Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Probation For Forging Court Order

In the wake of yesterday's post on crack cocaine addiction as possible mitigation comes an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The court approved a recommendation of supervised probation in a case where the lawyer previously had been arrested and convicted of possession of heroin and cocaine. The Disciplinary Board imposed a private reprimand and two years probation as discipline for the conviction in 2006.

The misconduct here related to the attorney's handling of a civil action for a client. The client (who was aware of the lawyer's arrest) wanted the lawyer to press for answers to discovery from the other side that were overdue. The lawyer did not so. The client sought confirmation. In response, the lawyer fabricated a court order that purported to grant the relief that the client desired. Thereafter, the lawyer was discharged.

The Board concluded based on expert testimony that the attorney "had an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with hyperactive impulsivity, inattentiveness and executive dysfunction, leading to substance abuse" and that he is now " 'clean' and compliant with [treatment] recommendations." At the time of the misconduct, the attorney "was going through a difficult period in his life." Not only that, the client was "demanding and manipulative." The Board found that his "psychiatric condition at the time he was representing [the client] combined with what Respondent perceived as [the client's] demands led him to forge a judge's signature in order to placate [the client]...respondent has met his burden of proof pursuant to Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Braun, 553 A.2d 894 (Pa. 1989) and is entitled to mitigation." The probation "will serve the underlying purpose of the disciplinary system yet not destroy Respondent's young career." The Board recommended, and the court imposed, a three year probation.

Forgery caused by ADHD and inattentiveness? I can see the link between such conditions and neglect of client matters. I'm not sure about the casual connection when the misconduct involves the calculated creation of false documents with intent to deceive a client. (Mike Frisch)

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