mistakenlydeclinestodocketanallegationofegregious,unethicalconduct.TheDirectoroftheOAE,byvirtueofthe
broaderscopeofhisposition,seesthebreadthofissuesraisedthroughouttheStateandisawareofnationaltrends.The
publicisbestservedbyasystemthatpermitsbothvolunteersintheDECsandprofessionalsintheOAEtoassess
challengingethicalmattersliketheonepresentedinthiscase.TheDirector'sreview,moreover,offersamechanismto
ensurethatallegationsofegregiousmisconductarenotmistakenlyoverlooked.
Theapproachthatplaintiffsreadintotheruleswouldalsoleadtounusualresults.PlaintiffscontendthattheOAEDirector
cannotreviewtheletterfromgrievant'scounselinthismatterbecausecounselsenttheletteraftertheSecretary'sdecision,
allegedlyinviolationofRule1:203(e)(6).Evenifplaintiffs'viewhadprevailed,nothingwouldbartheDirectorfrom
investigatingifthegrievanthadwrittentotheDirectorfirst.Andifthegrievanthadwrittentobothbodiesatthesametime,
theDirectorcouldgoforwardregardlessoftheSecretary'sdecision.Suchdisparateoutcomesarehardtojustifyandwould
notsensiblyservethegoalsoftheState'sdisciplinarysystem.
Finally,thecourtruleshaveabuiltinoverridethatcandefeatattemptstoenjointheDirectorfromproceeding.UnderRule
1:202(b)(1)(E),theDirectorhasthediscretionandauthoritytoinvestigateandprosecute"anycaseinwhichtheBoardor
theSupremeCourtdeterminesthemattershouldbeassignedtotheDirector."Asaresult,evenatthisstage,theCourt
couldasktheDirectortoexaminethenovelandpotentiallyseriousethicalissueraisedinthiscase.

C.
Becausethemeaningoftherulesisclear,weneednotconsidercommitteereportsorotherextrinsicaids.Shelton,supra,
214N.J.at429.Theywouldnotaltertheoutcomeinanyevent.
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PlaintiffsclaimthatthehistoryofRule1:203(e)(6)revealsitwaspartofanefforttoreducebackloginthedisciplinary
system.TheyplacegreatrelianceonthereportoftheMichelsCommission.
TheMichelsCommission'staskwastoevaluatetheethicssystemandrecommendchangestomakeit"aseffective,as
efficient,andasresponsiveaspossible."MichelsCommissionReport,supra,at2.Amongotherfindings,theCommission
highlighted"aneverexpandingcaseload"andagrowingbacklogofdisciplinarymatters.Id.at34,37.TheCommission
alsonotedthecorrespondinggrowthinthenumberoflicensedattorneysfrom11,408in1970to47,564in1992.Id.at
47.
Aspartofaseriesofrecommendations,theCommissionencouragedtheCourttorestructurethedisciplinarysystemand
"provideforacentralintakeofficeforthereceiptofallgrievancesagainstlawyers"intheOAE.Id.at72.TheCommission
concludedthat"statewidecentralintake"wouldlessendelays,"providemeaningfulassistancetogrievants,"promote
consistency,and,ingeneral,"presenta`friendlierface'tothepublic."Id.at77.
TheCommissionmadenoteofthefollowingaspectsoftheexistingdocketingpractice.First,DECSecretariesdeclinedto
docketasmanyaseightypercentofcases,andalthoughtheSupremeCourthadan"`opencomplaint'policy"that
"allow[ed]agrievanttoinsistthathisgrievancebedocketedandinvestigated,"theCommissionobservedthat,"inreality,
thatrightisnotwellknown."Id.at75n.85.Second,theCommissioncommentedthat"[t]hereiscurrentlynooversightof,or
rightofappealfrom,dismissalofanundocketedgrievance."Id.at77n.88(emphasisadded).Inotherwords,neitherfactor
wassingledoutasareasonforthependingbacklog.
In1994,theCourtissuedadministrativedeterminationsinresponsetotheMichelsCommissionReport.SupremeCourt
AdministrativeDeterminationsRelatingtothe1993ReportoftheNewJerseyEthicsCommission(July14,1994)
(AdministrativeDeterminations).TheCourthighlightedmultipleconcernsinitsfindings,includingtheneedformoretimely
investigations,andtheimportanceof"increasedpublicinvolvement"inthedisciplinarysystemtoenhanceaccountability
andpublicconfidence.Id.at1,8.
Totrytoachievethefirstaim,theCourtaddedfulltimeprofessionalinvestigatorstothreelargeDECsresponsibleforone
fourthoftheState'scaseload.Id.at2.TheCourtalsoannounceditwouldadopttimestandardsasgoalsforthecompletion
ofinvestigations,hearings,andotheractions.Id.at13,26,28.ButtheCourtrejectedtheideaofacentralizedintakeoffice
andretainedtheDECsandtheirvolunteersasakeycomponentoftheintakeandoveralldisciplinaryprocess.Id.at24.
Toaddressthegoalofgreaterpublicinvolvement,theCourt"increasedpublicparticipationinthedecisionsandworkofthe
system."Id.at2.Inparticular,theCourtaddedsubstantiallymorepublicmemberstotheDECs.Id.at3,18.Italso
expandedthemembers'role.Goingforward,theCourtdecreed,DECSecretariescouldnotscreenoutordismissawritten
grievance"withouttheconcurrenceofapublicmember."Id.at1415,24.Thatnewrequirement,codifiedinRule1:203(e)
(3),respondedtotheMichelsCommission'scallfor"oversight"ofthedismissalofundocketedgrievances.SeeMichels
CommissionReport,supra,at77n.88.
TheCourt'sAdministrativeDeterminationsdidnotaddresstheotherpartoftheCommission'sobservationthatthere
wasnorighttoappealfromundocketeddismissals.[3]Ibid.Byincludingthatlanguageinanewrule,Rule1:203(e)(6),the
Courtineffectembracedapracticethatalreadyexisted.
Inshort,bothbeforeandafterthechangespromptedbytheMichelsCommissionReport,DECSecretariesdeclinedto
docketthevastmajorityofgrievances,andgrievantshadnorightofappealfromthosedecisions.Itappearsthatthefirst
sentenceinRule1:203(e)(6),onwhichplaintiffsrely"[t]hereshallbenoappealfromadecisiontodeclineagrievance"
brokenonewgroundandwasnotaresponsetothebacklogproblem.Inanyevent,thereisnobasistoconcludethat
theOAE'sdiscretionaryreviewofgrievancesthatSecretariesdonotdocketwouldconflictwiththeaimsoftheMichels
Commission.

VI.
Forallofthosereasons,weconcludethattheDirectoroftheOAEhasauthorityunderthecourtrulestoreviewagrievance
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afteraDECSecretaryhasdeclinedtodocketit.WeanticipatethattheDirectorwillusethatpowersparinglytoaddress
novelandseriousallegationsofunethicalconduct.TheDirectorisnotrequiredtoinvestigateorformallyrespondto
requestsfromgrievantstopursueamatteraSecretaryhasnotdocketed.ButtheDirectorretainsthediscretiontoact
whenappropriate.
Suchanapproachreflectsthetraditionalbalanceonwhichourstrongsystemofattorneydisciplinerests.Wecontinueto
relyonacorpsofdevotedvolunteersandasmallergroupofprofessionalswho,workingintandem,havethenecessary
toolstoinvestigatepossibleethicallapsesbyattorneys.Toensurethestrengthandefficiencyofthedisciplinarysystem,we
encourageongoingcommunicationbetweentheOAEandtheDECs.
WeaffirmthejudgmentoftheAppellateDivisionthatthetrialcourtlackedsubjectmatterjurisdictionoverplaintiffs'
complaint.WealsofindthatthecourtrulesempowertheOAEDirectortoreviewanallegationofattorneymisconductifa
DECSecretarydeclinestodocketagrievance.TheOAEmaythereforeproceedtoprosecutetheallegedmisconductin
thiscase.
JUSTICESLaVECCHIA,ALBIN,PATTERSON,FERNANDEZVINAandSOLOMON,andJUDGECUFF(temporarily
assigned)joininCHIEFJUSTICERABNER'sopinion.
[1]Rule1:203(e)(6),discussedfurtherbelow,providesasfollows:"Thereshallbenoappealfromadecisiontodeclineagrievancemade
inaccordancewiththisrule.AnappealmaybetakenfromdismissalofagrievanceafterdocketinginaccordancewithR.1:203(h)."
[2]ChiefJusticeWilentzappointedtheNewJerseyEthicsCommissionin1991toexaminetheattorneydisciplinesystem.TheHonorable
HermanD.Michels,formerPresidingJudgefortheAdministrationoftheAppellateDivision,chairedtheCommission,anditisknownas
the"MichelsCommission."
[3]TheAdministrativeDeterminationsdidcommentontherighttoappealdismissalsafteraninvestigationorahearing.Administrative
Determinations,supra,at24.

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