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In re Scavone

Supreme Court of New Jersey

February 28, 2018

In the Matter of Erica Marie Scavone

          BONNIE C. FROST, ESQ., CHAIR EDNA Y. BAUGH, ESQ., VICE-CHAIR PETER J. BOYER, ESQ. BRUCE W. CLARK, ESQ. HON. MAURICE J. GALLIPOLI THOMAS J. HOBERMAN EILEEN RIVERA ANNE C. SINGER, ESQ. ROBERT C. ZMIRICH

          ELLEN A. BRODSKY CHIEF COUNSEL

          PAULA T. GRANUZZO DEPUTY CHIEF COUNSEL

          MELISSA URBAN FIRST ASSISTANT COUNSEL

          TIMOTHY M. ELUS LILLIAN LEWIN BARRY R. PETERSEN, JR. COLIN T. TAMS KATHRYN ANNE WINTERLE ASSISTANT COUNSEL

         Dear Mr. Neary:

         The Disciplinary Review Board reviewed the motion for discipline by consent (censure or such lesser discipline as the Board deems appropriate) filed by the District IX Ethics Committee ("DEC"), pursuant to R. 1:20-10(b). Following a review of the record, the Board determined to grant the motion. In the Board's view, a censure is the appropriate quantum of discipline for respondent's violation of RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation). The Board determined to dismiss the alleged violation of RPC 1.1(a) (gross neglect).

         Specifically, respondent was admitted to practice in 2013. In January 2014, respondent began her employment with the law firm Bright & Sponder, in-house counsel for Citizens United Reciprocal Exchange (CURE), an automobile insurance company. She handled a large and demanding caseload of personal injury protection arbitrations and actions. In December 2014, after less than a year in her position, respondent was ticketed for driving while intoxicated (DWI) after a night out with friends. She tried to hide the incident from her employer, due to her fear that her employment would be terminated. During the next five months, respondent appeared in court on multiple occasions, each time expecting the matter to be resolved. With each adjournment, respondent continued to keep the matter from her employer, believing it would be resolved with the next court appearance.

         In April 2015, respondent entered a guilty plea and the judge suspended her driver's license for three months, through July 28, 2015. Respondent feared that, if she stopped submitting monthly mileage reimbursement requests, her employer would become aware of the circumstances leading to her driver's license suspension. Therefore, from April through July 2015, respondent submitted falsified monthly mileage expense reimbursement forms, and accepted those reimbursements from her employer.

         In September 2015, Bright & Sponder discovered inaccurate mileage entries, and informed respondent that it believed a number of her entries had been falsified. At that time, she readily admitted the deception and offered to repay the excess amount she had received as reimbursement. The firm declined her reimbursement offer, but terminated her employment. Respondent remains willing to make repayment.

         In mitigation, respondent submitted that, as both an undergraduate and a law school student, she was involved in a number of campus civic and charitable activities. In 2015 and 2016, respondent provided pro bono legal services for South Jersey Legal Services. From the outset of the investigation, she provided full and candid cooperation. She readily admitted her wrongdoing, accepted full responsibility for her actions, deeply regrets the incidents giving rise to the grievance, and has no ethics history. At the time of the misconduct, respondent was young and inexperienced. Additionally, as stated, she has offered to pay restitution and remains ready to do so.

         Respondent admitted that, over the course of five months, she falsified mileage reimbursement forms to conceal the loss of her driver's license, stemming from her DWI conviction. Although respondent was not motivated by financial gain, but, rather by the fear of potential job loss if her employer discovered her driver's license suspension, she kept the monies received as a result of her false reporting. Respondent's misrepresentations violated RPC 8.4(c).

         Despite her stipulation to the contrary, however, respondent did not violate RPC 1.1(a). That Rule is inapplicable, as it pertains specifically to attorneys' conduct concerning client matters with which they are "entrusted." Therefore, the Board determined to dismiss that alleged violation.

         In support of the recommended quantum of discipline (censure or less), the parties rely on In re Day, 217 N.J. 280 (2014), where the attorney was suspended for three months for violating RPC 8.4(c), in connection with his submission of false time entries indicating that he had attended depositions on fifty-one dates when he had attended only twenty depositions. Clients were billed based on the false time entries. Day's firm ultimately reimbursed those clients a total of $123, 050.49. In the Matter of Neil M. Day, DRB 13-244 (December 20, 2014) (slip op. at 13, 14). The Board distinguished the attorney's conduct from that of lawyers ...


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