J. BOYER, ESQ. HON. MAURICE J. GALLIPOLI THOMAS J. HOBERMAN
REGINA WAYNES JOSEPH, ESQ. EILEEN RIVERA ANNE C. SINGER, ESQ.
ROBERT C. ZMIRICH, ELLEN A, BRODSKY CHIEFCOUNSEL PAULA T.
GRANUZZO DEPUTY CHIEF COUNSEL MELISSA URBAN FIRST ASSISTANT
COUNSEL TIMOTHY M. ELLIS LILLIAN LEWIN BARRY R. PETERSEN, JR.
COLIN T. TAMS KATHRYN ANNE WINTERLE ASSISTANT COUNSEL
C. FROST, ESQ., CHAIR, BRUCE W. CLARK, ESQ., VICE-CHAIR
Disciplinary Review Board reviewed the motion for discipline
by consent (reprimand or such lesser discipline as the Board
deems appropriate) filed by the District IV Ethics Committee
(DEC), pursuant to R.1:20-10(b)(1). Following a
review of the record, the Board determined to grant the
motion. In the Board's view, a reprimand is the
appropriate discipline for respondent's violations of
RPC 1.4(b), RPC 1.4(c), RPC
1.16(c) and RPC 1.16(d). The Board determined to dismiss the
allegation that respondent violated R.1:20-20(a)
(prohibited association with a disbarred attorney in
connection with the practice of law), because the stipulation
charged no RPC violation to capture that unethical
in February 2013, grievant Steven Sbaraglio and his wife,
Antoinette, retained respondent to commence a civil action
against their mortgage lenders, who had instructed them to
purposely default on their mortgage debt to become eligible
for a desired mortgage modification. Although the Sbaraglios
followed that advice, they were unable to negotiate a
satisfactory mortgage modification. Thus, respondent knew
that the Sbaraglios sought monetary damages to compensate
them for the unforeseen damage that their credit ratings
suffered as a result of the lender's detrimental advice.
2013, respondent filed a lawsuit against the mortgage
lenders, alleging a "forced mortgage default" cause
of action. Between November 2013 and March 2015, the
Sbaraglios communicated often with Joe Scafidi,
respondent's law clerk, a disbarred Pennsylvania attorney
whom respondent had employed, despite full knowledge of his
March 2015, the lenders' counsel filed a motion to
dismiss an amended complaint that respondent had filed.
Respondent filed no opposition to that motion. Consequently,
the Sbaraglios' case was dismissed without prejudice.
Respondent neither provided the Sbaraglios with a copy of the
dismissal order nor notified them of the dismissal, claiming
that, in March or April 2015, Mr. Sbaraglio had
"effectively fired" him.
further claimed that he had formally terminated the
representation, in writing, and admitted that, as of May
2105, he had ceased all communication with the Sbaraglios.
The Sbaraglios denied that they had fired respondent or had
received any communication from him terminating the
representation. Moreover, respondent failed to seek leave of
the court to terminate the representation, failed to prepare
or file a substitution of attorney, and failed to notify
opposing counsel of his withdrawal from representation.
September 2015, after the Sbaraglios' lenders served a
foreclosure complaint on them, they sent respondent and
Scafidi e-mails, informing them of the lenders'
foreclosure action, and seeking information on the status of
the lawsuit. Despite receiving both e-mails from the
Sbaraglios, plus forwards of the same e-mails from Scafidi,
respondent failed to reply to the Sbaraglios.
Sbaraglios ultimately retained new counsel, obtained a
mortgage modification, and avoided foreclosure.
attorneys with no disciplinary history, who violate
RPC 1.4(b), and RPC 1.16(d), even when
accompanied by other, non-serious ethics infractions, receive
admonitions. See e.g., In the Matter of William
E. Wackowski, DRB 09-212 (November 25, 2009) (attorney
permitted a complaint to be administratively dismissed,
failed to inform his client of the dismissal, and failed to
turn over the file to the client upon termination of the
representation); In re Cameron, 196 N.J. 396 (2007)
(attorney twice permitted a personal injury matter to be
dismissed, failed to disclose the dismissals to the client,
failed to return the client's telephone calls, and failed
to turn the file over to successor counsel; in addition to
RPC 1.3, RPC 1.4(b), and RPC
1.16(d), the attorney was deemed to have engaged in gross
neglect, a violation of RPC 1.1(a)); and In the
Matter of Vera Carpenter, DRB 97-303 (October 27, 1997)
(in a personal injury matter, attorney failed to act
diligently to advance the client's claim, failed to
return the client's telephone calls, and failed to turn
over the client's file to new counsel).
reported disciplinary cases address violations of
RPC 1.16(c). In one such case, In re
Saavedra, 162 N.J. 108 (1999), a three-month suspension
was imposed. There, the attorney unilaterally withdrew from
the representation of a minor in connection with a
delinquency complaint. When the juvenile's family failed
to pay Saavedra's fee, he left the courthouse without
notifying the judge, who then rescheduled the matter. When
the juvenile appeared before the judge in a different matter,
another attorney informed the judge that Saavedra was no
longer representing the juvenile. Because the trial date
already had been set in the first matter, that attorney was
directed to inform Saavedra that he could not unilaterally
withdraw from the representation and was required to file a
motion to be relieved as counsel. When Saavedra appeared
later that day, the judge informed him that it was unlikely
that such a motion would be granted at that late date.
neither appeared for the rescheduled trial nor filed a timely
motion to withdraw from the representation. The judge again
adjourned the trial. The judge received Saavedra's motion
the day after the scheduled trial, denied it, and required
Saavedra to appear at the rescheduled trial. Saavedra again
failed to appear.
was found guilty of having violated RPC 1.16(c), as
well as RPC 1.1(a) (gross neglect), RPC 1.3 (lack of
diligence), and RPC 8.4(d) (conduct prejudicial to the
administration of justice). In imposing a three-month
suspension, the Board considered the attorney's