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Attorney E-Newsletter

December 2008

New Disciplinary Procedure Rules Take Effect

On December 12, 2008, the Supreme Court issued an order amending Rules 208, 215 and 402 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement (Pa.R.D.E.), effective immediately. Some of the changes are primarily of interest to those within the disciplinary system. The change with the broadest importance1 is a change to Rule 402 regarding confidentiality of disciplinary proceedings. A new provision states that once an order of temporary suspension is entered, the proceeding is no longer confidential. A related change to Rule 215(c)(5) provides that a resignation statement by a lawyer who is under an order of temporary suspension is no longer confidential.

The order is posted online at the Pennsylvania Court’s Web site here, and the changes are posted here.

Judicial Court Removes Luzerne Judge

On December 9, 2008, the Pennsylvania Court of Judicial Discipline voted to remove Ann Lokuta, a judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, from the bench. The Court’s decision was based on a 228-page opinion (not yet posted on the Court’s Web site but available on Westlaw) which the Court published in October. It found that Lokuta routinely belittled and verbally abused attorneys and court staff; compelled court employees to perform personal and household tasks; decided two cases in which she had a bias; and, filed a false report against a court administrator. The October opinion compared conditions in Lokuta’s court to those in a novel by Lewis Carroll or Charles Dickens. By a 6-1 vote, the Court removed Lokuta and disqualified her from holding judicial office in the future. One judge dissented and would suspend Lokuta for one year followed by a three-year probation.

Lokuta has expressed her intention to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

Retired: No Job, No Boss, No Worries, No . . . Fees

A subscriber writes, “I haven't practiced law since August 2007. I think I've retired, but you never know. Is ‘inactive status’ appropriate? What are the requirements?”

The annual registration form offers attorneys an option of assuming retired status, but in the applicable rules – Rule 219(i) of the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement and Section 93.146 of the Rules of the Disciplinary Board – there is no substantial distinction between retired and inactive status. In either case, an attorney assuming that status “shall file with the Administrative Office a notice in writing that the attorney desires voluntarily to assume inactive status and discontinue the practice of law.” This can be done by checking the box on the annual form, or by completing a Form DB-28 Notice of Voluntary Assumption of Inactive Status [print form] [fillable form]. When this is done, the attorney need not pay the annual registration fee for any year in which she or he is inactive or retired for the entire year.

As Continuing Legal Education, Section 6(b) of the Rules and Regulations for CLE in Pennsylvania states, “A lawyer on voluntary inactive status shall have his or her compliance deferred while on inactive status.” However, if an inactive or retired lawyer returns to active status2, she or he must complete the deferred CLE, up to two times the annual requirement, as well as any CLE for the current year.

It is very important to understand that a lawyer should only elect inactive or retired status if she or he does not intend to practice at all, or to hold employment for which “good standing” as a lawyer is required. The Supreme Court has harshly disciplined lawyers who have practiced while on inactive status, even if only in a few cases or for no fee.

We’re in the Movies!

The Disciplinary Board has created and posted a new video providing attorneys and members of the public with an overview of its operations and complaint process. The video may be viewed online here.

Best of all, it was released in time for Oscar contention. Strangely, we haven’t heard from the Academy yet. Surely it’s an oversight. We’ll have our people call their people.3

Those interested may receive a free copy of the video on CD by calling the Disciplinary Board office at (717) 731-7073. It is not, sadly, available on iTunes©® as of yet.

Last month we mentioned Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers, which also has a video available in which Executive Director Ken Hagreen explains the organization’s mission and services. You can see it here.

Nostra Culpa

We heard from some of you that your November newsletter had formatting problems. One identified the problem as the use of HTML tags in a plain text message.4 We do have a new provider, although the people are the same people we had before the people we had before them. This edition should be in good order.5

Also, it was brought to our attention (as these things tend to be) that there was a discrepancy between the formula for calculating the shipping costs of the new booklets of the Rules of Professional Conduct and the costs shown in the spreadsheet. By process of elimination, this means we were wrong. Again.

Got a Tip?

Or a question, a comment, an idea you’d like to see addressed? We are always glad to hear from you. Write us at comments@padisciplinaryboard.org.6

1Still not very broad, eh?

2Or, as we call it, “pulls a Favre.”

3All kidding aside, the video did win an Ava Award from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals. It even comes with a cool statuette, if you buy it for $185.

4Tag, we’re “it.”

5If it isn’t, you know by now and we will very shortly.

6Be sure to put a title in your email which will make it clear it is about the newsletter and that you’re not offering us hot stock tips, illegal software copies, or discount medicines, 7 as we now have an 800-pound gorilla of a spam filter. 8

7If you put Russian characters in the title, fughettaboutit.

8We needed it, bad.