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Attorney E-Newsletter

April 2014

Chief Justice Calls on Lawyers for Pro Bono

During his final year on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille is making his last formal plea to lawyers to support the Commonwealth’s civil legal aid programs by providing pro bono service through direct representation and financial contributions.

In a letter to Pennsylvania’s approximately 70,000 registered lawyers, the Chief Justice joined with Pennsylvania Bar Association (PBA) President Forest N. Myers in calling on attorneys to make a personal commitment to provide pro bono service. The reminder of their ethical duty to provide public service is being widely distributed to the legal community by the courts and PBA.

The Chief Justice noted in his letter that Senate Judiciary Committee hearings held last year across Pennsylvania under the leadership of Sen. Stewart Greenleaf underscored the great need among the poor for civil legal services. During the hearings, one legal aid provider estimated that the entire system is only helping one out of every 10 persons who qualify for such services.

“Every component of the justice system is offering support, but it is the volunteer efforts of attorneys – whether in direct representation of clients or further financial support beyond part of the attorney annual registration fee – that are essential for success,” Chief Justice Castille said.

The Chief Justice said that every lawyer in Pennsylvania at present contributes $35 to civil legal aid through the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) portion of annual licensing fees. The IOLTA Board funds legal services for Pennsylvania’s poor. Unfortunately, interest rates under one percent have had a devastating impact on the annual revenues of IOLTA.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also has supported civil legal aid by providing new avenues for funding legal services and by setting up a loan-forgiveness program for legal services attorneys funded by pro hac vice filing fees.

The Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) is the state’s coordinated system of organizations providing civil legal aid for those with nowhere else to turn. PLAN, whose programs provide legal assistance and access to the courts for Pennsylvanians whose family income is less than 125 percent of the poverty level, is facing a crisis due to a substantial decrease in funds available for civil legal aid.

The Portal Will Open Soon

Online registration, introduced recently by the Disciplinary Board, is becoming a popular feature. Since its inception, one-third of Pennsylvania attorneys renewed their registration online. Recently, the Board has reached out to law firms to share the many benefits of online registration.

This year, Pennsylvania’s Unified Judicial System Portal will open May 5 for attorneys to complete the Annual Form and securely pay the annual fee. An email notice will be sent only to attorneys who have provided an email address or have registered online. The notices will come from news@padisciplinaryboard.org and administrator@pacourts.us. Please add both email addresses to your safe sender list or make sure it can be received by your email server.

If you have registered online in the past and have forgotten your password or PIN, go to http://ujsportal.pacourts.us, click on Login, and then click on “Forgot my Password” or “Forgot my PIN” to reset them.

It is each attorney’s responsibility to maintain accurate contact information and to notify the Attorney Registration Office within 30 days of any change. Click this link to update your profile.

To make online registration easier, the Disciplinary Board offers an online registration tutorial here.

Three Strikes, You’re at Serious Risk of Being Out

In determining sanctions in disciplinary cases, the Disciplinary Board often must weigh the effect of recidivist discipline. Prior disciplinary incidents have always been treated as an aggravating factor, but the Supreme Court and the Board have not developed any specific formula for the effect of prior discipline.

A recent decision points toward a strict approach to recidivist conduct. The Respondent-attorney in Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Richard Patrick Reynolds had a disciplinary record of two informal admonitions for neglect and mishandling of cases. In a third prosecution based on his failure to pursue a criminal appeal, the Disciplinary Board did not escalate the discipline one or two steps to some form of reprimand or censure, but recommended that the attorney be suspended for a year and a day, requiring him to go through a reinstatement proceeding to regain his license. The Board commented, “[S]tanding alone, this case would not merit suspension, but the cumulative nature of the prior discipline requires the Board to assess this matter in a different light.” Noting that the Respondent was on temporary suspension for failure to pay the costs of his prior discipline, the Board refused to recommend the suspension be retroactive.

In a per curiam decision dated March 30, 2014, the Supreme Court accepted the Board’s recommendation and suspended the Respondent for a year and a day prospectively. Justices Baer and Stevens dissented in favor of a suspension for three years, consistent with previous dissents they have entered.

While neither the Court nor the Board has endorsed a firm “three strikes you’re out” rule, it does appear that the disciplinary system is growing impatient with attorneys who fail to set themselves straight after multiple incidents of discipline.

In contrast, the Supreme Court of New Jersey, in the case of Mark W. Ford, imposed a public censure on an attorney with four prior incidents of discipline – an admonition, two reprimands and a censure. The conduct at issue in his fifth case preceded the first censure, but the contrast between the approaches of the two courts is stark. Pennsylvania attorneys with multiple incidents of discipline on their records would not be wise to count on the same degree of leniency.

Paper Fee Comments Due

Last month we reported on the Disciplinary Board’s proposal to charge a $25 “paper processing fee” for registration forms filed by mail rather than online, beginning in 2015-2016.[1] Comments are due May 12, 2014, so there are still a few days to submit your comments if you haven’t already. Send them to:

Office of the Secretary
The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
PO Box 62625
Harrisburg, PA 17106-2625

Or, you can send email comments to dboard.comments@pacourts.us,[2] fax them to (717) 231-3382, or deliver in person to 601 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 5600, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.[3]

Stefanie Porges, MD, Joins Disciplinary Board

The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce the appointment of Stefanie Porges, MD, to serve on the Board until December 29, 2017. Dr. Porges will fill one of the two non-lawyer positions on the Board. Dr. Porges has passionately served her patients and worked to educate medical students in a variety of settings for more than 20 years. She currently serves as Attending Physician in Emergency Medicine; Medical Command Physician for PENNSTAR Flight Program; and Director of Physician Scheduling, Emergency Medicine, for the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, Dr. Porges is a Clinical Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, for the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Baileyed Out

Last July we reported on the efforts of disbarred former celebrity lawyer F. Lee Bailey to gain readmission in the state of Maine. Alas, it was not to be for Lee. In a 4-2 decision handed down April 10, the Supreme Court of Maine reversed a single justice’s finding that Bailey met the character and fitness standards, ruling that Bailey’s ambivalent testimony about his disbarment failed to demonstrate that he recognized the wrongfulness and seriousness of his conduct.

Bailey, who at 80 now lives in Maine and works as a business consultant, told the Portland Press-Herald, “Maine has spoken. I gave it the best shot I could.” He added that he intends to continue working and does not plan to retire.

Dauphin County Honors Patti Bednarik

The Dauphin County Bar Association has published a long and moving tribute to our late colleague and friend, Patti Bednarik. You can read it here.

I Miss My Practice and I Feel So Sad

An oft-disciplined Kentucky attorney, dropping his application for reinstatement to the Kentucky bar, left with a classic swan song: “I fought the bar, and the bar won.

Okay, boys, hit it.[4][5][6]

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] I.e., next year, not this. Keep calm and please don’t send us indignant emails.

[2] This is a different email than the “Comments” email for newsletter comments below. Comments sent to comments@padisciplinaryboard.org may not be received as part of the comment process.

[3] We suppose you could use carrier pigeons, but Harrisburg really doesn’t need any more pigeons.

[4] You clicked it and you listened all the way through. Admit it.

[5] So you don’t have to look it up on company time, it’s G-C-D-G-A-G-D-G (3rd-5th fret).

[6] Written by Sonny Curtis, who fronted the Crickets after Buddy Holly, and also wrote the theme song to The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Also covered by the Clash and many other artists.