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Stern v. Nix

argued: February 5, 1988.

PETER M. STERN, APPELLANT
v.
HONORABLE ROBERT N.C. NIX, JR., INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA HONORABLE ROLF LARSEN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA; HONORABLE JOHN P. FLAHERTY, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA; HONORABLE JAMES T. MCDERMOTTT, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA; HONORABLE WILLIAM D. HUTCHINSON, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA; HONORABLE STEPHEN A. ZAPPALA, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA; HONORABLE NICHOLAS P. PAPADAKOS, INDIVIDUALLY, AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, APPELLEE



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 87-3664.

Timbers, Winter and Altimari, Circuit Judges.*fn*

Author: Timbers

Opinion OF THE COURT

TIMBERS, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Peter M. Stern, a former member of the Pennsylvania bar until he was disbarred by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, appeals from a judgment entered August 17, 1987 in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Marvin Katz, District Judge, denying Stern's application to stay the order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania which disbarred him. Appellees are the Honorable Robert N. C. Nix, Jr., Copyright Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and the six other Justice of that Court.

On appeal, Stern claims that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment because the court substituted its own findings for those of a disciplinary hearing committee. Appellees, aside from other arguments, assert that the district court, under the doctrine of Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 68 L. Ed. 362, 44 S. Ct. 149 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206, 103 S. Ct. 1303 (1982), lacked subject matter jurisdiction.

We will enter a judgment ordering that the district court judgment be vacated and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

I.

We shall summarize only those facts and prior proceedings believed necessary to an understanding of the issues raised on appeal.*fn1

Stern was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar on November 21, 1966. In 1980, the year in which the incidents underlying his disbarment took place, Stern had been a partner in the Philadelphia firm of Blank, Rome, Comisky & McCauley ("BRCM") since 1972. One of BRCM's clients, for which Stern was responsible, was the Frankford Quaker Grocery Company ("Frankford Quaker").

Frankford Quaker began having difficulty with its employees when layoffs resulted in work slow-downs and retaliatory vandalism. Frankford Quaker approached Teamsters Union, Local 500 (the union representing its employees), with a request that it control its members. When the union refused to cooperate, Frankford Quaker "pressured" Stern into "carrying" $5,000 to the President of the Union, William O'Farrell. Stern initially refused because he believed it would be an illegal "pay off". Nevertheless, when Frankford Quaker threatened to dismiss him as its attorney, Stern agreed to deliver the money and did so.

The first time Stern approached O'Farrell the union president refused to accept any money. Stern asserts that O'Farrell said he would make no concessions in consideration of any payment. When Stern returned to Frankford Quaker he was told to deliver the money anyway "couched in terms of a Christmas gift", as Stern put it. This time, O'Farrell accepted the money. According to Stern, O'Farrell made it clear that he would not be influenced in any way by the funds. Stern says that he believed the money actually was a gift. Indeed, the retaliating employees did not change their behavior.

In early 1982, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") began to investigate O'Farrell's extortion activities. Upon learning of Stern's dealings with O'Farrell, the FBI requested the Justice Department to inform the Disciplinary Board of Stern's involvement with O'Farrell. The Department did so.

On January 14, 1985, the Disciplinary Counsel of the Disciplinary Board filed a petition for discipline against Stern. The Disciplinary Counsel charged him with violations of various Pennsylvania Disciplinary Rules of the Code of Professional Responsibility ("DR"). Specifically, he was charged with violating DR 1-102(A)(3) (prohibiting lawyers from engaging in illegal conduct involving moral turpitude); DR 1-102(A)(4) (prohibiting lawyers from engaging in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation); DR 1-102(A)(6) (prohibiting lawyers from engaging in conduct adversely reflecting on ...


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