Legal Ethics

Paper Explores Why Pa. Lawyers Allowed to Practice After Conviction

John Karoly, a solo from Allentown, Pa., pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges last July and was convicted of money laundering last November.

Yet Karoly is still practicing law—a week ago, even, he talked to the Pennsylvania State University Daily Collegian about a wrongful prosecution suit he’s pursuing.

This puzzled a reader and columnist of the Allentown Morning Call, who didn’t know why they were still seeing the attorney’s casework in the papers.

So columnist Bill White got to the bottom of it: In Pennsylvania, lawyers do not have to stop practicing until they are a convicted of a crime, and under this rule, “conviction” does not occur until sentencing. More specifically, under Rule 214 of the Pennyslvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement (PDF) “an attorney convicted of a serious crime shall report the fact of such conviction to the secretary of the [Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania] within 20 days after the date of sentencing,” and not before. Karoly is set to be sentenced April 22.

“It’s certainly embarrassing when one of our fellow members of the bar is convicted of a serious offense—even more embarrassing when they’ve pled guilty to it—and they’re still permitted to practice law,” lawyer Gary Asteak of Easton, Pa., told White.

White also wonders whether a looming sentencing and subsequent disbarment might make a lawyer settle a civil suit more quickly and for less money.

He is not alone in thinking so. Paul Killion, the state’s chief of disciplinary counsel, told White that a proposed subsection to Rule 214 was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin last month to solicit comments. The subsection would redefine “conviction” to mean any guilty verdict after trial by judge or jury or any guilty plea accepted by the court, whether or not sentence has been imposed. Killion told White he expects no opposition from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.