Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 78527
Attorney Name Brown, Gustee
DBP Docket No. 64 DB 2003
Supreme Court Docket No. 954 DD No. 3
County Erie
Disciplinary Counsel William R. Friedmann
Counsel for Respondent None
Decision Date 2004-10-15
Effective Date 2004-10-15
Case Digest Respondent was charged with the unauthorized practice of law, that is, practicing while on inactive status. Respondent was transferred to inactive status for failure to pay his annual registration fee pursuant to Rule 219 Pa.R.D.E. effective 12/30/00. During the course of his inactive status Respondent was employed part-time as an Assistant Public Defender in Erie County representing at least 97 defendants in criminal matters from 1/1/01 through 2/28/02. In one case, after requesting an opportunity to brief the legal issues following an evidentiary hearing, Respondent failed to file a brief and the defendant was found guilty. Respondent failed to provide proof to the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board that he gave notice to his clients whose matters were pending on 1/30/00, the effective date of the Order transferring him to inactive status, or to clients whom he represented after that date, of his transfer to inactive status. Public knowledge of Respondent’s representation of clients while on inactive status required Erie County’s President Judge and the Court’s administrative staff to address the problems caused by Respondent. For example, some of Respondent’s former clients instituted actions to withdraw guilty pleas and the President Judge received numerous telephone calls from across the state. Respondent failed to apologize to the President Judge or to the Chief Public Defender. In July 2002, Respondent paid the attorney registration fees for the 2000-2001, 2001-2002, and 2002-2003 years and was reinstated to active practice. Respondent argued that his failure to pay his registration fee was the result of extreme family pressures, including divorce, child custody dispute and his mother’s illness. Respondent relocated from Pennsylvania to Ohio and designated his sister’s address in Virginia as being his most secure address. Respondent believed that his sister forwarded the notices from the Secretary of the Disciplinary Board to him. The Disciplinary Board found that although Respondent did not mistreat clients and found no evidence that he mishandled cases, he did “mishandle the subject of his own professional standing.” The Board concluded that the Respondent’s personal problems did “not serve to excuse his misconduct, the consequences of which are serious.” Respondent had no prior discipline.
Rule Violation(s) 5.5(b), 8.4(d), Pa.R.D.E.217(b), 217(c)(1) &(2), 217(e)
Discipline Imposed Suspension – One Year and One Day
Points of Law Failure to comply with the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement may subject an attorney to discipline, even though an attorney may not have mishandled cases or mistreated clients. An attorney violates R.P.C. 5.5(b) having to do with the unauthorized practice of law and 8.4(d) having to do with conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice by practicing while on inactive status. An attorney violates Pa.R.D.E. 217(b), 217(c)(1) &(2), 217(e) by failing to notify all clients involved in pending litigation or administrative proceedings and the attorneys for adverse parties of his transfer to inactive status; by failing to notify those to whom the attorney owes a fiduciary duty and others who may infer that he continues as an attorney in good standing; and by failing to file with the Board a verified statement showing that the provisions of the order have been complied with.
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