Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

by
Petitioner challenged as unconstitutional certain restrictions imposed upon attorneys who were employed by the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (Board), and sought declaratory and injunctive relief. The Board filed preliminary objections, asserting petitioner lacked standing to pursue her claim, her claim was not yet ripe, and in any event, her claim failed on the merits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overruled the Board’s preliminary objections as to standing and ripeness, but nevertheless concluded petitioner was not entitled to relief on the merits as the restrictions included in the Gaming Act were constitutionally sound. View "Yocum v. PA Gaming Control Board" on Justia Law

by
This case arose from the unemployment compensation claim filed by appellee Gary Powell. The Unemployment Compensation Service Center determined appellee was ineligible to receive benefits pursuant to Section 402(b) of the Unemployment Compensation Law (the UC Law) because he voluntarily quit his job with Joe Krentzman & Sons (employer), without “cause of a necessitous and compelling nature.” The Supreme Court granted discretionary review to consider whether an attorney who has been suspended from the practice of law by the Supreme Court could represent a claimant in unemployment compensation proceedings. A divided three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court determined the claimant was entitled to his choice of representative, even if that representative was a suspended attorney, and remanded for a new hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision to remand, but reversed the Commonwealth Court’s holding that a suspended attorney may represent claimants in unemployment compensation proceedings. View "Powell v. UCBR" on Justia Law

by
In response to time demands of this primary election appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court entered a per curiam order on an expedited basis vacating the order of the Commonwealth Court and directing that Appellee Michael W. Beyer’s name be stricken from the primary ballot for the Democratic Party nomination for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly for the 131st Legislative District. In the per curiam order, the Court stated that an opinion would follow; this was that opinion. Beyer filed nomination petitions with the Department of State seeking placement of his name on the ballot for Democratic Nomination for the Office of Representative in the General Assembly. Appellant Objectors, qualified electors residing in the 131st Legislative District, petitioned to set aside the nomination petition on grounds that Beyer intentionally misrepresented his occupation as “lawyer” on both his Statement of Financial Interests (SOFI) and nomination petitions. At a hearing, .Beyer confirmed he had graduated law school, but had yet to pass or even take any state’s bar examination. Consequently, he was not licensed to practice law at the time he circulated his nomination petitions. He listed his occupation as “lawyer,” he said, because he understood the definition of “lawyer” as found in the Oxford English Dictionary to include someone who studied the law. He therefore thought it fair comment to describe his profession or occupation as “lawyer” on his nomination petition. Though she found that he likely used the title of “lawyer” to “enhance his stature with the electorate,” the trial judge accepted Beyer's explanation that he believed his having studied law and graduated law school in the past, alone, entitled him to claim the occupation. Appellant Objectors contended the Commonwealth Court erred in failing to find that Beyer’s self-designation as a lawyer-by-occupation represented a material defect borne of the intent to mislead the electorate. The Supreme Court agreed: the defect was both material to an elector’s decision to nominate a legislator and incurable by amendment because the candidate knew his representation had the potential to mislead signers about his credentials for the legislative office he sought. Having demonstrated as much, Objectors met their burden of disproving the presumptive validity of the contested nomination petition. Striking Mr. Beyer’s petition under such circumstances to avoid misleading the electorate was consistent with the Election Code’s purpose of protecting, and not defeating, a citizen’s vote. View "In Re: Nom. of Michael W. Beyer" on Justia Law

by
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery has been temporarily relieved of his responsibilities on the Court. Media reports alleged that Justice McCaffery attempted to fix traffic tickets against his wife, authorized her "to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars in referral fees from plaintiffs’ firms while she served as [his] administrative assistant, and that he may have attempted to exert influence over a judicial assignment on the Philadelphia common pleas bench outside the scope of his official duties. Adding to the controversy was the Justice's acceptance of responsibility for exchanging hundreds of sexually explicit emails with a member or members of the Office of Attorney General, which surfaced in the course of the Attorney General’s review of the handling of the Gerald Sandusky investigation. Within thirty days, the Judicial Conduct Board shall make a determination, on an emergency basis, whether there is or is not probable cause to file formal misconduct charges against Justice McCaffery concerning any of the aforementioned allegations. View "In re: Mr. Justice Seamus McCaffery" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

by
The Judicial Conduct Board filed a complaint against Magisterial District Judge (MDJ) Thomas Carney, alleging that appellee Carney violated Article V, section 18(d)(1) of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Rules 2A and 11 of the Rules Governing Standards of Conduct of Magisterial District Judges. Following the Court of Judicial Discipline’s dismissal of the Board’s complaint, the Board appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the CJD erred in concluding that appellee did not violate any of the enumerated provisions. Two separate incidents gave rise to charges against appellee. One involved his work on an anti-graffiti task force and the solicitation of donations for the group’s work. The other involved a traffic incident in which appellee displayed his middle finger to the occupants of another car he tried to pass along the interstate; the drivers exchanged obscenities, and the incident ended with appellee rolling down his window, driving alongside the other vehicle, and displaying a silver handgun for the other car to see. Police were called, and charges were filed: making terroristic threats, simple assault, disorderly conduct and recklessly endangering another person. Following a trial, the CJD concluded appellee did not violate Rule 11 with regard to the solicitation of donations for the task force. Further, the CJD concluded the Board failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that appellee’s conduct was so extreme as to bring his office into disrepute. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and part. The Court affirmed the CJD in its conclusion with regard to the task-force solicitations. But the Court disagreed that the Board did not establish appellee’s conduct was “so extreme as to brought the judicial office itself into disrepute.” That portion of the CJD’s order was reversed and the case remanded for the imposition of a sanction consistent with the misconduct. View "In Re: Carney, Magisterial District Judge" on Justia Law

by
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Court of Judicial Discipline ("CJD") erred in permanently removing Lehigh County Magisterial District Judge MaryEsther S. Merlo ("Appellant") from judicial office. After careful consideration, the Court found the CJD's sanction was lawful under the circumstances of this case. With regard to Appellant's work habits, the CJD concluded her practice of repeatedly calling off and consistently arriving late constituted a violation of MDJ Rule 4C, and that her conduct was "so extreme as to bring the judicial office into disrepute," constituting a violation of Pa. Const. art. V, sec. 18(d)(1). The CJD further determined Appellant's repeated absences, repeated continuances, and failure to dispose of truancy cases and sign paperwork in a timely manner demonstrated that she did not devote the time necessary for the prompt and proper disposition of the business of her office, in violation of MDJ Rule 3A, and that she neglected and failed to perform the duties of her office, again in violation of Pa. Const. art. V, sec. 18(d)(1). Finally, the CJD concluded Appellant's conduct violated the mandate of MDJ Rule 5A that a magisterial district judge diligently discharge her administrative duties and facilitate the performance of the administrative responsibilities of her staff, noting that Appellant's conduct actually interfered with, rather than facilitated, her staff's performance of their responsibilities: "[i]t is beyond hypocritical for a judge who repeatedly fails to appear, or consistently appears late, for scheduled court proceedings to lecture and impose sanctions upon a juvenile who is appearing before the judge due to truancy issues. Such conduct undermines the very purpose of the proceedings and makes a mockery of the judicial system." The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the CJD removing Appellant from judicial office and precluding her from holding judicial office in the future. View "In Re: Maryesther S. Merlo, Magisterial District Judge" on Justia Law