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Legal Ethics

Justice’s wife, also his aide, has client referral sideline; is ‘magnetic personality’ the reason?

Posted Mar 4, 2013 8:40 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lise Rapaport is the wife of Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery as well as his chief judicial aide. She also makes money on the side, connecting clients with law firms.

Some critics are questioning the referral arrangement, which netted $821,000 for Rapaport in one recent med-mal settlement, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. But Dion Rassias, a lawyer for the justice and his wife, defended the referrals as “legitimate and proper” in a letter to the newspaper.

Rapaport has an "excellent reputation and magnetic personality," Rassias said, and that is why so many of her former private-practice clients come to her for legal advice. Rapaport then connects the clients to other lawyers, Rassias said. There is no requirement in the state that referring lawyers handle any work on the case.

McCaffery listed 18 instances in which his wife received a referral fee on his financial disclosure forms. “As the fees have come in,” the Inquirer says, “McCaffery has ruled on 11 Supreme Court cases in which some of the firms tied to the fees were participants. Lawyers in the cases say the justice never disclosed the fees.”

The Inquirer interviewed five ethics experts. Three said McCaffery should have disclosed the fees or recused himself in the cases involving the law firms. Two others said there was no obligation to disclose.

Another issue is whether the referrals constitute law practice. If so, court policies would require Rapaport to get approval from the chief justice for the work. Chief Justice Ronald Castille told the Inquirer he would not have given permission.

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