Attorney E-Newsletter

December 2013

A Spate of Discipline

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided several major disciplinary cases during the past two months. Several notable cases have resulted in suspensions or disbarments.

Patrick Joseph Donahue was disbarred after a conviction for possession of child pornography. He collected a large number of pornographic images on his law office computer as a business decision, planning to establish an adult website. He also placed a hidden camera in the women’s restroom of his office. He failed to report his conviction for nine years. The Disciplinary Board distinguished the case from several in which lawyers received long suspensions after sexual offenses. Despite evidence from two experts, the Board found that Donahue did not show evidence his actions resulted from a mental disability under the standard of Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Braun, 553 A.2d 894 (Pa.1989), and recommended disbarment. The Supreme Court agreed.

G. David Rosenblum agreed to disbarment after he was charged with several incidents of practicing law after being voluntarily transferred to disability inactive status, while facing charges for depriving his law firm of $761,000.

Kevin Joseph Fitzgerald agreed to disbarment after misappropriating a $30,000 payoff on a mortgage.

Robert Neil Wilkey agreed to a suspension for 30 months (retroactive) after being sentenced to 30 months of probation for using personal information obtained through a client-attorney relationship in an attempt to obtain credit cards.

John L. Chaffo, Jr., was disbarred after conviction of wire fraud and conspiracy related to mortgage fraud. He claimed to be the only lawyer in Pennsylvania prosecuted for mortgage fraud at a time when such conduct was rampant. The Disciplinary Board treated his lack of remorse as an aggravating factor.

Jeffrey Aaron Blaker, a 2010 law school graduate, agreed to suspension for one year and one day after revelation that he intentionally omitted criminal arrests and citations from his law school application, then falsely claimed the omissions were unintentional in his application for admission to the bar.

Next month we will present our annual review of the most significant disciplinary cases of 2013.

Admission Rule Tweaks

The Supreme Court has adopted two minor rule changes regarding admission of out of state attorneys.

On October 30, in an order published at 43 Pa.B. 6762 (November 16, 2013), the Supreme Court amended Section 81.502 of the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyers Trust Account Regulations to provide that “Admission pro hac vice shall not be required in order to participate in a case solely as amicus curiae.”

On November 20, in an order published at 43 Pa.B. 7071 (December 7, 2013), the Court amended Rule 205 of the Pennsylvania Bar Admission Rules regarding admission of foreign attorneys and graduates of foreign institutions. The application of the rule was expanded to include attorneys practicing in another state as well as another country. The provision of Rule 205(a)(2) requiring that a lawyer must have practiced for five of the last eight years in another state or country was clarified to provide that the lawyer must have been admitted in the jurisdiction where the services are performed, or that the services may not be ones which constitute the unauthorized practice of law in the jurisdiction.

Okey Dokey: Lawyer Falls for Advance Fee Fraud, Draws Client In

Seriously – is there anyone left who really believes a long-lost relative in Nigeria is going to send him $19 million upon the accommodation of paying a few thousand dollars in “expenses”? Apparently so, and his lawyer does too.

The Supreme Court of Iowa has suspended the license of Robert Allan Wright Jr. Wright represented one Floyd Madison in a criminal case. Madison advised Wright that he had documents indicating he would receive an inheritance of $18.8 million from a long-lost Nigerian cousin, upon payment of $177,660 in taxes on the inheritance. Wright agreed to help Madison obtain the money for a fee of 10 percent.

To raise the funds, Wright persuaded five clients to lend him money upon a promise of large returns. Eventually the clients lent Wright over $100,000. Wright paid the funds out to the persons seeking money for “estate taxes,” who identified themselves as the “Central Bank of Nigeria,” the “African Union,” the President of Nigeria, and a lawyer named Okey Okafor. Madison was informed that the money would be transferred to a Spanish diplomat in Madrid in the form of two suitcases full of cash, which he could pick up in Madrid. Madison traveled to Madrid and saw two suitcases, but (surprisingly enough) he did not take possession of them and did not recover any cash.

The Iowa court found that Wright violated several Rules of Professional Conduct relating to competence, conflicts of interest, and dishonesty, related to his failure to disclose his interests and the risky nature of the transaction. A charge that he assisted a client in conduct he knew to be illegal or fraudulent was withdrawn, as counsel for the Board noted that “Wright appears to have honestly believed — and continues to believe — that one day a trunk full of . . . one hundred dollar bills is going to appear upon his office doorstep.” The Board described this conduct as “delusional, but not fraudulent.”

Wright’s license was suspended with no possibility of reinstatement for one year.

The Court noted that “a cursory internet search using the query ‘anti-terrorism certificate’ in early 2011 would have revealed evidence that Madison’s dream of a Nigerian inheritance was probably based on a scam.” This is another illustration of a trend we have previously noted, holding that a lawyer’s duties of competence and diligence include a reasonable familiarity with and routine use of commonly available technological tools.

Model Rules on the Go

Now you never need to be in the dark about the American Bar Association’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Ready Reference Apps is now offering the Model Rules as part of its Rulebook mobile app for smartphones, tablets, and other devices that allows quick access to the Model Rules. It’s available for Apple devices from the Apple iStore. Sorry, Android and Windows fans; you’ll have to wait until 2014.

Although our website is mobile-friendly, the Disciplinary Board does not have an app. But things change. Stay tuned.

For those with a foot in the Age of Paper, the Disciplinary Board's new Blue rulebooks (now with larger font) are now available. Order here.

Bucky Badger Busted: Bizarre Stickup Nets Three-Year Suspension

The Supreme Court of Wisconsin has suspended a lawyer who was convicted of robbing a Madison credit union of $500 while wearing a “three-dimensional Bucky Badger[2] hat” and armed (in a manner of speaking) with a toy Star Wars gun. He was caught while wearing the conspicuous hat a week later.

Randall (or Randi) Hubatch was admitted to the bar in 2004 and inactivated for failure to pay bar fees in 2007. He told police he had $250,000 in student loan debt and couldn’t afford medicines on his earnings as a janitor. He requested to be sent to jail for a long time, or he would do it again. He said he only demanded $500 because he didn’t think the credit union would care about such a small amount of money.

Hubatch was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of probation. He agreed to a three-year suspension of his law license.

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[1]Bucky the Badger is the mascot of sports teams of the University of Wisconsin at Madison.