Disciplinary Reporter Case Digest

Attorney ID 38016
Attorney Name Mazzeo, Frank Anthony
DBP Docket No. 156 DB 2007
Supreme Court Docket No. 1461 DD No. 3
County Lackawanna
Disciplinary Counsel Joseph J. Huss
Counsel for Respondent Joseph Gerard Price
Decision Date 2009-01-30
Effective Date 2009-04-28
Case Digest Respondent, an experienced Social Security Disability Practitioner, represented an impoverished, functionally illiterate, and physically impaired individual in a Social Security Disability case. Respondent was successful in obtaining benefits for his client. Shortly after receiving the notice of decision, which included an order formally approving the fee agreement, Respondent was issued a check by the Social Security Administration for $3,748, representing the full amount provided for in the fee agreement. Subsequent correspondence informed both Respondent as well as his client, that this amount would be the maximum fee permitted. Nevertheless, Respondent contacted his client by letter and requested additional fees of approximately $3,300. The client paid the full amount Respondent claimed he was owed. Some weeks later, both client and Respondent were advised by the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General that Respondent would also be receiving legal fees in the approximate amount of $2,000 from that office. The Inspector Generalís correspondence further advised both client and Respondent that if the amount of this legal fee caused the total amount of legal fees to which Respondent was entitled to be exceeded, that client should contact Respondent and obtain a refund. These fees were then paid to Respondent. Client subsequently attempted a series of telephone communications with Respondent about the question of excessive legal fees. Respondent denied that he had collected any excessive fees, and refused to communicate further with his client. The Social Security Administration made two attempts to recoup excessive fees from Respondent. Respondent denied he had received any fees except those approved by the SSA. The Lackawanna County Bar Association Fee Dispute Committee opined that Respondent had, in fact, been overpaid; but Respondent continued to refuse to take any remedial action or refund any money. The client filed a complaint with the office of Disciplinary Counsel. Respondent stated in his answer that he had not received any additional fees whatsoever directly from the client, and that any receipts the client claimed to have were fabricated by the client. He denied receiving any money whatsoever from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Moreover, he attached to his answer, as an exhibit, a purported letter he claimed to have sent to client., which supposedly instructed client to disregard the letter requesting additional fees. Later Respondent admitted that he had made misrepresentations, that he had received additional money directly from the client, as well as from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, that the receipts in clientís possession were true and correct, and that he had fabricated the letter attached to his Answer in an effort to mislead Disciplinary Counsel. Over the next several months, he made full restitution to the client. Respondent was barred from representing clients in Social Security Administration matters. Respondent was cooperative with Disciplinary Counselís investigation. By Order dated April 28, 2009, the Supreme Court directed that Respondent be suspended for a period of 5 years.
Rule Violation(s) 1.5(a); 8.1(a); 8.4(b) and 8.4(c)
Discipline Imposed Suspension for five years
Points of Law
Report/Opinion Download