Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 10373
Attorney Name Harris, James W.
DBP Docket No. 25 DB 2006
Supreme Court Docket No. 1273 DD No. 3
County York
Disciplinary Counsel E. Frownfelter, Patti Bednarik
Counsel for Respondent None
Decision Date 2007-09-24
Effective Date 2007-10-24
Case Digest Respondent was charged in one Count with practicing law when he knew he was on Inactive Status, as represented by his on behalf of clients having filed an Amended Counterclaim in one matter and a Praecipe for Writ of Summons in a second matter. The Respondent had no defense to the charge and the Hearing Committee and the Disciplinary Board determined that the Petitioner, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, had proven the charged Rules of Professional Conduct and Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement. Respondent was charged in a second Count with having agreed to represent a client in an appeal of a criminal conviction for a retainer of $5,000, but for which representation there was no written fee agreement. A Notice of Appeal and a Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal were filed. The client was then jailed on new charges and the Respondent undertook representation on that matter, received a retainer of $3,500, and initially undertook trying to locate a witness the client advised could provide an alibi defense. An alibi defense could not be established and after entering a guilty plea the client demanded a return of a portion of the retainer. The Disciplinary Board concurred in the determination of the Hearing Committee that the Respondentís testimony, and corroborating documentation, was more credible as to the existence of proper fee agreements establishing non-refundable retainers than the contrary testimony of the client, and that the work performed by the Respondent was fair, reasonable and necessary. The Disciplinary Board accepted the Hearing Committee determination that the second Count be dismissed. The Board, one member dissenting, noted that the Committee recommendation of a suspension for a year and a day, which would require formal reinstatement proceedings, was within the range of discipline previously imposed for having practiced law while on Inactive Status, but determined that in the particular circumstance of this matter that a suspension of nine months was appropriate. The Board recommendation of a suspension of nine months was accepted and imposed by the Court.
Rule Violation(s) RPC 5.5(a) and (b). Pa. R.D.E. 217(d) and (j).
Discipline Imposed 9 months suspension
Points of Law Practicing law while knowingly on Inactive Status will warrant some period of suspension. The Disciplinary Board will give great deference to credibility findings of the Hearing Committee.
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