Seymour H. Braun, John E. Quinn, Pittsburgh, for respondent.
Helen M. Kistler, Asst. Disciplinary Counsel, Pittsburgh, for Disciplinary Bd.
Nix, C.j., and Larsen, Flaherty, McDermott, Zappala, Papadakos and Stout, JJ. Papadakos, J., files a dissenting opinion. McDermott, J., notes his dissent.
This disciplinary proceeding presents the question of whether respondent attorney's admitted egregious misconduct is sufficiently mitigated by evidence of psychiatric illness to justify the sanction of suspension rather than disbarrment. We hold that respondent, Seymour H. Braun, presented psychiatric testimony which established that his neurotic depression was a causal factor in his misconduct, and therefore adopt the recommendation of the Disciplinary Board that he be suspended from the practice of law for two years.
In November, 1980, respondent undertook to represent an executrix in administering her decedent's estate. The assets of the estate included cash, shares of stock, and periodic stock dividends. The executrix received the stock dividend checks and forwarded them to respondent, who deposited them in the estate checking account.
During the period from March, 1982 to September, 1984, respondent established a pattern of forging the signature of the executrix in order to withdraw funds from the estate for his own use without her knowledge or consent. On fifteen occasions, respondent forged his client's signature on checks totaling $1,962.94. From November, 1980 to September 1985, respondent took no action of record in the administration of the estate, failing, inter alia, to pay inheritance tax or to file inventories or accounts. In March, 1985, when the executrix requested reimbursement for funeral expenses she had advanced, respondent deposited $750.00 in the estate account to cover the check he sent.
In September, 1985, a second attorney was retained to replace respondent due to his malfeasance and his refusal to communicate with his client. Respondent subsequently reimbursed the estate account in full for the funds he had converted.
Respondent's derelictions resulted in investigation and detection by the Disciplinary Board, and, when exposed, respondent admitted the foregoing facts and hearings were held to determine his culpability. He submitted to evaluation by a psychiatrist selected by petitioner, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel (ODC), and both the ODC and respondent presented psychiatric testimony in these proceedings. Both psychiatrists agreed that respondent suffered from neurotic depression, and respondent's psychiatrist, who treated him in 1976 and 1986, testified that the condition persisted ...