Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 31181
Attorney Name Stenhach, George  
DBP Docket No. 11 DB 2001
Supreme Court Docket No. 625 D.D. No. 3
County Potter
Disciplinary Counsel Edwin W. Frese, Jr.
Counsel for Respondent Samuel C. Stretton
Decision Date 2002-11-25
Effective Date 2002-12-25
Case Digest Respondent and his brother practiced law together. During the period of 1982 to 1989, Respondents were the subject of highly publicized criminal and disciplinary proceedings related to their decision to hold a rifle stock they discovered during their investigation of murder charges against their client. They were convicted of tampering with evidence and hindering prosecution, which convictions were reversed on appeal by the Superior Court on the basis that the statutes were unconstitutionally overbroad as applied to attorneys. Commonwealth v. Stenhach, 514 A.2d 114 (1986). Disciplinary proceedings followed but the charges were dismissed by the Board. In re Anonymous Nos. 45 & 46 DB 85, 3 Pa.D.&C.4th 144 (1989). During the same period, Respondents failed to file income tax returns or to pay their taxes. In 1992, the IRS began an investigation which resulted in Respondents pleading guilty in 1996 to one count of willful failure to file their 1991 federal income tax returns. As a result of those convictions, disciplinary proceedings were initiated. Respondents sought mitigation on the basis that their earlier state criminal convictions and disciplinary prosecutions had had a devastating effect on their law practice and caused great financial difficulties. They assured the hearing committee that they would timely file their tax returns henceforth. On November 17, 1998 they were publicly censured, instead of suspended. However, while Respondents were working with the IRS relative to filing their returns and paying taxes, they continued to fail to file state tax returns or pay state taxes. In June of 1999, Respondents were charged with two counts each of willful failure to file and willful failure to pay their Pennsylvania income taxes for the years 1996 and 1997. In 2000, they were found guilty by a jury and sentenced to serve 30 days in jail, which terms were staggered, and fined $1000. Respondents were unsuccessful in convincing the Hearing Committee and the Board that their 2000 state convictions were “part and parcel” with their 1996 federal convictions which should, at most, result in the same discipline, i.e., public censures. Rather, the Respondents' continued violations after their prior convictions and the assurances to the hearing committee in the prior proceeding were viewed as significant aggravating circumstances that mandated the imposition of suspensions. Respondents' request that any suspensions be staggered was rejected. The Hearing Committee recommended a year and a day. The Board recommended nine months.
Rule Violation(s) 8.4(b)
Discipline Imposed Nine month suspension
Points of Law Subsequent conviction of failure to file warrants suspension. Respondents’ request that their suspensions be staggered so that they could maintain their partnership was rejected as it would not serve the purpose of a suspension, which is to protect the public. Further, the Pa.R.D.E. and RCP would preclude continuing the partnership. Under RPC 5.4(b), where one partner is suspended, the partnership must be dissolved as an attorney cannot practice law in partnership with a non-lawyer. Under RPC 7.1 and 7.5(d), the non-suspended partner can no longer practice under the firm name as such would be misleading. Finally, Rule 217(j)(4)(i) would preclude the suspended lawyer doing any law related work for the non-suspended lawyer.
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