On Tuesday, February 6, 2024, the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued an order censuring attorney Ellyn Michele Epstein for violating several Rules of Professional Conduct related to a case involving clients Susan and Aviad Coppens.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Ellyn Michele Epstein,” with case no. 088606.

The charges cited New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct Rules 1.4(c),  1.5(a)(c),  1.15(a), 1.15(c), 1:21-7(g), 1.15(d), 3.4(c), and 8.4(c) which states:

Failing to explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

Charging an unreasonable fee.

Failing to provide a written fee agreement in a contingent fee case and to specify the method for calculating the legal fee.

Commingling personal and client funds.

Failing to segregate property in which both the attorney and another party have an interest until there is an accounting, also violating Rule1:21-7(g), and failing to hold a disputed fee separate until resolution of the dispute.

Failing to comply with the recordkeeping requirements of Rule 1.

Knowingly disobeying an obligation under the rules of a tribunal.

Engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud,deceit or misrepresentation.

The Rules of Professional Conduct can be found here.

The order comes after the New Jersey Supreme Court Disciplinary Review Board filed a decision on September 5, 2023, recommending censure based on an agreed disciplinary stipulation between the Office of Attorney Ethics and Epstein. According to the stipulation, Epstein represented the Coppens in a lawsuit against a neighboring commercial property owner regarding damage caused to their property.

Epstein and the Coppens originally agreed to a $5,000 flat fee in November 2013 but later modified their agreement in October 2016 to a contingent fee arrangement, where Epstein would receive 20% of the first $250,000 recovered and 10% of any amount over $250,000. However, the contingent fee agreement was never put in writing signed by both parties as required.

In November 2017, the lawsuit was settled in mediation for $50,000 paid to the Coppens. Epstein claimed she was entitled to an additional $7,000 in legal fees based on the contingent fee agreement. The Coppens disputed this amount. Epstein deposited the $50,000 settlement check into her attorney business account rather than her trust account as required. She then distributed $43,000 to the Coppens and kept $7,000 in disputed fees.

The Coppens pursued fee arbitration to dispute Epstein’s fees. In 2019, a panel determined Epstein owed a refund of $7,450 to the Coppens. Epstein initially failed to comply with the arbitration award, leading to her temporary suspension from practice on July 30, 2020.

As part of its investigation, the Office of Attorney Ethics determined Epstein committed recordkeeping violations and made false statements. Ultimately, Epstein admitted to violating multiple Rules of Professional Conduct governing fees, client communications, trust accounts, disobedience of tribunal rules, and dishonest conduct.

The Supreme Court adopted the Disciplinary Review Board’s recommendation and issued an order censuring Epstein for her misconduct in handling fees and client funds in the Coppens representation. Epstein will also have to reimburse administrative costs associated with the disciplinary matter.

The Disposition states:

“It is ORDERED that Ellyn Michele Epstein is hereby censured, and it is further ORDERED that the entire record of this matter be made a permanent part of respondent’s file as an attorney at law of this State.”

According to avvo.com, Ms. Epstein is an elder law attorney in Berlin Twp., New Jersey. She attended the Widener University School of Law, graduating in 1984. She acquired her law license in New Jersey in the same year.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.