Attorney E-Newsletter

June 2013

Addressing the Issues

The Disciplinary Board is changing the way addresses for attorneys are listed in the Attorney Registration database. Until now, attorneys provided two addresses – an office and a residence address – and optionally could provide a third address. Mail would be sent to the attorney’s office address, and that would be listed as the attorney’s public address on the Board’s website, unless the attorney requested otherwise.

Starting this year, attorneys will be asked to provide three addresses. They will be referred to as the Mailing address, the Office address, and the Residence address. This allows attorneys to select which address they will use for mailing. The attorney is also given the opportunity to select which address is to be listed on the Board’s website as a public access address. These changes have been incorporated into the 2013-2014 renewal form.

Attorneys need not provide any more information than in the past, but the new format simplifies the process of identifying which address the attorney desires to use for public purposes.

Yes, you may use the same address for multiple purposes, if accurate.

Registration forms have been mailed out and online registration renewal is now open. All forms and fees are due by July 1. As of August 1, non-waivable late fees begin to accrue, so don’t put your renewal off until the last minute.

Brian Cali Appointed to Disciplinary Board

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has appointed Brian Cali, of Lackawanna County, to a term on the Disciplinary Board ending April 16, 2016.

Cali is the owner of the Law Offices of Brian J. Cali in Dunmore, where he concentrates his practice on family law. His firm also concentrates on real estate and business law. A fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and a “Pennsylvania Super Lawyer” for six years, Cali also is a member of the American Bar Association; Pennsylvania Bar Association; Lackawanna Bar Association; American Association for Justice; and Pennsylvania Association for Justice. Additionally, he serves as a member of the Lackawanna County Family Law Rules Committee; member and past president of the Lackawanna County Library System Board; director at The Fidelity Deposit & Discount Bank in Dunmore; and chairman of Heritage Valley Partners, Inc.

Cali earned his undergraduate degree from Duquesne University in 1974 and his Juris Doctorate from Duquesne University School of Law in 1977.

Supreme Court Appoints Lawyers Fund Leaders

We too rarely acknowledge the fine work done by our sister organization, the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security (PLFCS). Funded by $35 per year out of each lawyer’s annual assessment, the PLFCS receives and evaluates claims from individuals who allege they have lost money due to the misconduct of lawyers, and sees to it that worthy claimants are compensated for their losses. In 2011-2012, the PLFCS paid 96 claims in the total amount of $2,272,570 to victims of lawyer misconduct.

The Supreme Court has appointed new leadership and a new member to the Board of the PLFCS. In 2013-2014, Edwin H. Beachler of Allegheny County will serve as Chair of the Board, and Grace R. Schuyler of Cumberland County will be Vice Chair. By order dated May 14, 2013, the Supreme Court appointed Stefanie J. Salavantis, District Attorney of Luzerne County, to serve as a member of the Board. Other members are Robert A. Graci, Bishop Keith Wayne Reed, Sr., and Lewis F. Gould, Jr. Kathryn J. Peifer is Executive Director of the Board and Lisa A. Watkins is Counsel to the Board.

Going to the Dogs

We have a hodgepodge of interesting ethics cases this month.

Alan Eisenberg, a Wisconsin attorney, was suspended after bringing a dog of a case. His client had ended a former marriage and signed an agreement divesting him of interest in all personal property in his ex-wife’s possession at the time of the decree, including the couple’s Labrador retriever who remained with the wife. Later the wife had the dog put to sleep at a veterinary hospital, without notice to the client. Despite his knowledge of the legal characterization of pet animals as personal property and of the terms of the divorce judgment, which awarded all personal property in her possession to the wife, Eisenberg filed a civil action on his client's behalf on the theory that the client was the lawful owner of the dog. Oddly, he filed the claim not against the wife, but against her mother. As the referee put it, Eisenberg “constructed a compelling narrative for the case: vicious, vindictive ex-mother-in-law has the perfectly healthy dog belonging to her ex-son-in-law euthanized. The only problem with the narrative was that it was untrue." The case was found to be frivolous, and Eisenberg was suspended for two years. There was another issue involving fee splitting, and this was his sixth incident of discipline.

A California attorney was convicted by a state bar court on disciplinary charges on several counts, including some related to her animal activist activities and her involvement in kennels described by animal control authorities as “deplorable.” Charlotte Spadaro is accused of accumulating animals in such numbers that they cannot be cared for and live in unacceptable conditions, but Spadaro insists she is keeping them out of public shelters where they may be euthanized. She was criminally convicted of keeping 180 dogs and cats in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. She also is accused of client misconduct including mishandling money, some of which she received in relation to her animal rights activities. Her public service, including time as mayor of Beverly Hills and a member and president of the Beverly Hills School Board, was considered in mitigation.

Law License (Plates)

License plates were in the ethics news this month as well. Two ethics opinions gave judges and lawyers a qualified green light to equip their cars with custom (“vanity” or “novelty”) license plates identifying their status.

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a report addressing the question of whether it is a violation of judicial ethics for a judge to purchase a novelty plate for the judge’s personal automobile identifying the owner as a judge. The inquiry arose out of a case in which a state magistrate used his influence to make traffic tickets issued to him and to a colleague’s wife disappear from the law enforcement and court records. After an extensive examination of the issue, the commission concluded that it is not a violation of judicial ethics per se for a judge to use a license plate identifying him as such, but that any use of judicial status “to avoid the consequences of a lawful traffic stop,” either by the judge or a family member, would subject the judge to sanctions. A dissenting opinion blasted the “milquetoast”[1] majority report as avoiding the real issues, and argued that the use of such a plate is a “flaunting” of judicial status that invites special treatment from law enforcement.

Custom plates also figure in a formal opinion by the North Carolina Bar. The bar considered whether a license plate bearing a law firm’s name was an advertisement that would have to include information required under Rule 7.2(c). The bar concluded that it was not an advertisement but a gift or promotional item, similar to “pens, pencils, hats, or coffee mugs bearing the name or logo of a law firm or lawyer.”

Horror Stories

Two young female attorneys got into trouble because of other careers.

A disciplinary complaint has been filed against Illinois attorney Reema Bajaj, following her plea of guilty to prostitution charges. The complaint alleges that between 2005 and 2011, Bajaj advertised her availability on an adult friend finder website under the name “Nikita,” and that on several occasions she performed sexual services on men she met through the site for money. In addition to charging that her prostitution conviction is proof of “a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects,” the complaint charges that she lied to disciplinary investigators about her conduct. A third count contends that in her 2008 bar application, she lied by answering “no” to a question as to whether she had been known by another name, since she used a false name in advertising her services,[2] failing to list her illicit services in response to a question as to all jobs held in the past ten years, and answering “no” to a question as to whether there was “any additional information with respect to possible misconduct or lack of moral qualification or general fitness on your part.”[3]

An Indiana law graduate’s extralegal occupation caught up with her not as a perpetrator, but as a victim. Identified only as “Jane Doe” in the reports, she maintained a career as an actress while attending law school. During an internship in an Indianapolis law firm, she attracted the romantic interest of an attorney named Arthur Usher.[4] When she refused his advances, Usher contacted the producer of a horror film in which she had appeared as an actress. The clip appeared to present her nude, although Usher knew the nudity was actually performed by a body double. Usher sent the film clip to an attorney at a firm where Jane Doe had accepted a position, suggesting her past film activity would adversely affect the firm’s reputation. When the firm proceeded to employ her, Usher prevailed on a paralegal to create a fake email account and distribute the clip and an email denouncing Jane Doe and her firm to a wider list of attorneys. Usher directed the paralegal to do so in a way that concealed the origins of the email with him.

After Jane Doe discovered what Usher had done, she obtained a restraining order and filed a civil suit against Usher. She served on him requests for admissions demanding he acknowledge his role in the email, to which he responded “deny.” Usher was fired from his firm, and after a disciplinary investigation of a complaint filed by Jane Doe, the Indiana Supreme Court rejected arguments that Usher’s actions were protected by the First Amendment and that they were not related to his practice of law, found him guilty of numerous violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and suspended him for three years without automatic reinstatement. One justice dissented in favor of disbarment.

Let Us Know

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[1] We love this word. How many names of a comic strip character have found their way into use as an English word? [This month’s topic for discussion.]

[2] Query: If a bar applicant has used “screen names” on Twitter or in online activities, is he/she required to reveal that in response to a question about being “known by” another name?

[3] If you’re expecting naughty comments and double entendres about this case from us, you’re looking in the wrong place. That place would be Above the Law.

[4] We’d make the obligatory “Fall of the House” joke here, but Mike Frisch at the Legal Profession Blog beat us to the punch.