IN THE MATTER OF JEFF A. SCHNIPPIR, AN ATTORNEY AT LAW
Argued: November 16, 2017
District Docket No. IV-2015-0046E
Katrina Vitale appeared on behalf of the District IV Ethics
Respondent waived appearance for oral argument.
A. Brodsky, Chief Counsel.
C. Frost, Chair
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter was before us on a disciplinary stipulation between
the District IV Ethics Committee (DEC) and respondent, who
stipulated to having violated RPC 1.6(a) (improperly
revealing information relating to the representation of a
client), RPC 1.7(a) (concurrent conflict of interest), and
RPC 1.9(a) (representing a client in a matter and thereafter
representing another client in the same or a substantially
related matter in which that clients' interests are
materially adverse, without obtaining informed, written
recommended the imposition of a censure or lesser discipline.
For the reasons set forth below, we determine to impose a
reprimand for respondent's conduct.
was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1976 and the New York
bar in 1977. He maintains a law office in Cherry Hill, New
1999, respondent was reprimanded for failure to provide a
client with a writing setting forth the basis or rate of the
fee (RPC 1.15(b)), and for engaging in a conflict of interest
(RPC 1.7 and RPC 1.9(a)(1)). In re Schnepper, 158
N.J. 22 (1999). In that case, respondent, who is also an
accountant, represented George Anderson as a tax consultant
for approximately ten years before Anderson and Joseph Dunn
retained him to purchase a boat from a corporation. Anderson
and Dunn acquired the boat as shareholders of a small
corporation. Respondent did not provide Dunn, whom he had not
previously represented, with a writing setting forth the
basis or rate of his fee and did not obtain informed written
consent to the dual representation. After the purchase took
place, a rift developed between Anderson and Dunn. Although
their interests became materially adverse, respondent
continued to represent Anderson in the matter relating to the
transfer of shares of the small corporation and the ultimate
sale of the boat.
facts of this matter are as follow. On a date not mentioned
in the stipulation, Dennis McLoughlin and his then wife,
Noeleen McLoughlin, retained respondent for financial,
estate, and income tax advice. Prior to 2008, Dennis had also
retained respondent to provide such services to his
businesses, "The Remedy Group" and, later,
"Remedy Group." As the McLoughlins' and the
businesses' tax attorney, respondent also provided legal
advice. Respondent had an attorney-client relationship with
both Dennis and Noeleen. He also provided
"services" to the McLoughlins" children. In
his capacity as financial, estate, and income tax attorney
for Dennis and his companies, respondent was privy to their
financial information. Noeleen had signed the retainer
agreement on Dennis' behalf and, presumably, on her own
behalf. Respondent did not disclose a potential conflict of
interest to them and, thus, did not obtain a signed waiver of
a conflict of interest.
was aware of the subsequent deterioration of Dennis and
Noeleen's marriage, leading to their separation in 2009.
Most of his contacts with "the McLoughlin Family"
were through Noeleen. He recommended that they each retain
their own matrimonial attorneys.
request of the McLoughlins, on October 26, 2010, respondent
held a meeting at his law office to try to mediate their
financial issues. Each was accompanied by independent
counsel. Respondent acknowledged that he did not address
N.J.S.A. 2A:23C-9 (mediator's disclosure of conflicts of
interest). Citing RPC 2.4 (lawyer serving as
third-party neutral), the stipulation provided that
respondent's role changed from dual representation of the
McLoughlins to a divorce-related mediator, without respondent
having disclosed the inherent conflict of interest and
without reducing to writing or otherwise explaining his new
communications during the course of the mediation included
the discussion of financial information he had obtained
"during his legal represention of [Dennis], Remedy Group
and/or The Remedy Group with [Noeleen] and/or her matrimonial
attorney." Noeleen had provided respondent with much of
the financial information that was addressed during the
mediation, which "related substantially" to
Dennis' confidential financial information.
neither informed Dennis that a conflict of interest had
developed, nor asked him to sign a waiver or release for the
conflict. Respondent admitted that, through the
"divorce-related mediation process, [he] continued to
communicate information relating to his prior representation
to [Noeleen] and her matrimonial attorney, which information
he contends came originally from [Noeleen]."
became upset by respondent's recommendations for a
divorce settlement, and expressed distrust of the soundness
of respondent's prior advice to him. According to
respondent, his recommendations were prudent and
"allegedly" undisputed, with the exception of his
recommendation relating to alimony payments to Noeleen.
Purportedly in response to Dennis McLoughlin's Motion to
join [respondent] as a defendant in the matrimonial matter,
[respondent] involved himself in the matrimonial action
between Dennis McLoughlin and Noeleen McLoughlin, submitting
correspondence to the Superior Court of New Jersey, regarding
the merits of the matter and Dennis McLoughlin's
March 2012, a court-appointed evaluator performed an
independent business valuation of Dennis' businesses. The
matrimonial attorneys reviewed it and "in large
part" Dennis and his attorney agreed with it.
however, submitted a sworn certification to the court, in the
matrimonial action, admitting that her matrimonial attorney
had requested an expert opinion from respondent with regard
to Dennis' business valuation after she questioned the