Pepe, Matter of

Decision Date30 June 1995
Citation659 A.2d 1379,140 N.J. 561
PartiesIn the Matter of Stephen A. PEPE, An Attorney at Law.
CourtNew Jersey Supreme Court

Nitza I. Blasini, Deputy Ethics Counsel, for Office of Atty. Ethics.

George L. Schneider, Fairfield, for respondent (Lorber, Schneider, Nuzzi, Vichness & Bilinkas, attorneys).


An attorney-ethics complaint was filed against respondent, Stephen A. Pepe, a former Judge of the Superior Court. The complaint was based on a presentment filed by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct of the Supreme Court of New Jersey (ACJC or Committee), which recommended that the Court initiate proceedings to remove respondent from judicial office, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A:1B-1 to -11 (repealed by L.1991, c. 119, § 4; replaced by N.J.S.A. 2B:2A-1 to -11). The Court removed respondent as a judge of the Superior Court and barred him from holding any future judicial office.

The ethics complaint charged respondent as an attorney with violation of Rules of Professional Conduct (RPC ) 8.4(b) (committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects) and RPC 8.4(d) (engaging in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice). A special master heard the matter and recommended the imposition of a public reprimand. Following its review of the matter, a majority of the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB) recommended a public reprimand. We, however, reject the recommendation and order respondent suspended from the practice of law for three months.


The facts that give rise to the complaint are contained in the ACJC presentment:

Respondent and [a confidential informant for the Division of Criminal Justice] had known each other for about 16 years. In 1986, the Informant lived with Respondent for two weeks, during which time the two smoked marijuana on many occasions each day. The Respondent furnished this marijuana. The Informant moved away from the area in 1987 and had no contact with the Respondent for several years.

In May 1990, Respondent was fishing with his son on the Toms River when he was approached by the Informant, whom he had not seen since before his appointment to the bench. During their brief conversation, Respondent mentioned that he had become a Judge of the Superior Court and that his chambers were in the Ocean County Court House. After that conversation, Respondent and the Informant did not see one another again until the early morning of June 25, 1990, when the Informant visited Respondent at his chambers to ask for Respondent's help in getting a job. Respondent had the Informant wait outside his office and subsequently brought him back in and introduced him to a litigant in a matter that had been before Respondent for a calendar call and that was in the process of being settled. This litigant had known Respondent for many years and had built Respondent's house for him. The litigant and the Informant discussed the possibilities of employment, and they made arrangements to meet the following morning. Respondent and the Informant also agreed to meet the following day at the latter's apartment.

Respondent played a minimal role in the case involving the aforementioned litigant. When the case came before him at calendar call, the attorneys informed him that they were working out a settlement in the case. Respondent replied that any settlement would have to be put on the record before a different judge because he was recusing himself from any participation in the case on the basis of his knowledge of one of the parties, namely the litigant referred to above. The case was subsequently settled and the settlement was put on the record before a different judge.

Sometime between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. on June 26, 1990, Respondent left the court house and went to the apartment rented by the Informant and his wife. There, the three of them smoked marijuana provided by the Respondent. They had used marijuana together in the past, prior to Respondent's appointment to the bench, as Respondent had admitted. At one point during the visit, when the Informant's wife was out of the room, the Informant suggested to Respondent that the two of them get together in the near future with some women known to the Informant and have a party at which all would smoke marijuana.

Subsequently, the Informant contacted law enforcement authorities and was put in touch with the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice. He reported that Respondent had not only used marijuana but also used and distributed other drugs. He agreed to serve as a confidential informant and to have all conversations between Respondent and him recorded. He informed the Division that the United States Drug Enforcement Administration had seized over 200 pounds of marijuana that he was transporting earlier that year, and he further advised that he was cooperating in the DEA's investigation. The Division of Criminal Justice agreed, inter alia, to inform the DEA of the Informant's cooperation with it in the present matter.

On July 2, 1990, the Informant visited Respondent in his chambers. Unbeknownst to Respondent, the Informant was wearing recording equipment, and their conversation was being recorded by Detectives of the State Police. During this conversation, the Informant and Respondent discussed the possibility of future meetings at which they would smoke marijuana. Respondent stated that there would be no problem in his finding marijuana.

On July 3, July 9, and July 10, the Informant placed telephone calls to Respondent at his chambers. During the conversations on July 3, the Informant arranged for a meeting with Respondent and two women for anytime after 12:30 p.m. on the following Tuesday. The two women were undercover officers of the State Police. On July 10, Respondent told the Informant that he was very busy and would not be able to attend the meeting that Respondent had arranged for that day.

On July 12, 1990, the Informant went to Respondent's chambers, again wearing a concealed recording device. When he entered chambers, Respondent wrote out and handed him a note reading "Don't mention drugs" (Exhibit P-6). When the Informant said that the two women had been disappointed when Respondent did not show up for their meeting, Respondent wrote out another note reading "I didn't like the idea that we had to have pot 1st--made me nervous!" (Exhibit P-7). The Informant asked Respondent to visit his apartment the following week and to bring marijuana with him. After some discussion, Respondent replied that he had none. When the Informant asked about the marijuana that Respondent had brought to his apartment on June 26, Respondent replied that the marijuana in question was old and that he had no more.

After the conversation in Respondent's chambers, the Informant returned to the detectives who had been recording the conversation. The detectives reported what had occurred to the Division of Criminal Justice, and an application was made for a search warrant and for an order to compel Respondent to give a urine sample to the detectives. The application was granted, and the detectives went to Respondent's chambers shortly after noon. They informed him that he was under suspicion of possession and distribution of controlled dangerous substances and that both a search warrant and an order to produce a urine sample had been obtained. Respondent refused to permit a search until the warrant was physically delivered to him. When the warrant and the order arrived at Respondent's chambers, the detectives conducted a search and discovered the two notes mentioned above crumpled up in Respondent's wastebasket. The writing on both notes had been crossed out but was still legible. Respondent also received the order to produce a urine sample, but he claimed to be unable to produce one even though he had attempted to use a rest room when the detectives first arrived in his chambers. As the afternoon wore on, Respondent claimed to be unable to produce the required sample, and an extension of the order was obtained. The issuing judge also directed that Respondent compress his bladder in an effort to produce a sample and that the detectives physically assist him if he were unable to produce one after a certain amount of time. One of the detectives subsequently pressed respondent's abdomen but without result. The detectives remained until after 7:00 p.m. and eventually left without a sample.

The ACJC found that respondent had used marijuana in the company of the informant and the informant's wife on June 26, 1990, and that he supplied the marijuana used on that date. The ACJC also found that respondent "improperly lent the prestige of his office to advance the private interests of the Informant" when he arranged an introduction with a litigant in a matter before him, for the purpose of obtaining a job for the informant. The Committee was unable to conclude that respondent possessed or distributed controlled dangerous substances other than marijuana, that respondent had falsified his time reports to reflect that he was working when he was not, or that other court personnel participated with him in the use of marijuana.

In the attorney-ethics proceedings, the special master characterized respondent's misconduct as both "deplorable and unbecoming a judge and an attorney at law." In considering the appropriate discipline, the special master noted that respondent had exhibited great remorse over his actions and that he had suffered great public humiliation. Under all of the circumstances, including respondent's past and continuing unblemished history, the special master recommended the imposition of a public reprimand. In his view, such discipline, "coupled by the well-known and publicly reported circumstances which [led] to his removal from the bench will ... protect the public interest and maintain confidence in the integrity of our bar."


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5 cases
  • Attorney Grievance v. Shaw
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • July 9, 1999
    ... ... Berger, to prepare a capital gains and loss analysis, a matter she was not competent to handle, for which she charged the estate an inordinate fee of $20,000, of which she was paid between $18,500 and $19,000 ... , where an attorney sent letters offering to help a woman get divorced at no cost to her, but great expense to her husband); In the Matter of Pepe, 140 N.J. 561, 659 A.2d 1379 (1995) (suspension for using marijuana and sharing it with others); Iowa State Bar Ass'n v. Hall, 463 N.W.2d 30, 31 ... ...
  • Att'y Griev. Comm'n of MD v. Shaw
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • September 1, 1997
    ... ... Berger, to prepare a capital gains and loss analysis, a matter she was not competent to handle, for which she charged the estate an inordinate fee of $20,000, of which she was paid between $18,500 and $19,000 ... , where an attorney sent letters offering to help a woman get divorced at no cost to her, but great expense to her husband); In the Matter of Pepe, 659 A.2d 1379 (N.J. 1995)(suspension for using marijuana and sharing it with others); Iowa State Bar Ass'n v. Hall, 463 N.W.2d 30, 31 (Iowa 1990) ... ...
  • Imbriani, Matter of
    • United States
    • New Jersey Supreme Court
    • June 27, 1997
    ... ... The actions of respondent reflect an attitude that is diametrically antagonistic to the values inherent in the Canons of Judicial Conduct, and is intolerable in a judge. That attitude is equally unacceptable in a lawyer ... In re Pepe, 140 N.J. 561, 570, 659 A.2d 1379 (1995) ...         Over thirty years ago, this Court observed: ... A single act of misconduct [by a judge] may offend the public interest in a number of areas and call for an appropriate remedy as to each hurt. Thus it may require removal from public ... ...
  • Attorney Grievance v. Childress, Misc. AG No. 22
    • United States
    • Maryland Court of Appeals
    • August 24, 2000
    ... ...         Pursuant to Maryland Rule 16-709(b), we referred the matter to Judge G.R. Hovey Johnson of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County to make findings of fact and proposed conclusions of law. Following an ... , where an attorney sent letters offering to help a woman get divorced at no cost to her, but great expense to her husband); In the Matter of Pepe, 140 N.J. 561, 659 A.2d 1379 (N.J.1995) (suspension for using marijuana and sharing it with others); Iowa State Bar Ass'n v. Hall, 463 N.W.2d 30, ... ...
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