Loading

Attorney E-Newsletter

April 2012

Cohen, Bevilacqua to Head Disciplinary Board in 2012-13

By order dated March 30, 2012, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania appointed Stewart L. Cohen as Chair of the Disciplinary Board and Gabriel L.I. Bevilacqua as Vice Chair for terms beginning April 1, 2012.

Mr. Cohen is a trial lawyer with the Philadelphia law firm of Cohen, Placitella & Roth, P.C. He has served as a member of the Board since April 2007 and was Vice Chair in 2011-2012.

Mr. Bevilacqua is a partner in the Philadelphia law firm of Saul Ewing, LLP. He is serving his second three-year term on the Disciplinary Board.

By order of March 30, 2012, the Court appointed David E. Schwager of Luzerne County to a three-year term on the Disciplinary Board.

Amendments to Criminal and Disciplinary Reporting Rules Adopted

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has approved amendments to Rules 214 and 216 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, making changes in the way criminal convictions and disciplinary actions against attorneys are to be reported and processed.

In a rulemaking published at 42 Pa.B. 1637 (3/31/2012), the Court adopted amendments to the comments to Rule 8.3 of the PA Rules of Professional Conduct and to Rule 214 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, relating to attorneys convicted of crimes. Some of the changes made:

  • An attorney convicted of any crime, not just a serious crime, must report the conviction within 20 days [Rule 214(a)];
  • The report must be made to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, not the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board [Rule 214(a)];
  • Disciplinary Counsel is to file a certificate of all convictions, not just those occurring within the Commonwealth [Rule 214(c)];
  • The definition of “crime” includes any offense punishable by imprisonment in the jurisdiction of conviction, whether or not a sentence of imprisonment is actually imposed [Rule 214(h)]. The definition excludes parking violations or summary offenses, both traffic and non-traffic, unless a term of imprisonment is actually imposed.

In another rulemaking published at 42 Pa.B. 1639 on the same day, the Court amended Rules 216 and 218 of the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement. Rule 216(a) specifies the procedures for reciprocal discipline against an attorney who has been suspended, disbarred, resigned, or otherwise removed from practice in another jurisdiction. The amendment applies these procedures not just to orders of courts or military tribunals, but also to administrative agencies and “any body authorized by law or by rule of court to conduct disciplinary proceedings against attorneys.” Transfer to disability status will also be covered; an amendment to Rule 216(e) requires attorneys transferred to disability status to report that status change as well. Rule 218(b), regarding reinstatement, is also amended to refer to disability status.

The comments to Rule 8.3 of the Rules of Professional Conduct set forth in the rulemaking at 42 Pa.B. 1637 summarize these requirements.

Reporting In

Speaking of reporting, the Disciplinary Board has released its Annual Report for 2011. A few items of interest:

  • There are 58,968 active and 11,296 inactive paid attorneys as of December 31, 2011. In comparison, the number of active paid attorneys for the 1972-1973 Fiscal Year was 13,057.
  • The Board did a statistical study of Rule violations vs. the number of years the attorneys were in practice and found, surprisingly, that it is not newly admitted, younger attorneys who are engaging in the most common Rule violations, but attorneys who have more than 20 years of practice.
  • As of December 31, 2011, there were 57,527 subscribers to the monthly Attorney E-Newsletter, an increase of 9,799 from 2010.[1]
  • As of December 31, 2011, there are 150 Hearing Committee Members appointed by the Disciplinary Board who serve on a pro bono basis to conduct hearings. Of the 150, 82 are Senior members, 27 Experienced members, and 41 New members.
  • In the spring of 2011, the Disciplinary Board launched online Annual Attorney Registration. 20% of all registered attorneys used online attorney registration to pay their 2011-2012 Attorney’s Annual Fee.
  • The October 2011 Board Meeting was the first entirely paperless meeting.

If you have finished the Hunger Games trilogy and are in need of new reading, the report is posted here.

The Zero Sum Games

Attorney Annual Fee Forms and information will be distributed mid-May. The annual fee for the Disciplinary Board and the Client Security Fund are being reduced, but don’t rejoice yet; the fee for the Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts fund is being increased by the same amount. The total assessment for 2012-2013 will remain at $200. The order noted that this change is in effect for the 2012-2013 Fiscal Year only. Forms and fees are due July 1, 2012. Online registration for the new year will be available May 7th.

District 3 Moves

District 3 of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, which covers 32 counties extending from the New York to Maryland borders along the Susquehanna River, is moving on April 27 from its current location at 100 Pine Street in Harrisburg to the Pennsylvania Judicial Center. The new address is:

Disciplinary Board: District III
Pennsylvania Judicial Center
601 Commonwealth Avenue
Suite 5800
P.O. Box 62675
Harrisburg, PA 17106-2675
Telephone and fax numbers will remain the same.

Of Taverns and Tows

This month’s cases both concern lawyers who marketed their law practice through other business – or vice versa.

From Nebraska comes the case of David Walocha, who is a lawyer, or was for a brief period. He graduated from law school and practiced for a year as a lawyer, after which he stopped paying his registration fee, leading to suspension of his license. Walocha went back to the career that put him through law school – as a bartender. The problem was that he didn’t give up his day job. From 1998 through 2011, he continued to practice law, usually on behalf of clients he met through his bartending job. He gave legal advice, filed pleadings, entered appearances in at least 65 criminal cases, and, of course, charged fees. For this he was disbarred.[2]

In Washington, allegations have been leveled against a towing company owned by Municipal Judge Ronald Heslop. Two former employees charge that the company was offering discount or free legal services to customers who used the towing company’s services. The matter is being investigated not as a matter of legal or judicial ethics, but under the towing licensing law, which forbids giving incentives. Heslop denies the charges. The towing company has reportedly been fined more than $20,000 over the past four years for breaking state towing laws, and another towing company owned by Heslop, Puyallup Towing,[3] is appealing a state effort to revoke its license.

Now what is wrong with this picture? Generally, promotions work by giving something of lesser value to encourage the target to accept something of greater value. You don’t give people a bank account to get them to buy a toaster. Have we reached a point where legal services are now given away to get people to use a tow truck? Perhaps the most serious harm in such a practice is the damage to our collective professional ego.

Let Us Know

Got a tip, a link, a correction, a question, a comment, an observation, a clarification, a wisecrack, an idea you’d like to see addressed? We are always glad to hear from you. Write us at comments@padisciplinaryboard.org.

[1] We try not to think of this when writing the newsletter.

[2] Perhaps he can now call himself a disbartender. Or a bar pretender.

[3] Imagine the slogan possibilities: “Pileup? Call Puyuallup. We’ll pull you up.”