NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 8, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-7125-10.
Daniel Sicardi, appellant pro se.
Manfredonia Law Offices, respondent pro se (John M. Manfredonia, on the brief).
Before Judges Ostrer and Kennedy.
Defendant appeals from an order enforcing a settlement, and argues that the settlement was supported by "inadequate consideration" and was "manifestly unfair." He also argues that the settlement was obtained through "duress [and] coercion" exerted by his attorney at a settlement conference. We have considered these arguments in light of the record and applicable law and we affirm.
Plaintiff represented defendant in litigation involving an estate in Hudson County. The decedent's sister had filed a complaint contesting the probate of a will in which defendant had an interest. Decedent's sister claimed the will was procured through undue influence. That case was concluded by a settlement in which defendant received over eighty percent of the assets in an estate valued at approximately $700, 000.
Following that litigation, defendant refused to pay plaintiff the legal fee he was owed. After giving defendant the requisite fee arbitration notice, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Law Division for breach of contract. Defendant retained counsel to represent him.
On July 12, 2011, plaintiff and defendant, represented by his attorney, appeared at a settlement conference and reached a settlement that was then placed on the record. The settlement was that defendant would pay $50, 000 to plaintiff within seven days and plaintiff's complaint would be dismissed with prejudice.
After the terms of the settlement were put on the record, defendant was sworn in and stated he had heard and understood the terms of the settlement and agreed to it "freely and voluntarily." He agreed he was not being "forced or coerced" into the settlement, wanted to settle and intended to be bound by its terms. He acknowledged he was represented by counsel who had answered all of his questions and had no additional questions of counsel. Defendant asked the judge if he could recommend any "literature" respecting attorney-client communications, and the judge replied he could not "think of anything" at the moment.
The judge then concluded that defendant, represented by counsel, "understands the terms of the settlement[, ]" and must make payment within seven days. Defendant did not make payment and plaintiff filed a motion, returnable on August 19, 2011, to enforce the settlement. Defendant appeared at that time without counsel.
Defendant advised the court that he had attempted to pay plaintiff prior to the fee litigation by transferring to him some stock certificates which plaintiff "refused to accept." He added, "Basically, I'm here because of the fact that the lawyer that I had did a crummy job, in terms of my dealing with ...