February 26, 2009
License Saved To Pay off Malpractice Judgment
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered a stayed two-year suspension, probation for four years, and monthly restitution payments of $5,000 in a matter where the attorney had represented a retired police officer in a dispute over pension benefits. The attorney took no action for several years after writing a single letter. He concocted a false story that had the client and his wife come to the courthouse for proceedings that did not exist and conveyed "imaginary' settlement offers. When he finally filed a complaint, the statute of limitation had run.
After a second contrived meeting, the lawyer told the client's wife that her husband "would have a 'green' Christmas" for 2003. The client died in January 2004. The lawyer's subterfuge continued until 2007, when the surviving spouse learned the truth. She sued for malpractice and obtained a judgment payable in 48 installments of $5,000 per month. The lawyer had not apologized to her prior to the bar hearing but was "ashamed of his actions."
The Disciplinary Board found the misconduct "inexplicably callous and insensitive, besides being downright dishonest." But, the restitution obligation can only be satisfied if he practices law: "[t]he only way [he] can make the payments is to be gainfully employed." Thus, the board concludes, the victim "would suffer harm for a second time" if the lawyer were suspended and defaulted on his obligations under the civil judgment. (Mike Frisch)
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