Above the Law writes about a lot of wild things that happen to lawyers. That’s kinda our bread and butter. So, maybe I’m a bit jaded. But this disciplinary case against New Jersey attorney Annmarie Smits really floored me. Smits recently received a censure from the New Jersey Supreme Court — despite the Disciplinary Review Board’s recommendation for a more severe 3-month suspension — after shooting her son and not taking him to a hospital for treatment.
Let’s walk through what happened on that fateful day in 2018, as detailed in the Disciplinary Review Board’s report. Smits and a friend were packing for a move when she came upon a bag with a legally owned a registered 9-millimeter semi-automatic handgun. In her attempt to secure the gun, it accidentally went off and went through a wall, hitting her then 16 year old son in the thigh and buttock. And at this point the story seems sad and unfortunate but, unfortunately in a gun obsessed country such as the U.S., not truly eyebrow raising. But friends, it takes a turn.
According to the report, Smits cleaned the wound with betadine and peroxide and wrapped it up with a sweatshirt from the floor. But, she didn’t call for any medical assistance for her son, who, again, had been shot. A short time later she left a message for her ex-husband, a part-time EMT and surgical technician, to look at her son’s injury. A half hour later the ex-husband responded, saying he’d look at the injury — but only after he went to Home Depot to buy paint, per the report. When the ex-husband arrived he told Smits her son needed stitches, but he wouldn’t take her son to the hospital saying she should do it since, you know, she shot him, according to the report.
As this was going on, the report says that the son posted on social media that his mother shot him. A friend saw the post and called police. When the police arrived — more than two hours after the shooting occurred — they observed the wound was still bleeding and called for an ambulance.
Whew. That was… a lot.
The Disciplinary Review Board’s majority said that while the discharge of the gun was reckless but unintentional, “respondent made the sober, intentional, and callous decision to refrain from calling for medical assistance, despite having shot the minor.”
After an investigation, Smits and her ex-husband were charged with second-degree endangering the welfare of a child and fourth-degree abuse or neglect. Smits entered a pretrial intervention program, where the charges would be dismissed after two years of counseling and supervision.
But, as reported by Law.com, Smits definitely had something to say about the prosecution:
“Because New Jersey doesn’t like guns, my case became of interest to the prosecutors. When they found out they could not get me on gun charges, they went after me because they said I didn’t get him to the hospital on time,” Smits said.
I mean, she also left her child bleeding for two hours, but I digress. And I get that the incident doesn’t directly relate to Smits’s practice of law, but, well, it doesn’t reflect well on the profession.
She went on:
“What happened to me was extremely unfair. This was an abuse of the system. Somebody was bored and didn’t have anything to do, and decided they wanted to ruin my practice,” Smits said.
Smits’s own attorney in the matter, Robert Ramsey, said he was “thrilled” with the NJ Supreme Court’s decision. And it certainly seems like she dodged a bullet on this one.
Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).