By John Schaffner
For The Crier
Dunwoody attorney Esther Panitch may be sitting on the sidelines April 4 when Hemy Zvi Neuman is arraigned in DeKalb Superior Court on two charges related to the November 18 murder of Russell Sneiderman. But she is right in the middle of the action nonetheless.
Panitch, who is representing Hemy Neuman’s wife, Ariela, in a family matter has brought public attention to what may be a possible motive for the killing—an extra-marital relationship between Neuman and Andrea Sneiderman, the victim’s wife.
Panitch, who is among a minority of attorneys that handles both criminal and family law cases, represents Ariela Neuman in the woman’s filing for legal separation from her husband of 22 years, alleging adultery and cruel treatment.
This seems to be a case where the criminal and family law training and experience of the Dunwoody mother of three school-age children intersect.
The March 10 court filing by Panitch seeks alimony for the longtime engineer’s wife and child support for their 17-year-old daughter, the youngest of their three children.
As part of her court filing for Ariela Neuman, Panitch sought to depose both Hemy Neuman and Andrea Sneiderman and subpoenaed the DeKalb County District Attorney, seeking to obtain all discovery evidence regarding the relationship between Mrs. Sneiderman and Hemy Neuman, her supervisor at General Electric Energy in Cobb County. There are also questions of business trips Neuman and Mrs. Sneiderman took together in England and Colorado.
Panitch was quoted as saying at the time, “We believe there was an extramarital relationship between Hemy Neuman and Andrea Sneiderman.”
The suit Panitch filed does not, however, name Andrea Sneideman as Neuman’s alleged paramour.
In terms of the criminal trial, Panitch could well have been giving public notice of a possible motive for the murder for which Neuman, 48, is charged—gunning down Rusty Sneiderman outside of Dunwoody Prep preschool in Dunwoody Village on the morning of November 18, immediately after the father of two young children had dropped off his son.
Officials have not implicated Andrea Sneiderman in her husband’s killing up to this point.
Immediately after Panitch filed her motions with the court, the district attorney, and Decatur attorneys Doug Peters and Robert Rubin, representing Hemy Neuman, and Seth Kirschenbaum, representing Mrs. Sneiderman, all filed objections to the release of the materials and to the depositions.
On March 21, Superior Court Judge Gail Flake handed Panitch a temporary setback in relation to the depositions and gaining access to the other evidence, citing procedural errors in her denial of the subpoenas. Panitch plans to re-file her petitions as soon as possible—maybe this week.
One thing that came out during the process was that the DeKalb District Attorney’s Office acknowledged it possessed the requested materials that indicate a possible affair between the suspect and the widow among the 6,000 or more pieces of evidence it has gathered. That evidence includes emails, phone calls and other communications between the suspect and widow over almost a year.
Panitch says Neuman’s arrest has left his family in a severe financial crisis and that the Jewish community has rallied around Ariela and the couple’s children, helping to support them and establishing a fund to which people can contribute.
Neuman is to be arraigned next Monday at 9 a.m. in the courtroom of DeKalb Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Adams on the charges of malicious murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. District Attorney Robert Jones has said he is seeking life without parole in the case.
So, who is this attorney, Esther Panitch, who opened her own practice in Dunwoody in 2007 on Peeler Road after moving to the Atlanta area from Miami in 2004 and settling in Dunwoody in 2006 with her husband, Roger F. Panitch?
Panitch, principal of the Panitch Law Group, P.C., is a criminal and civil trial attorney, who specializes in defending first-time offenders. She also is a family law attorney, specializing in family violence.
According to sources, the Jewish community is where Ariela Neuman and Esther Panich got to know each other and that led to the client-attorney relationship. In fact, the Sneidermans, the Neumans and the Panitch family all moved within the Dunwoody Jewish community and may have known each other. (It was Ariela Neuman who helped Andrea Sneiderman get her job at GE working for Hemy Neuman, by passing on her resume at the request of a mutual friend.)
Esther Panitch was born and raised in Miami and received both a bachelor’s degree in communications in 1992 and her Juris Doctor in 1995 from the University of Miami. She graduated cum laude from law school. In law school she was a certified legal intern for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
Panitch started her legal career as a court coordinator in the Domestic Violence Court of Miami -Dade County. Additionally, she was a founding member of Shalom Bayit in Miami, an organization formed to support victims of domestic violence.
Panitch became an assistant public defender in Miami-Date County in 1997 before she decided in 2002 to open her own firm in Miami. Then in 2004, she moved to Atlanta, where she started with the Fox Law Firm before joining the Fulton County Conflict Defender’s Office. In 2007, she started the Law Office of Esther Panitch, which now has become The Panitch Law Group.
For her leadership, she has been awarded the Judith Epstein Memorial Leadership Award from Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization of America. She has appeared in print, on radio and television and delivered speeches to audiences in Richmond, Miami and Nashville on the issues of criminal and domestic violence.
Husband Roger Panitch owns the local north metro Atlanta franchise for College Hunks Hauling Junk, which he runs out of the house the couple purchased in 2006 next to the Dunwoody Country Club off Dunwoody Club Drive.
While both Roger and Esther consider themselves Dunwoody entrepreneurs, only Esther’s business is actually within the city limits of Dunwoody. The couple’s home on Chaparral Place is on the north side of Dunwoody Club Drive, which puts it in the city limits of Sandy Springs.
Unlike his wife, Panitch grew up in Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State in 1991 with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. “I spent eight years in the restaurant business,” he explains on his web site. “I switched to corporate America in 1998.”
He took a sales position with a big pharmaceutical company, was promoted twice, and, “in December of 2006 I was downsized with 10,000 of my closest friends,” he said. “I spent a few years recruiting and when I came across College Hunks Hauling Junk, it was a perfect match for me. We have fun, work hard, and help people.”
The members of the Panitch family feel they are part of the fabric of the Dunwoody community, according to Kelly Andrews, who handles marketing for Panitch’s law firm.
One member, Esther Panitch, certainly will play a major part of one of the biggest news stories in Dunwoody in recent years.
Editor’s Note: Esther Panitch refused to be interviewed for this article because of the pending issues regarding the Hemy Neuman trial and her court filings on behalf of Neuman’s wife, Ariela.