Attorney E-Newsletter

November 2012

Board Amends Its Rules

On November 3, 2012, the Disciplinary Board published a set of amendments to the Rules of the Disciplinary Board. The rules were issued without a public comment period because they mostly incorporated changes already made in the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement[1] and because they “relate to agency procedure and are perfunctory in nature.” For instance, many occurrences of the word “Chairman” were replaced with “Chair” or “Chairperson.”[2]

A few practical points to note:

  • Under Enforcement Rule 219(d) and Board Rule 93.142(b)(1)(ii), address and contact information provided on the annual fee form is public and will be posted for public access on the Board’s website, unless the attorney has submitted a written request showing good cause why the information should not be public. The burden of keeping contact information off the website is on the attorney to request the exception.
  • IOLTA, trust, escrow and other fiduciary account checks tendered in payment of the annual fee will not be accepted. The check will be returned and considered unpaid, and the matter may be referred to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for investigation.[3]

The changes are published at 42 Pa.B. 6864 (11/3/2012).

Electoral Ambitions Cost Lawyer His License

We have just come through an election season when many candidates would do anything to show us how much they wanted to serve in office. A Bucks County lawyer’s efforts to get onto the ballot cost him dearly.

According to information filed by the Attorney General, William T. Roshko filed 17 nominating petitions for three different offices on both major party tickets. The petitions contained forged signatures of electors who did and didn’t exist, as well as other false statements. After a guilty plea, he was sentenced to probation for 23 months.

On a joint petition for discipline, Roshko agreed to accept a two-year suspension. Nearly ten years had passed since his conviction; the joint petition is ambiguous as to whether or not Roshko reported his conviction, but Disciplinary Counsel agreed that any failure to report would not be considered an aggravating factor. The Supreme Court accepted the agreed disposition, although Justice McCaffery dissented without opinion.

Murder by Power of Attorney?

Woody Guthrie once wrote, “Some will rob you with a sixgun, and some with a fountain pen.”[4] But did a Missouri lawyer murder her father with a legal document?

One night in October 2010, police responded to a 911 call and found businessman William Van Note and his companion, Sharon Dickson, both shot in the head. Dickson was dead, but Van Note gravely wounded. Van Note lingered on life support, but days later his daughter Liz Van Note, a lawyer in the Kansas City suburb of Lee’s Summit, appeared in the hospital with a document labeled “Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care,” giving her authority to make medical decisions on his behalf and stating he did not want to be kept alive by life support. The document was witnessed by one of Liz Van Note’s high school friends and her husband. After some delay, the doctors removed the apparatus keeping William Van Note alive, and he died.

Police and document experts subsequently determined that William Van Note did not sign the Durable Power of Attorney presented by Liz Van Note. An indictment alleges that Liz Van Note forged William Van Note’s signature to the document, committing forgery and, since the forgery was used to cause the death of William Van Note, also committing first degree murder. The witnesses, Desre and Stacey Dore, are also charged with forgery and murder.

Van Note has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Her attorney admits that the signature on the durable power was not William Van Note’s, but says the deceased did sign such a document, and his client created the forged document when she was unable to find the signed copy.

On November 15, a judge removed Liz Van Note as executor of her father’s estate on petition of Dickson’s son. William Van Note’s will made Dickson, whom he planned to marry, the personal representative and primary heir, but only if she outlived him.

Hearing and trial in the case are set for December.

Cinderella’s Attorney Turns Pumpkin

A New Jersey attorney had a Cinderella story of his own, although no charming princes were involved.

Attorney Stuart Felsen represented Cinderella Eboh in a driving while intoxicated case. The prosecutor informed Felsen of a possibly exculpatory video, and the judge also told him to obtain the video. However, he did not do so. He advised the client there was no video, and advised her to plead guilty, which she did, although she believed she was innocent.[5] Subsequently, the client retained new counsel, who obtained the video and filed a post-conviction petition alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. As a result of Felsen’s failure to obtain the video, the conviction was vacated. No glass slippers[6] were involved, but Cinderella did make it to the ball.

The Supreme Court of New Jersey censured Felsen for gross negligence and lack of diligence. The Court did not find that he lied to the client, but the discipline was aggravated due to prior discipline and his failure to respond.

Let Us Know

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[1] For those who have trouble following the distinction, the Rules of Professional Conduct are the substantive rules adopted by the Supreme Court that provide for duties of attorneys in most practice situations. The Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement (Enforcement Rules) are promulgated by the Supreme Court and establish the lawyer disciplinary system in Pennsylvania and set forth a broad set of procedural rules governing bar discipline. The Rules of the Disciplinary Board are published by the Board, and implement the structure created by the Enforcement Rules in more detail.

[2] Clint Eastwood did not comment on this rule change.

[3] Unbelievably a handful of attorneys do this every year. This is the ethical equivalent of wearing a “kick me” sign.

[4]Pretty Boy Floyd,” 1939.

[5] According to Wikipedia, the Cinderella story is “classified as Aarne-Thompson type 510A, the persecuted heroine.” So Cinderella’s story really is a Cinderella story.

[6] There is a legend that the slipper was made of vair (squirrel fur)[7] rather than glass. The claim is that the word "vair," which sounds like "verre" (glass) in French, was taken to mean glass rather than fur. However, Snopes says no.

[7] Besides, a squirrel in a Disney movie would have to talk. Or be changed into a coachman.