On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County.
Brody, Stern and Keefe. The opinion of the court was delivered by Stern, J.A.D.
This is an appeal by defendant, a New York attorney, from an order of the Law Division confirming an award by a District Fee Arbitration Committee in favor of plaintiff. The issue before us relates to the jurisdiction of the District Fee Arbitration Committee to consider the matter.
Defendant declined to participate in the fee arbitration proceeding except to challenge its jurisdiction. The underlying facts, as advanced by plaintiff, were essentially accepted by the Committee panel in its findings:
On or about August 28, 1988, the client, Susan Lopez, contacted Albert R. Arezzi, a licensed private investigator in the State of New Jersey, whose address is 857 Hillsdale Avenue, Hillsdale, New Jersey, and was a former special agent of the U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service, in connection with certain criminal proceedings that she expected to be brought against her arising from an alleged fraudulent agricultural worker permits supposedly, either manufactured or distributed by Ms. Lopez.
Ms. Lopez had previously known Mr. Pitula in connection with another matter, and had sought out Mr. Arezzi's help. John L. Pitula was a New York attorney who had formerly been associated with the U.S. Attorney's office, and particularly involved with the Department of Immigration & Naturalization.
Mr. Arezzi notified Mr. Pitula on August 28 concerning the case, and had a conversation with Mr. Pitula and Mr. Pitula said he would take the case.
A meeting was arranged between Mr. Arezzi, Mr. Pitula and Susan Lopez, which was held on August 29, 1988, at 149 Boulevard, Passaic, New Jersey, which was the residence of Ms. Lopez.
At said meeting a Discussion was held concerning the case, and Mr. Pitula stated that he would have to consult with New Jersey attorneys because if any criminal proceedings were instituted, they would most probably be in New Jersey.
Mr. Pitula contacted Dennis S. Carey, Esquire, who at that time was partners with Neil G. Duffy, III, Esquire, with offices in West Orange, New Jersey, and were practicing under the name of Carey & Duffy.
On August 31, 1988, there was a meeting held at the office of Carey & Duffy in West Orange, New Jersey, where the case was discussed, and Ms. Lopez was informed that the fee for the representation in the entire matter would be $600,000.00.
On September 1, 1988, Mr. Arezzi had been given the sum of $200,000.00 in cash, which he delivered to Mr. Pitula on September 1, 1988, at the parking lot of the Holiday Inn in Fort Lee, New Jersey. At said time, Mr. Arezzi was given $20,000.00 by Mr. Pitula for the services that he would be rendering as an investigator.
Thereafter, and prior to September 9, 1988, Mr. Pitula did deliver to Messrs. Carey & Duffy the sum of $90,000.00, which represented one-half of the remainder of the $200,000.00 retainer.
Mr. Pitula kept $90,000.00 for himself.
On Friday, September 9, 1988, there was another Discussion concerning the handling of the case, and one week later, to wit, on September 16, 1988, Mr. Arezzi notified Mr. Pitula and Messrs. Carey & Duffy that Susan Lopez was not happy with the representation, and that she wanted the return of her monies.
A further meeting was held on October 4, 1988, in an effort to settle the dispute between the client and the attorneys, and at that time no money was refunded to the client. Thereafter, Ms. Lopez engaged the services of another New York firm, which was later relieved, and was finally represented by a New Jersey attorney in connection with the indictment that was issued out of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.
The panel finds that all of the contacts with Mr. Pitula concerning the representation, the delivery of money, the handling of the case, were done within the State of New Jersey. The panel further finds that the retainer that was paid was for the
representation of the client in legal matters that arose in and had to be disposed of within ...