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Attorney E-Newsletter

May 2014

McLemore to Chair Board; Todd in Second Chair

By order dated May 13, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania appointed R. Burke McLemore, Jr. (Dauphin County) as Chair of the Disciplinary Board, and Stephan K. Todd (Butler County) as Vice-Chair for a term commencing May 17, 2014. The Court also appointed David Alan Fitzsimons (Cumberland County) as a member of the Disciplinary Board.

In an order dated April 30, 2014, the Court appointed P. Brennan Hart (Allegheny County) and Andrew J. Trevelise (Philadelphia) to terms on the Board expiring April 1, 2017.

Disciplinary Board Files 2013 Report

The Disciplinary Board has filed its Annual Report for 2013 with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Here are a few facts of interest from the report:

  • The Attorney Registration system reports 63,633 active and 10,634 inactive attorneys. In 1972-1973, when the Disciplinary Board was founded, 13,057 attorneys were registered as active.
  • For the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year, 32% of attorneys registered online, which was a slight increase from the prior year.
  • In 2013, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel received 4,316 new complaints, and closed 4,281 cases, 230 of which resulted in discipline.
  • The Office of Disciplinary Counsel presented 28 joint petitions for discipline by consent. 19 of these were approved, 6 were denied, and 3 remained pending at the end of the year. Of those approved, 4 resulted in private discipline and 14 resulted in public discipline.
  • Board Members reviewed and approved 75 reinstatements from attorneys on inactive status, retired status or administrative suspension for more than three years under a new procedure which cuts down the processing time on these types of reinstatements from an average of six months to about three months, and also reduces costs to the petitioner seeking reinstatement.
  • 220,201 unique visitors accessed the Board’s website. The top pages visited were: Look up Attorney, Attorney Home Page, Recent Supreme Court Actions, Online Address Change and Consumers Home Page. 69% of the visits were made from Pennsylvania.

Supreme Court Alters Fee Allocation Formula

By an order dated May 1, 2014, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania modified Rule 219(a) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement and Rule 1.15(u) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct to change the allocation of the annual fee charged active attorneys. For FY 2014-2015, $125 is allocated the Disciplinary Board (down from $135); the Pennsylvania Lawyers Fund for Client Security will receive $40.00 (unchanged); and the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts Board (IOLTA) is $35.00. Additional funds were allocated to the IOLTA fund which continues to suffer revenue loss because of low interest rates. The total annual fee for active lawyers remains at $200.00.

Annual Registration Period in Full Swing

As we have often mentioned, registration time is here, and the online portal is now open. All attorneys must register by July 1, or late fees may accrue. On August 1, a late payment penalty of $150.00 will be added to the registration fee. A second late payment penalty of $150.00 will be charged to the delinquent account if not paid by September 2. Neither the Board nor the staff members are authorized to waive these fees for any reason.

If you have difficulty renewing your registration online, a video tutorial is available here.

A Can of Paint, a Jar of Peanut Butter, a Sixpack, and a Power of Attorney

A pair of Canadian lawyers found a fresh new venue for their high-volume, low-fee practice in the first place one thinks of for high volume and low prices – Walmart.

Axess Law has opened up in a Walmart in Markham, Ontario, offering basic services such as simple wills, real estate documents, powers of attorney, and document notarization. Partner Lena Koke says, “A lot of people are intimidated by lawyers. This is a non-intimidating setting.”

Matters involving hearings or litigation are referred to other firms, although the partners contemplate adding uncontested divorces in the near future. They have opened additional offices in other Walmarts, and hope eventually to spread the franchise across Canada.

Will law offices pop up in retail settings in the United States? If so, one ABA Journal commenter has the perfect trade name: Lawmart.

We’re Shocked! Shocked!

A California attorney set a whole new standard for shocking trial behavior. Appearing pro hac vice in a Utah case, Attorney Don Howarth was cross-examining an expert witness in a case involving electrical shocks to cattle. When witness Dr. Meliopoulos testified that a person would not even feel the current generated by a 1.5 volt AAA battery, Howarth produced a “shock pen” powered by one AAA battery and asked Dr. Meliopoulos to test it. He did not reveal that the pen contained a transformer that could convert direct current from the 1.5 volt battery to deliver an alternating current shock of 750 volts, which is capable of killing a person with health conditions or over 60. Dr. Meliopoulos took the challenge to test the pen, and it administered a nasty shock.

Judge James Brady took a dim view of Howarth’s courtroom stunt. In an order dated April 26, 2014, he found that Howarth had engaged in a lack of candor in violation of Rule 3.3(a)(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct, and had also committed battery on the witness.[1] He ordered Howarth to pay $3,000 in sanctions -- $2,000 to the opposing party for the disruption caused by the tactic, and $1,000 to the witness for inflicting the shock. Brady declined to revoke Howarth’s pro hac vice admission.

Howarth, who defends his act as "aggressive cross-examination," has stated his intent to appeal.

There may be times when the conduct of witnesses may inspire thoughts of antisocial acts in a lawyer. This reenactment of an actual deposition transcript illustrates a lawyer’s frustration when the word “photocopier” is more than a witness can fathom.

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. Write us at comments@padisciplinaryboard.org.

[1] We bow in homage to the wordplay inherent in this finding.