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Attorney E-Newsletter

August 2013

Stevens Sworn In as New Justice; Bender Takes Superior Court Helm

On July 31, 2013, Correale F. Stevens of Luzerne County, former President Judge of the Superior Court, was sworn into office as the newest member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Justice Stevens, who had served on the Superior Court since 1997, was nominated by Gov. Tom Corbett to the vacancy left by the resignation of Justice Joan Orie Melvin. He received unanimous Senate confirmation. Justice Stevens also served as a member of the state House, a trial judge and the district attorney in Luzerne County. On the court, he joins his former Superior Court colleagues Justices Thomas G. Saylor, J. Michael Eakin, Seamus P. McCaffery and Debra McCloskey Todd.

On August 13, the Superior Court elected Judge John T. Bender, Allegheny County, as President Judge to replace Justice Stevens.

Pennsylvania Lawyer Suspended for Pitch to Bail Officials

Our highlighted disciplinary case this month is that of Joseph Lento, No. 5 DB 2013.

Lento, a Philadelphia lawyer, entered into an agreement to be suspended for one year followed by a year of probation under the supervision of a practice monitor. He admitted that he wrote letters to a supervisor at the bail unit of the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility and eight employees of the Pretrial Services unit at the Criminal Justice Center, proposing a “mutually beneficial business relationship” by which the employees were to provide him with information on applicants seeking bail, after which he would “follow up with him/her accordingly.” He also requested in a personal meeting that a bail unit employee distribute his business card to persons needing a lawyer, for which she would be paid. Lento admitted that this conduct violated:

  • RPC 5.4(a), sharing fees with a nonlawyer;
  • RPC 7.3(a), solicitation;
  • RPC 8.4(a), violating or attempting to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct through acts of another;
  • RPC 8.4(c), conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and
  • RPC 8.4(d), conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice.

The agreement noted that Lento’s youth and inexperience (he had been in practice about three years at the time) and recognition of the wrongfulness of his conduct were mitigating factors.

A Joint Petition setting forth Lento’s agreement to undergo a suspension for one year followed by one year of probation was approved by a three-member panel of the Disciplinary Board under Rule 215(g), Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, and the Supreme Court accepted the recommendation and imposed the agreed discipline by order dated July 17, 2013.

Lawyer Suspended, Fined for Recommending Facebook Cleanup

A Virginia lawyer who advised a client to remove potentially damaging information from his Facebook page has paid $544,000 toward a sanction, resigned from his firm, and been suspended for five years.

Matthew B. Murray represented a plaintiff in a major wrongful death action. He advised the client to remove from his Facebook page photos showing the client engaged in drinking and revelry, after receiving a discovery request. Murray later reversed his advice, and the photos were provided to defense counsel. A judge found that Murray had engaged in spoliation, concealed the existence of the email in which he advised the client, and made false statements about the matter. Murray and his client were ordered to pay a sanction of $722,000, of which Murray’s share was $544,000. Murray has paid the sanction.

Despite the misconduct, the Supreme Court of Virginia upheld a judgment of $8.5 million in favor of Murray’s client and other plaintiffs. Murray is a past president of the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association.

Attorney Accused of Prostitution Agrees to Suspension

In June we reported on the story of an Illinois attorney who was under disciplinary inquiry based on a conviction of engaging in acts of prostitution, and falsely stating certain information about those activities in her bar application and to disciplinary authorities.

The attorney, Reema Bajaj, has agreed to a resolution by which her law license will be suspended for three years. The agreement is subject to approval by a disciplinary panel and the Illinois Supreme Court.

It is important to note that the disciplinary action is based not only on the acts of which she was convicted, but relied as well on false statements Bajaj made in her bar application and her disciplinary case.

All Registrations Now Due; August 31 Deadline Looms

For months we have nagged you relentlessly about filing your annual registration fee form, which was due July 1. The 30-day grace period has expired, and mandatory late fees are now kicking in for attorneys who missed them despite the most strident remonstrances we could muster. If you haven’t complied, you probably already know this. Not only will a second non-waivable[1] $150 fee kick in on August 31, but as soon as the barbeque fumes from Labor Day weekend begin to dissipate, the names of those yet among the ranks of the unresponsive will be sent to the Supreme Court for possible administrative suspension.[2]

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. Please do not reply to this email. Instead, send any comments or questions to comments@padisciplinaryboard.org.

[1] This means the staff has no authority to let you out of it, even if you tried the website and couldn’t get it to work, or you didn’t get the renewal form, or . . . whatever.

[2] An appropriate dirge may be heard here.