Thanks a Million: Lawyers Fund Sets Some Limits
Our sister organization, the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security (PLFCS), has proposed a rule change that would set some limits on claims for
reimbursement of losses due to the misconduct of attorneys.
In a proposed rule change published in the Pennsylvania
Bulletin, the PLFCS stated its intention to adopt two new limitations on
- Business organizations with 20 or more employees will no longer
be eligible to file claims.
- A maximum of $1,000,000 in total claims per covered attorney
would be imposed. However, the PLFCS Board would have authority to petition
the Supreme Court for permission to exceed the $1,000,000 ceiling when it
concludes the circumstances warrant an exception, and the financial health of
the Fund permits.
The proposal was published at 43 Pa.B.
4967 on August 31, 2013. The comment period extended through September 23,
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Supreme Court Appoints Kelly to Disciplinary Board; Burgoyne Becomes Treasurer of National Organization of Bar Counsel
By order dated July 17, 2013, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania appointed attorney Lawrence
M. Kelly, a partner at Luxenberg, Garbett,
Kelly & George, P.C. in New Castle, Lawrence County, to serve on the Disciplinary
Board for a term expiring January 29, 2015.
Kelly earned his undergraduate degree from Slippery Rock
University in 1975 and graduated cum laude with his Juris Doctorate from the
University of Akron in 1983. He concentrates his practice in the areas of
personal injury, medical malpractice, and worker’s compensation.
Board certified as a civil trial advocate by the National
Board of Trial Advocacy since 1995, Kelly also has been recognized as a
“Pennsylvania Super Lawyer” seven times.
Kelly served for six years as a Disciplinary Board Hearing
Committee member and for six years as an alternate member in District IV. He
currently serves on the Board of Governors and the Executive Committee of the
Pennsylvania Association for Justice. He also is the vice president of the
Western Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association and the president of Cray Youth
and Family Services Inc.
In other Board news, Paul
J. Burgoyne, Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Office of
Disciplinary Counsel, has been elected Treasurer of the National Organization
of Bar Counsel (NOBC). He also will serve as the Vice-Chair of the Program
Planning Committee. Previously, Burgoyne served as the Secretary of the NOBC
from 2012-2013 and as a Director-at-Large from 2008-2012.
The NOBC is a non-profit organization of legal professionals
whose members enforce ethics rules that regulate the
professional conduct of lawyers who practice law in the United States, Canada
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AVVOcacy: Lawyer Faces Charges for Response to Negative Review
An Illinois lawyer has been charged with professional
misconduct for information disclosed in a response she posted to a sharply
negative review on the lawyer review website AVVO.
Tsamis represented the client in an employment security matter arising from
his termination from employment as an airline flight attendant. After he lost
the unemployment compensation case, the client posted a sharply negative review
on AVVO, blaming Tsamis for taking his money when he had no hope of succeeding
under the law. Tsamis posted a response, in which she discussed details of the
client’s case that led to his loss. Both the review and response were later
deleted and replaced with a more generic complaint and response.
The Administrator of the Attorney Registration and
Disciplinary Commission of Illinois filed a complaint against Tsamis,
alleging that in the response she posted, Tsamis revealed information learned
in the representation in violation of the confidentiality requirements of Rule
1.6(a), used means in representing a client that have no
substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person,
in violation of Rule 4.4, and committed conduct prejudicial to
the administration of justice or which brings the legal profession into
disrepute, in violation of Rule 8.4(d). Through her counsel, Tsamis has
denied the charges and intends to defend the complaint.
Rule 1.6(b)(5) states that a lawyer may reveal
confidential information to the extent necessary “to establish a claim or
defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the
client . . . or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the
lawyer’s representation of the client,” but this exception has not generally
been interpreted to authorize the disclosure of confidential information in a
public forum outside the context of proceedings. As it develops, the case may
shed further light on the extent of that privilege.
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Former State Bar President Reprimanded for Conduct in Office
A former President of the Kentucky State Bar has been reprimanded for actions she took in her official capacity in that office.
Barbara Bonar served as President of the Kentucky Bar
Association from July 2008 until July 2009. Prior to taking office, Bonar entered
into an agreement with attorney Stan Chesley to pursue a series of sexual abuse
lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Covington. A falling out
occurred between counsel, and Bonar withdrew from the case and filed a lawsuit
for fees against Chesley’s firm. An ethics complaint was filed against Bonar,
alleging that she had a conflict of interest due to ties with the Diocese and
Shortly after Bonar took office as Bar President, she issued
letters to four members of the Ethics Committee of the Bar, informing them that
their terms had expired as of June 30, 2008. This was false, as the members’
terms expired in 2009 and 2010. Each of the four members who were dismissed
had some ties to the Chesley firm. The Bar appointed a committee to
investigate the dismissals, and Bonar made statements to the Bar’s investigator
that were not true, claiming she had not been given information she had in fact
received, that she had no way of knowing the members had been reappointed, and
misrepresenting the content of conversations with staff.
The Bar filed disciplinary charges alleging that Bonar’s
false statements violated SCR
3.130(8.3)(c), which forbids a Kentucky lawyer to "engage in conduct
involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation." Eventually
Bonar accepted a settlement and filed a motion seeking a public reprimand,
which the Supreme Court of Kentucky imposed by Opinion and Order dated September 10, 2013. In the opinion, the Court noted that research
indicated no precedent either in Kentucky or elsewhere where an attorney
serving as a bar officer had been disciplined specifically for conduct
committed in the course of those duties. One previous Bar President was
disbarred after leaving office, but that was for conduct unrelated to his
In addition to the public reprimand, Bonar was ordered to
pay $22,500 for costs of the proceeding.
As regular readers of this newsletter know, we have been
nagging you for months about completing your registration on time. Those who let this slide may take comfort in knowing that even ethics counsel
sometimes fall remiss in this regard. This month it is reported that Robert Cohen, special counsel and director of ethics and lobbying for the
New York Joint Commission on Public Ethics, continued to practice in that
position after allowing his law license to lapse in 2012. All was reportedly forgiven
after Cohen was informed of his status and paid the back fees. Evidently New
York is more tolerant of such lapses than some other jurisdictions, such as the
one immediately to the south of the 42nd Parallel. Do not try this at home.
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Infringing Potties, Unreasonably Dangerous Lillies, Guitar Hero Underwear, and Blue Men: A Wild Month in Litigation
It’s been wild and wooly on the litigation front this month.
The following are a few of the weird lawsuits that crossed our screens.
Two come out of Portland, Oregon. The Portland Loo, a
street toilet developed by the City of Portland, is such a successful design
that the city has registered a trademark and markets the design to other cities.
However, a Southern Oregon company, Romtec, offered for sale a competing
product, the Sidewalk Restroom, at about half the price. Portland
has filed a lawsuit,
alleging that the “strikingly similar” design of the Sidewalk Restroom
infringes its trademark. Portland seeks to have all existing
Sidewalk Restrooms destroyed and all proceeds paid as damages.
Also in Portland, lawyer Charley Gee offered a romantic
gesture to his wife – he bought her a tiger
lily. They didn’t think about their cat,
Boogaloo, who chewed on the leaves. Within 24 hours, Gee and his wife had
to rush Bogaloo to a veterinary hospital, where he spent four days and was
placed on kidney dialysis. Although a label on the flower warned that it was
not for human consumption, it did not mention that, like all lilies, it is
highly toxic to cats. Gee has filed suit against the grocery store where he bought
the flowers and its floral contractor, alleging that the lily is an
‘unreasonably dangerous” product.
For owners concerned about the safety of their furry
friends, here is a (long) list of plants toxic for cats. Hint: plants dangerous to our
feline friends include most of the plants associated with Easter –
lilies, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, azaleas – and with
Christmas, including poinsettia, holly, and mistletoe.
Not all our strange lawsuits come out of Oregon. From Altoona in our own commonwealth comes the story of the suit filed by James Weyant
against the Altoona Police Department and an officer who shot and wounded
Weyant in a 4 a.m. confrontation in a dark alley. The officer said he thought
Weyant was holding a weapon and told him to drop it, but the “weapon” turned
out to be a pair of black Guitar Hero boxer shorts. Weyant had been wearing
them, until the elastic gave out while he was walking home. Weyant
recovered, but states
he still has “shooting” pains in his arm.
Finally, a California man is suing the Blue
Man Group (BMG), the troupe of wordless, face-painted comics/acrobats/musicians/mimes
whose antics have amused audiences around the world for more than 25 years. Most
attendees at BMG shows know what to expect (i.e., just about anything). But
Stan Michelman contends that during a show in San Francisco, “a large blue
plastic or rubber-like ball was thrown into the audience without warning to
[Michelman],” which caused him "shock and injury to his nervous system"
when he extended his arm to block the incoming missile. The lawsuit suggests
the Blue Men should have warned the audience that objects would be thrown into
the audience. A video of a BMG aerial assault is here.
Just in case you’re feeling Blue, here’s something for
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