decided: March 25, 1974.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION
Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, No. 72-11633, in case of Montgomery County Bar Association v. Samuel J. Hecht.
Neil E. Jokelson, with him Jokelson & Rosen, for appellant.
Jerome B. Nulty, with him Morris Gerber, and Clemens and Nulty, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy and Manderino, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. Mr. Justice Nix took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
[ 456 Pa. Page 14]
Samuel J. Hecht, the appellant, is an attorney-at-law, duly licensed to practice at the bar of this Court and in the courts of Pennsylvania. A resident of Montgomery County, he has had a law office and been engaged in the practice of law in the borough of Cheltenham in that county since November of 1966.*fn1 On October
[ 456 Pa. Page 1520]
, 1972, the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County suspended Mr. Hecht from practicing law before it for a period of one year.*fn2 It is from that order that this appeal is taken.*fn3
At the threshold of this case, we deem it appropriate, because of its basic nature, to consider a problem which neither party has raised, viz., the competence of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County to suspend a lawyer from practice before that court. Our first observation is that a complaint of unethical practice or violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility,
[ 456 Pa. Page 16]
were it to arise today, would not be within the cognizance of the court below or any other court of common pleas, but of The Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania established by the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement adopted by this Court in 1972 under its powers to prescribe general rules for admission to the bar and to practice law. Constitution of Pennsylvania, art. V, § 10(c). The Disciplinary Rules superseded all other court rules and statutes pertaining to disciplinary enforcement previously promulgated. See Preamble to The Disciplinary Rules and also the repealer section of the Rules, Rule 17-24. The present proceedings, however, antedated the effective date of the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement and, hence, were properly not transferred to the new Board.*fn4
The second preliminary concern relates to the power of the court below to suspend from practice in its jurisdiction an attorney who is, at the time, a member in good standing of the bar of this Court. Rule 14 of this Court (since amended and renumbered Rule 13) was in effect at the commencement of the present proceeding and provided, inter alia, that admission to the bar of the Supreme Court "shall entitle such attorney to practice in every Court of this Commonwealth, upon
[ 456 Pa. Page 17]
presentation to such Court of a certificate of the Supreme Court that the attorney is a member of the bar of this Court in good standing". (419 Pa. xxxii.) The question arises whether, in light of this rule, a lawyer such as appellant who was in good standing before this Court and thus entitled to practice anywhere in the Commonwealth could for cause shown be suspended by the court of common pleas of one judicial district from the right to practice before that court. This question has not arisen heretofore, so far as we are aware, and in light of the new Disciplinary Rules, it is not likely to recur. The answer to it in this case, it seems to us, is that the appellant was domiciled in Montgomery County, maintained a law office there, and committed the offense in a judicial proceeding in that court. The Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County had, therefore, a direct and peculiar interest in monitoring the professional conduct of appellant and administering appropriate discipline. It was obviously not intending to usurp an exclusive power of this Court, nor acting in any secretive manner, for in accordance with past practice in such matters, it directed copies of its decree to be sent to this and the other appellate courts of this Commonwealth, and the appropriate federal district court.
Moreover, we are mindful that the purpose of the quoted portion of Rule 14, originally adopted November 18, 1965 (419 Pa. xxv), was to permit the statewide practice of law in Pennsylvania, and eliminate the then existing fragmentation of that right by the need to be admitted to practice in any county other than the one in which a lawyer maintained his law office. It was not designed to take away the control that the courts of common pleas historically exercised over the professional conduct of members of their bars. That did not come about until later, with the adoption of The Disciplinary Rules heretofore mentioned.
[ 456 Pa. Page 18]
We conclude, accordingly, that the decree here involved was within the competence of the court below at the time that it was entered. We, therefore, address the merits of the appeal.
The order of the court below was in response to a charge of the Committee of Censors of the Montgomery County Bar Association that, in a deposition taken in aid of execution of a judgment obtained against Hecht and his wife in a lawsuit in Montgomery County, appellant had given perjured testimony as to ownership of certain real estate.*fn5 At a hearing before the committee,
[ 456 Pa. Page 19]
the appellant denied any intention to lie, but persisted in his assertions that he did not know who owns the property in question, stating that it was a matter of legal interpretation. The committee in its report concluded that "when [Hecht stated that] he didn't know who owned the property when he was a grantor gives pause for serious concern. His further reaction that he didn't think he had any interest in it when he had full power to revoke [the declaration of trust for his children] is a conclusion which no reasonable [sic] minded person could accept . . . . When he . . . testified that he did not know in whose name the property was held, he was obviously telling an untruth". The committee recommended admonition and censure or such suspension as the court might deem proper.
The appellant made no objection before the Committee of Censors or the lower court as to the procedures followed or the evidence adduced; the sole question was the sufficiency of the evidence to establish that a lie had been told. At the hearing before President Judge Groshens following receipt of the committee's report, appellant's counsel pointed out that the judgment in question had been paid in full and made a plea for a "generous and mild" disposition; the appellant,
[ 456 Pa. Page 20]
given an opportunity to speak in his own behalf, stated, "I have nothing to say, your Honor." We have no doubt, on reading the entire record before us, that the bar committee was fully justified in concluding that appellant had lied under oath, and, therefore, that the Court of Common Pleas was equally justified in approving and acting upon the committee's report.*fn6
The appellant contends that even if he did lie in his deposition testimony, this was not an act which warrants the imposition of discipline, since it did not involve unprofessional conduct in his office of attorney. Act of April 14, 1834, P.L. 333, § 73, 17 P.S. § 1661 ("If an attorney at law shall misbehave himself in his office of attorney, he shall be liable to suspension, removal from office, or to such other penalties as have hitherto been allowed in such cases by the laws of this Commonwealth").*fn7 (Emphasis supplied.) This issue was not raised below, and there is no warrant for us to consider it now. We must note, however, lest there be any misapprehension, that it would be anomalous indeed for us to condemn, as we do, a lawyer's knowing participation in the introduction of perjured testimony by a client, see EC 7-26, Code of Professional Responsibility, 438 Pa. xxv, at xciii, and at the same time condone the giving of such testimony by a lawyer himself.*fn8 The Code of Professional Responsibility
[ 456 Pa. Page 21]
merely states the obvious and declares pre-existing law when it provides that a lawyer shall not engage in "conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation" or conduct that is "prejudicial to the administration of justice". [DR 1-102 (A)(4) and (5), 438 Pa. xxxi.] False swearing in a judicial proceeding is certainly an egregious species of dishonesty and is surely also patently prejudicial to the administration of justice. This is doubly so when it is a lawyer who is the perjurer.*fn9 That the lawyer was acting on his own behalf and not that of a client when the perjurious statements were made can in no wise serve to insulate him from disciplinary action by the courts to which he is admitted to practice. As we said in In Re Gottesfeld, 245 Pa. 314, 317, 91 A. 494 (1914): "It was of no consequence that in commiting [sic] the offense of which he was convicted appellant was exercising no function of his professional office. The offense was in its nature crimen falsi, involving employment of falsehood to injuriously affect the administration of public justice, and was therefore an infamous offense. The disbarrment that followed was not punitive, but protective simply. Courts can command public confidence only as those who serve therein are themselves observant
[ 456 Pa. Page 22]
of the law which it is the duty of the courts to enforce. In his high office the attorney-at-law is a minister of justice; he ceases so to be when, whether in the line of his professional work or outside of it, he prostitutes his knowledge of the law and the skill he has acquired therein to thwart the law by deceit and falsehood in its one and only purpose, viz, to accomplish distributive justice among men." See also Wolfe's Disbarrment, 288 Pa. 331, 135 A. 732 (1927).
Appellant also contends that he was denied due process of law in that he was not informed of the charges against him and in that the rule of court under which the Committee of Censors acted (authorizing investigation of attorneys "in their conduct as individuals involving moral turpitude") sets an unconstitutionally vague standard.*fn10 Neither point was made below, and appellant may not raise them for the first time on appeal.
The order is affirmed.