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Why is John Karoly still practicing law?

Many people who know that I have been practicing law for as long as John Karoly has, have asked me in disbelief, how he could still be practicing law this long after his conviction. (In July 2009 Karoly pled guilty to tax evasion and defrauding a church out of $500,000.) His sentencing was not scheduled until later this month. The question is how can a convicted felon still be allowed to practice law  -- not to mention why it is taking so long to sentence him? Most people I talk to assume that Karoly is so well-connected that he will never do jail time. There have been many incredulous letter sent to the newspapers and to the Chief of the Pa. Disciplinary Board speculating on how and why this has happened. In fact, my long-time partner and friend Martye Cohen, wrote one of those letters and received a response from the Disciplinary Chief himself agreeing that this should not be happening and that changes were being considered. Accordingly a rule change has been proposed that would prevent this from happening in the future. Let's examine the current Rule 214 of the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement. These rules set forth the penalties and act as the enforcement provisions for violations of the Rules of Conduct.

Rule 214. Attorneys convicted of crimes.

(a)  An attorney convicted of a serious crime shall report the fact of such conviction to the Secretary of the Board within 20 days after the date of sentencing. The responsibility of the attorney to make such report shall not be abated because the conviction is under appeal or the clerk of the court has transmitted a certificate to Disciplinary Counsel pursuant to subdivision (b). Herein lies the Karoly dilemma. Since sentencing has not occurred as Rule 214 e prescribes, then Karoly is not required to report his conviction. No sentencing, no reporting and no sanction. This brings us back to the other question that many have asked. Why is it taking nine months to sentence someone who has pled guilty? I believe that Karoly's continued practice, especially in areas of high-profile cases, has so enraged the public, as well as honest and respected attorneys who live and practice with high ethical standards, created the momentum which resulted in the proposed change.  As it currently stands, Rule 214, requires an attorney who is convicted of a serious crime to report the conviction within 20 days after sentencing. Under the proposed amendment, "conviction" would be defined as "any guilty verdict, whether after trial by judge or jury, or finding of guilt, and any plea of guilty or nolo contendere that has been accepted by the court, whether or not sentence has been imposed." Thus, the attorney would be required to report the conviction within 20 days after a guilty verdict or other finding of criminal guilt, regardless of the status of sentencing. Rule Change. Karoly's guilty plea was accepted by the court in July 2009. Thus, under this proposed change he would have been required to report his "conviction" within 20 days of that date. Presumably, the Board would have acted on this "conviction" in a diligent and prompt fashion resulting in the sanction being imposed before his actual sentencing, which is currently scheduled for later this month. Because of the unartful language of the existing rule he has been allowed to continue representing clients and continue to make money. This embarrassment serves to point out, again, how someone who abused our laws and pled guilty gets to continue to use the system to his favor. Not fair? You be the judge.  Dennis F Feeley


Hey Denny,
I was only vaguely familiar with Karoly from the various headlines over the years. It's understandable that people and esp. attorneys take this seriously. The one item not addressed in your blog is the judge who is supposed to perform the sentencing. If his/her name was made prominent, people could orchestrate a writing campaign to force the issue. Also, the threat to reelection or appointment would be very real. This segues over into all professionals who are not sufficiently policed by their peers such as incompetent doctors, rogue law enforcement officers, corrupt inspectors, etc.

Andy thanks for the comment. As you may know Karoly’s case is pending in federal court. Federal court judges are appointed for life and therefore are not usually influenced by public opinion as state court judges who run for retention. You may have seen in this mornings newspaper that the federal prosecutor is threatening to take Karoly to trial on the false will case. Apparently, Karoly is not cooperating with the feds nor living up the pleas bargain arrangement. The specifics were not given.
All professional groups; lawyers, doctors, accountants, etc. are regulated by the licensing authority of the State. Lawyers are actually regulated by the Supreme Court of Pa. These agencies are given regulating authority including the right to discipline the bad guys. Unfortunately, with the exception of lawyers, most professions are not well regulated when it comes to sanctioning their own. Historically, doctors have been the worse. All of these statistics are readily available on line by searching each professional groups web site. You will be amazed.
While lawyers are better then other groups we are not poster children either.

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