||Levine, who had settled a minor’s claim, forged a court order which purported to approve the settlement. He gave the forged order to his unwitting paralegal, whom he sent to the insurer to collect the settlement proceeds. The insurer issued the settlement draft based upon Levine’s false representations about the approval and the order. The draft was endorsed by the minor’s parent, then negotiated by Levine, who issued a check from his trust account for the client’s portion of the settlement. The clients could not deposit the trust account check into a restricted account without a certified copy of an order of court approving the settlement. The clients and insurer both pressed Levine for certified copies of the order which he had purported was a valid order of court. After several months Levine filed a “motion to reconfirm settlement approval” wherein he falsely represented that the Court of Common Pleas Judge to whom he was presenting the motion had signed an order approving the settlement. The Judge was not persuaded, and reported the matter to the President Judge. Levine was also charged criminally, but was admitted into the Erie County ARD program.
Levine admitted the misconduct, but argued the separate instances of misconduct should be viewed as a single instance of misconduct. He also contended that he was entitled to consideration as mitigating factors, pursuant to ODC v. Braun, of his purported major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (stemming from childhood sexual abuse).
A majority of the hearing committee recommended that Levine be disbarred, having found that he failed to meet his burden of proof on the psychiatric issues. Levine took exception and, after oral argument, the Disciplinary Board recommended that he receive a five-year suspension, although the Board concurred in the hearing committee’s finding that he had failed to meet his burden of proof on the Braun issue. The Supreme Court issued a Rule to Show Cause why Levine should not be disbarred and, after oral argument, a majority of the Court imposed a five-year suspension.
|Points of Law
||Excerpt of Dissenting Statement filed by Chief Justice Cappy, in which he was joined by Justice Saylor, in response to the per curiam Order of the Court: “I respectfully dissent from the majority’s imposition of a suspension for a period of five years, and would disbar Respondent. Initially, I note that Respondent has failed to satisfy his burden of demonstrating that his psychiatric disorder was a substantial causal factor in his misconduct pursuant to Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Braun, 553 A.2d 894 (Pa. 1989). [ ] Under these circumstances, where the very nature of the legal process has been compromised, the appropriate sanction is disbarment.”