Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Report On Pennsylvania Juvenile Court Failures

The web page of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reports:

On May 27, 2010, the Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice issued its final report on its inquiry arising out of highly publicized failures in the juvenile justice system of Luzerne County. The Interbranch Commission was established in August 2009 by representatives of all three branches of government in Pennsylvania to consider ways to strengthen and improve the justice system statewide. The Commission’s Final Report is available online here. A summary of its recommendations is available here.

The Commission addressed, among other topics, ways to improve the disciplinary systems for judges and lawyers, enhance services to victims of juvenile crimes, provide better training for lawyers and judges who work in juvenile courts, and establish statewide ethical standards for juvenile probation officers.

While much of the focus of the report was on failings within the court system, the Commission did express concern about the role of some lawyers in the scandal. The Commission noted:

The Commission is concerned at the possibility, if not the probability, that no lawyer practicing in Judge Ciavarella’s courtroom ever filed a complaint to the Disciplinary Board against a fellow lawyer alleging a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. In addition, while attorneys witnessing unethical behavior by judges are bound to report the judge’s behavior to the Judicial Conduct Board, the Judicial Conduct Board reported that no such complaints were filed by any attorneys present at the juvenile proceedings which have been the subject of the commission’s investigation. Report, Page 45

As to the lawyer disciplinary system, the Commission recommended that:

    1. The Disciplinary Board create appropriate educational materials for the general public and for attorneys. This will assure that both the bar and the community at large understand what constitutes a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct and how to file a complaint.
    2. The Web site of the Disciplinary Board be redesigned so that it offers a clear and simple mechanism to file complaints electronically.
    3. The Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board Regulations be amended to provide that of the 12 continuing legal education credit hours a Pennsylvania attorney is required to earn each year; the minimum number of ethics credits should be increased from one hour to two hours per year; and, an attorney should be required to attend at least one hour of continuing legal education every five years on the topic of the duty to report misconduct by judges and other attorneys.
    4. Courses which are offered to satisfy the ethics continuing legal education requirement provide meaningful and inspirational programming. Report, Pages 45-46

The leadership of the Disciplinary Board and the Pennsylvania Continuing Legal Education Board are examining the report and the recommendations to determine action steps to achieve the goals set by the Interbranch Commission.

(Mike Frisch)

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