||Following the filing of an April 29, 2002 Petition for Discipline covering eleven separate matters, a disciplinary hearing was held on September 30, 2002.
Eight of the charged matters involved Respondent’s handling of criminal cases, typically PCRA matters, in his capacity as Lackawanna County’s “conflicts” counsel. The evidence established the existence of administrative problems, including inadequate personnel to properly compile and maintain accurate information related to criminal cases, transcripts from criminal proceedings that were frequently not prepared in a timely manner, and communication problems between the court administrator and clerk of court as to the status of criminal cases.
Respondent represented a substantial number of criminal defendants during the mid to late 1990s, at which time the aforementioned problems were most pronounced. He was found to have engaged in misconduct during this period, including repeated failures to petition the court for the prompt production/duplication of transcripts, which, in some cases, had already been transcribed and lodged in the clerk of court’s file. As a matter of Lackawanna County practice, these transcripts were nevertheless not made available to Respondent; instead, he was required to seek their duplication by the attending court reporter, or, in the alternative, to seek a court order directing their prompt production. He never took the latter step, notwithstanding delays of months, and in some cases years, in receiving transcripts requested from court reporters.
Respondent also failed to timely file the various pleadings, including notices of appeal and briefs, and failed to communicate with various clients over periods of a year or more, despite their efforts to contact him.
By virtue of this conduct, Respondent was found to have violated RPC 1.1, 1.3, 1.4(a), 1.4(b) and 8.4(d), despite the administrative problems which were proffered as possibly mitigating circumstances.
In a separate neglect matter, Respondent was retained by an out-of-state individual to handle a salary arbitration matter. After receiving a retainer, Respondent did virtually no work and, as a result, was ultimately discharged by his client. His conduct also resulted in violations of RPC 1.1., 1.3, 1.4(a) and 1.4(b).
Finally, and most seriously, Respondent engaged in conversion of client funds in two matters. More specifically, he was paid $2,000 for the purpose of retaining an expert witness. Instead of using the money for that purpose, he used most of these funds ($1,750) for his own purposes, without the client’s knowledge or consent. In addition, he neglected the client’s civil matter, by failing to respond to a series of pretrial Motions, resulting in the dismissal of the client’s case. He then filed a Superior Court Notice of Appeal, but failed to file a brief, resulting in the dismissal of the appeal by the Superior Court.
In the second money-related matter, Respondent took possession of $5,000 belonging to a client who was incarcerated. Rather than disbursing the funds pursuant to the incarcerated client’s instructions, Respondent spent the money for his own purposes, without the knowledge or consent of the client. Some months later, from unknown sources, he finally paid the client what was owed, apparently using personal funds to do so.
In connection with these two “money cases,” Respondent was found to have violated RPC 1.15(a) and (b), and 8.4(c).
|Points of Law
||Where a respondent has previously received notice from Disciplinary Counsel, by way of a “Letter of Concern” that certain conduct is problematic, and where that conduct is subsequently repeated, the existence of the Letter of Concern notification constitutes an aggravating circumstance.
Notwithstanding the existence of administrative or systemic problems in connection with the handling of Post-Conviction Relief Act matters, and other similar criminal matters, appointed counsel is fully subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct, including the duties to act with competence, diligence, and to reasonably communicate with clients.