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Attorney E-Newsletter

August 2010

Two Disbarments: Two Tragic Stories

The Supreme Court entered orders this month disbarring two lawyers. One is a story of an escalating series of failures; the other a terrible tale of a horrific meltdown.

The disbarment of Lougenia Graves was a case in which the lawyer had a number of chances to save her career, and let them all go by. Graves’s disciplinary history began with an informal admonition, the lowest level of discipline, imposed in 1992. In a subsequent complaint, Graves was ordered to appear for a private reprimand subject to conditions. When she failed to fulfill the conditions, under the terms of Section 89.205(e) of the Rules of the Disciplinary Board, the discipline was escalated to public censure before the Supreme Court. She failed to appear for public censure, and the Court imposed a suspension for a year and a day. Shortly before she was suspended, Graves was named an arbitrator in the Compulsory Arbitration Program of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. This status required that she be a licensed attorney on active status. Graves failed to notify the Court of Common Pleas of her suspension, or to comply with any of the other requirements of the rule. Over the next 12 years, Grave accepted more than 50 arbitration appointments, for which she was compensated. She never revealed to the court, fellow arbitrators, counsel, or parties that she was suspended. For this conduct, the Disciplinary Board recommended she be disbarred, and the Supreme Court imposed this penalty.

The story of Richard Baumhammers is far more tragic. Baumhammers had been an immigration lawyer practicing in Georgia, until mental health problems began to overwhelm him in the late 1990’s. He returned to Pittsburgh and lived with his parents, until April 28, 2000, when Baumhammers went on a shooting spree that left five people dead and one critically wounded, who later died. Baumhammers was convicted of numerous offenses and was later sentenced to death, although he was granted a stay of execution in February 2010. After exhaustion of his appeals and denial of a petition for writ of certiorari by the United States Supreme Court, a Petition for Discipline was filed against Baumhammers.[1] In a report dated May 10, 2010, Carl D. Buchholz III, Chair of the Disciplinary Board, wrote, “The gravity and magnitude of his crimes far exceed that which this Board has dealt with in the past.” Indeed, the Baumhammers case may present the most egregious misconduct of any attorney who has passed through the disciplinary system in Pennsylvania to date.

Disciplinary Board Proposes Change in Mental Disability Defense Rule

The Disciplinary Board is publishing changes to Rule 301(e) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, which deals with attorneys who assert mental disability defenses in disciplinary hearings.

The current Rule 301(e) does not require the attorney to identify the condition causing the claimed disability, or provide proof of a causal connection between the condition and the attorney’s ability to adequately defend against the charges in the pending disciplinary proceeding. The attorney only needs to sign a certificate of admission of disability and file the certificate with the Supreme Court, which automatically transfers the attorney to disability inactive status. This places all disciplinary proceedings in abeyance until the attorney is found able to provide a defense.

The revisions will require the attorney asserting a mental disability defense to file a certificate with the Supreme Court identifying the precise nature of the disability; the date of the onset or initial diagnosis of the disability; and an explanation of the manner in which the disability makes it impossible for the respondent to prepare an adequate defense. The attorney must append to the certificate an opinion of at least one medical expert stating that the respondent is unable to prepare an adequate defense including the basis for the medical expert’s opinion. The Supreme Court may deny the application or take other action, including the option of ordering an examination of the attorney by medical experts, at the attorney’s expense. The attorney would be placed on inactive disability status pending the Court’s determination. The order transferring the attorney to that status would be a public order, but the certificate and evidence in support of it would not be available to the public.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on September 4, 2010, and can be viewed here. Comments will be accepted until October 1, 2010.

Third Circuit Revises Attorney Discipline Rules

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has issued a set of revisions to its Rules of Attorney Disciplinary Enforcement, effective June 7, 2010. The revisions deal mainly with procedure in contested cases.

Attorneys who are members of the bar of the Third Circuit should be aware of the requirements of Rule 6, which requires that a member attorney report within 10 days any conviction of a serious crime, or of disbarment, suspension, or resignation while under investigation for misconduct.

On July 30, 2010, the Court also adopted changes to its Internal Operating Procedures, including revisions to Chapter 12 providing for situations in which a judge becomes unavailable.

Our thanks to attorney Robert H. Davis, Jr., for calling these developments to our attention.

Fields Aplenty: Web Site Adds Multiple Field Search

The most used page at the Disciplinary Board’s Web site, www.padb.us, has always been the Attorney Search page. In the past, the page allowed users to search only for a single field, such as the attorney’s last name. This was a problem if the attorney you were searching for was named John Smith. You would have to work your way through 684 listings, 15 at a time, to arrive at the correct name.[2]

This month, the Disciplinary Board rolled out a new version of the search which allows users to filter the database by any two fields, including first name, last name, county, city, or attorney ID number. Now, a search for “John Smith” can be narrowed down to a manageable list of 18 names. If you think there is an attorney named “Leonard” somewhere in Cumberland County, you now have a fighting chance of finding him.[3] Users should also be aware that the search will yield all names that contain the search term. Thus a search for "Smith" will also display "Smithson" and "Goldsmith."

We hope this new enhancement will be more useful and efficient for those who rely on our site.

No, Quadratics Has Nothing to Do with Your Transmission

Paul Burgoyne, Deputy Chief Counsel of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, passed on to us the following description of the requirements an applicant to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1902 had to meet:

No person shall be registered as a student at law for the purpose of becoming entitled to admission to the Bar of the Supreme Court until he shall have satisfied the State Board of Law Examiners that he is of good moral character, and shall have passed a preliminary examination upon the following subjects: (1) English language and literature; (2) Outlines of universal history; (3) History of England and of the United States; (4) Arithmetic, algebra through quadratics, and plane geometry; (5) Modern geography; (6) The first four books of Caesar's Commentaries, the first six books of the Aeneid, and the first four orations of Cicero against Cataline.[4]

All of a sudden the Multistate doesn’t look quite as daunting.

Speaking of Mr. Burgoyne, he has recently been elected to the Board of Directors of the National Organization of Bar Counsel for a second term. It is a nonprofit organization of legal professionals whose members enforce ethics rules that regulate the professional conduct of lawyers who practice law in the United States, Canada and Australia. We’re proud of him.

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.

[1] He had been placed on temporary suspension after his conviction in 2001.

[2] Assuming you used “Smith.” If you used “John,” you would have 3,979. Have fun.

[3] Totally hypothetical. In fact, there aren’t any attorneys named Leonard in Cumberland County. But now you know.

[4] That’s an old Pontiac, right?