Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs tried to temper the civil fight brewing between Andrea Sneiderman, who was convicted last month of lying about a relationship with her husband's killer, and the family of her deceased spouse.
"There needs to be a fair resolution," Downs said Friday during a hearing on whether to release $2.25 million in frozen insurance money to Andrea Sneiderman. "Further litigation will not serve any end, not anybody's end."
Downs then urged lawyers on both sides to "bring clear, cool heads" to a settlement conference and to consider how to allot the maximum amount of the insurance money to the Sneidermans' two young children.
"Otherwise," she warned, "we can just spend all the money litigating."
The DeKalb County District Attorney's Office filed a forfeiture action last year freezing the life insurance money paid to Andrea Sneiderman after her husband's death. Originally, the action was filed in DeKalb County, but the case was moved to Fulton because there was not a branch of the Bank of New York Mellon located in DeKalb. Fulton Superior Court Judge Gail Tusan signed an order on Sept. 19, 2012, freezing the money.
At that time, a grand jury had indicted Andrea Sneiderman on charges she helped plan the November 2010 murder of Rusty Sneiderman outside a Dunwoody day care center. Her former boss and alleged lover, Hemy Neuman, was convicted earlier in 2012 of shooting Rusty Sneiderman.
Since then, the DeKalb DA's office dropped the murder charges against Andrea Sneiderman, but last month jurors convicted her of nine charges of perjury, false statements and obstruction. She is serving a four-year prison sentence, and her lawyers have vowed to appeal.
In Fulton Superior Court on Friday, DeKalb Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Anna Green Cross asked Downs to dismiss the forfeiture action, simply stating that her office no longer wished to pursue it.
But an attorney for Steven Sneiderman, the brother of Andrea Sneiderman's late husband, immediately requested an injunction to refreeze the money pending the outcome of the wrongful death suit he filed on behalf of the kids and the estateagainst Andrea Sneiderman in May 2012. The suit was stayed pending the outcome of Andrea Sneiderman's criminal case.
Steven Sneiderman's lawyer, Esther Panitch, argued that Andrea Sneiderman's assets should remain frozen and that Andrea Sneiderman fraudulently transferred two properties—the primary residence and a lake house she shared with her late husband—worth roughly half a million dollars to her parents. Panitch also said that Andrea Sneiderman used the money from the transaction to pay her legal defense.
Andrea Sneiderman's lead civil defense lawyer, Mark Trigg of Greenberg Traurig, refuted Panitch's claims. He said there is no longer any legal basis for the insurance money to remain frozen because his client was not convicted of murder and was acquitted of charges that she had prior knowledge of Neuman's plans to kill her husband. He also said that the property transfer was not fraudulent because it was not done secretly.
Downs approved the DA's motion to dismiss its forfeiture action and release the frozen insurance money. Simultaneously, she granted Steven Sneiderman's request to refreeze the money—but only for a 90-day period so that the court could appoint a conservator to represent the Sneidermans' children and so that both parties in the wrongful death case could meet for a settlement conference with Fulton Senior Judge Melvin Westmoreland, who would act as mediator. Downs also agreed to stay discovery in the wrongful death case during the 90-day period.
"I want you all to see, at this critical point in the case, if a resolution can't be reached," Downs instructed Trigg and Panitch.
Trigg said later that he believed Downs' remarks were "pragmatic advice."
Panitch said during the hearing that she was in favor of placing all the insurance money in a conservatorship for the Sneiderman children and would waive her attorney fees if Andrea Sneiderman's lawyers agreed to return what they have been paid so far to the fund.
Trigg said that because his client was not present, he would not be able to get her approval to enter into any settlement that day.
Trigg filed a motion on Sept. 19 in DeKalb County Probate Court to remove Steven Sneiderman as executor of the Sneiderman estate, arguing that he cannot meet the fiduciary obligations to all beneficiaries "based on his bias" against Andrea Sneiderman.
"The decision whether to proceed with the wrongful death action should be made by someone other than him," Trigg said.
Panitch, who represented Neuman's ex-wife in their divorce in the wake of the murder case, did not respond directly to the probate motion in court, stating she had only just recently seen it.