No. 303 Disciplinary Docket No. 1, Disciplinary Board No. 65 DB 80
Edwin W. Frese, Jr., Asst. Disciplinary Counsel, Philadelphia, for petitioner.
John R. Moore, Selinsgrove, for respondent.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott and Hutchinson, JJ.
Respondent, James W. Knepp, Jr., was admitted to the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1971, and, at the time disciplinary proceedings in the instant matter commenced, maintained a law office in Selinsgrove, Snyder County. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a Petition for Discipline on December 24, 1980, in which it complained in four separate charges of numerous violations of the Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility discussed below. Respondent filed an answer admitting all allegations and requesting a hearing on mitigating circumstances before a hearing committee. The matter was referred to Hearing Committee 3.06 (Committee) which, after a hearing on February 27, 1981, found violations of all Disciplinary Rules on the first, second and third charges. On the fourth charge, it determined that two of the Disciplinary Rules invoked had not been violated.*fn1 In a report filed May 4, 1981, the Committee recommended a six-month suspension from the practice of law. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed exceptions and a supporting brief requesting a minimum suspension of two years on May 21, 1981, while respondent's brief of May 26, 1981, argued that a private reprimand would be the appropriate discipline. The matter was referred to the Disciplinary Board (Board) on May 29, 1981.
The Board's majority Report and Recommendation dated July 30, 1981, found violations of all Disciplinary Rules in each of the four charges, and recommended a three-year suspension. A dissenting report, however, recommended disbarrment. On September 25, 1981, this Court ordered respondent's immediate suspension and issued a Rule to Show Cause why respondent should not be disbarred, rejecting the Board majority's recommendation. Respondent filed his response to the Rule on October 21, 1981, and on October
, 1981, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel submitted its reply thereto. Argument was heard at Philadelphia on January 19, 1982.
The facts are not in dispute. Having reviewed the record de novo, we find no basis for disturbing the Board's findings as set forth in its report, and therefore substantially adopt them in the discussion which follows. Each of the charges made in the Office of Disciplinary Counsel's Petition will be considered separately.
Respondent was retained to represent the estate of Thomas P. Kelly (Estate) on December 5, 1977. Although in August, 1978, he was provided with title to the automobile that belonged to the Estate, respondent neglected to take the steps necessary to transfer title to the appropriate transferee until late January 1979. Respondent held checks from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania payable to the Estate from July, 1978, to December 6, 1978, when he was personally contacted by an investigator from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. Similarly, respondent retained for eight months checks payable to the Estate for the purchase of a mobile home belonging to the Estate. After the checks were deposited on December 6, 1978, again after respondent was contacted by the investigator, the checks were returned unpaid because of insufficient funds in the purchasers' account. Respondent was not able to collect on the Estate's claim until October 30, 1979. Further, he represented one of the purchasors of the mobile home at the same time he was prosecuting this claim. Respondent misrepresented to a beneficiary of the Estate that he had paid for decedent's funeral expenses, when in fact he had not. Respondent charged excessive counsel fees of $2,000 against the gross ...