Legal Ethics

Top Pa. Court Disbars Ex-Judge Convicted in Auto Insurance Fraud; Civil Suit Says Judge Is Victim

A retired Pennsylvania judge who at last report was serving a 46-month federal prison sentence after being convicted in a $440,000 auto insurance fraud case has been disbarred.

In a brief order (PDF) attaching an earlier Disciplinary Board report, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Thursday imposed the disbarment on Michael T. Joyce, retroactive to a temporary suspension imposed in 2009. He sat on the state superior court bench for decade, from Jan. 1, 1998 to Dec. 31, 2007.

Joyce had argued for a suspension rather than disbarment, pointing to suspensions imposed in similar cases involving two lawyers. However, the disciplinary board report said a judge should be held to a higher standard than an an attorney. It also cited a lack of remorse on Joyce’s part after he was convicted of mail fraud and money laundering concerning what the government described as a scheme to exaggerate his injuries from an auto accident.

“Respondent offered evidence of his military service, his prior unblemished disciplinary record, and endorsement of good character from colleagues as mitigating factors,” the board wrote. “However, a review of Respondent’s Statement Under Oath contains little expression of remorse for what occurred. Respondent repeatedly asserts that he did not engage in wrongdoing. … As to remorse, Respondent’s Statement made clear that any such feelings were directed to the pain and anguish that was caused to himself, his family, his friends and his employees.”

Previously stripped of his annual pension of nearly $82,000, Joyce filed suit in Pennsylvania state court last year contending that he was the victim of an insurer’s efforts to ensnare him in a “nefarious scheme,” the Erie Times-News reported at the time.

Joyce contends in the suit, which was originally filed in Allegheny County and then transferred to Erie County, that he was given favorable treatment concerning his claim and a then-confidential settlement because the insurer expected that it “would not only have a judge who generally was considered favorable to the insurance industry in deciding its cases, it would also have a judge who was secretly beholden to” the insurer, the newspaper article continues. He alleges that he thwarted this expectation by asking an official in charge of assigning cases to be sure he never got one involving that insurer.

Joyce asserts claims of breach of contract, fraud, bad faith and unjust enrichment in the civil suit. A spokesman for the defendant insurer denies any wrongdoing and promises a vigorous defense.

Hat tip: Legal Profession Blog.

Earlier coverage: “Wife of Jailed Ex-Judge Appeals Home Forfeiture, Seeks 3rd Circuit Ruling Protecting Her Interest”

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