IN THE MATTER OF JOAN OTHELIA PINNOCK AN ATTORNEY AT LAW
Argued: June 21, 2018
District Docket Nos. VA-2014-0017E, VA-2014-0018E,
VA-2014-0G23E, VA-2014-0026E, VA-2015-0011E, VA-2015-0012E,
VA-2015-0014E, VA-2015-0016E, VA-2015-0034E, VA-2016-0015E
Delia Fera, Jr. appeared on behalf of the District VA Ethics
J. De Groot appeared on behalf of respondent.
A. Brodsky, Chief Counsel
C. FROST, CHAIR
Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme
Court of New Jersey.
matter was before us by way of a disciplinary stipulation
between the District VA Ethics Committee (DEC) and
respondent. Respondent admitted violating RFC 1.1(a) (gross
neglect); RPC 1.1(b) (pattern of neglect); RPC 1.3 (lack of
diligence); RPC 1.4 (presumably (b) (failure to communicate
with the client); RPC 5.1(b) (failure to supervise); and RPC
8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or
misrepresentation). For the reasons stated below, we
determined to impose a three-month suspension.
was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1997. She maintains a
law office in Newark, New Jersey.
October 17, 2013, respondent received a reprimand for failure
to communicate with her client, lack of diligence, and
failure to protect her client's interests upon
termination of the representation in an immigration and a
matrimonial matter. She also failed to memorialize the rate
or basis of her fee, in writing, in the matrimonial matter.
In aggravation, we considered that respondent had failed to
return a filing fee and that her misconduct put her
immigration client's freedom in jeopardy. In re
Pinnock, 216 N.J. 405 (2013).
January 12, 2018, respondent and the DEC entered into a
disciplinary stipulation, which encompasses ten client
Theophilus Stephens Matter (VA-2014-0017E)
November 1, 2012, Theophilus Stephens retained respondent to
represent him in a divorce action. The retainer agreement
required a fee of $1, 500, plus reimbursement of expenses. In
total, Stephens paid $1, 000 plus $250 for filing fees.
months later, on March 14, 2013, Stephens executed the
certification accompanying the divorce complaint.
Respondent's office then sent the pleadings to the New
York Supreme Court, Nassau County, for filing. On May 6,
2014, the papers were returned to respondent's office
because they did not include an original signature.
Respondent's office "purported" to .re-submit
the pleadings with an original signature, on May 13, 2013.
Those papers, however, were not stamped "received"
by the Nassau County court until September 6, 2013, nearly
four months later.
weeks later, on September 26, 2013, respondent's
paralegal sent the filed pleadings to the sheriff's
office in Alabama for service. On October 29, 2013, nearly
one year after Stephens had retained respondent, the
pleadings were returned because the sheriff in Alabama could
not find an address for service in the county. The
sheriff's office had "called [respondent's]
office and left a message but [had] not heard back from
the fall of 2013 through May 2014, respondent failed to
accept or return Stephens' phone calls seeking status
updates for his matter. Stephens received promises and
assurances from members of respondent's staff, including
her secretary and associate, that his matter was being
handled. Eventually, in May 2014, Stephens hired new counsel.
divorce complaint was dismissed for lack of prosecution.
Respondent never obtained the divorce judgment for which she
had been retained and paid. This failure adversely affected
Marsha Smith, Stephens' fiancee, who had retained
respondent in a related matter described below.
Marsha Smith Matter (VA-2014-0018E)
April 14, 2012, Marsha Smith retained respondent to obtain an
adjustment of her immigration status and a waiver of
inadmissibility. The retainer agreement required a fee of $3,
500, plus filing fees. Smith paid respondent a total of $2,
27, 2012, respondent filed an 1-601 Application for Waiver of
Grounds of Inadmissibility. On August 7, 2012, the U.S.
Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services Department (USCIS) returned the
application because the "A number" provided was not
located in its system. Respondent explained to Smith that,
"the rejection was in error." Instead of correcting
the filing, however, respondent advised Smith to marry her
fiance, Stephens (also respondent's client as stated
above), with whom she had two children. Respondent further
advised Smith that, after the marriage, they could re-file
the waiver application together with an adjustment of status
to the Stephens matter, over the course of many
months, respondent and her staff became unresponsive to
repeated requests for information about the status of
Smith's matter. In addition to her failure to obtain the
divorce judgment for Stephens, respondent neither resubmitted
the waiver of inadmissibility application for Smith, nor
filed her change of status application.
Patricia Campbell Matter (VA-2014-0023E)
2012, Patricia Campbell retained respondent to submit a Form
1-485 Adjustment of Status Application for her, with her
daughter as the petitioner. At their initial meeting,
Campbell paid respondent $3, 290 toward the total legal and
filing fees of $4, 490, required by the retainer agreement.
submitted to respondent all of the necessary documents for
the 1-485 application. According to the stipulation, it
"does not appear that the application was ever
filed." Respondent suggested that Campbell submit a new
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for her complete
alien file, because her prior request had been submitted in
Campbell's former name, which she changed when she
married. Although Campbell provided all of the necessary FOIA
documents, respondent never filed the FOIA request.
approximately two months, Campbell sought a status update on
the FOIA request from respondent, who replied that she had
submitted the application and was awaiting a reply. Over the
next several months, Campbell received the same answer from
respondent and then, eventually, received no responses at
all. Respondent was unresponsive to Campbell and did not
perform any substantive services for which she had been paid.
Arthur Esposito Matter (VA-2014-0026E)
28, 2007, Arthur Esposito retained respondent to obtain
permanent resident status for two employees at his company,
A.C.E. Contracting Company. Esposito paid respondent $22, 000
for services that she never performed.
Juan Perez Santamaria
2011, respondent obtained approval of an ETA Form 9089 for
Juan Perez Santamaria, but then failed to timely submit Form
1-140 (Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker) to USCIS within
180 days, causing the ETA Form 9089 to expire, in October
2011. Therefore, the 1-140 application was denied "in or
before November 2012."
a period of approximately fifteen months, and despite
repeated inquiries, respondent failed to provide Esposito
with any information about the application. Esposito did not
learn,, until February 2014, that the application needed to
those fifteen months, Esposito spoke with respondent's
associates named Tia, Mike, Tass, and Gloria, none of whom
adequately responded to his inquiries. Finally, in February
2014, Gloria advised Esposito that the filing process would
have to begin again. Esposito requested a meeting with
respondent, but received no reply until November 2014, nine
failure to prosecute Santamaria's application to
completion resulted in its denial.
Mario Chali Chitic
29, 2008, respondent filed an application for an ETA Form
9089 on behalf of Esposito's employee, Mario Chali
Chitic. Between July 2007 and March 2009, Esposito received
no updates from respondent regarding Chitic's
March 20, 2009, the Department of Labor (DOL) notified
respondent that the ETA Form 9089 for Chitic was selected for
an audit, requiring additional information for approval.
Respondent was informed of the following potential
consequences of failing to submit the required documents by
April 20, 2009:
(1) the application would be denied;
(2) the failure to provide the requested documentation in a
timely manner would constitute a refusal to exhaust available