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Pennsylvania Lawyer Suspended for Three Years after Conviction for Delivering Marijuana to a Jail Inmate

Hello everyone and welcome to this edition of the JACPA Ethics Alert.  This Alert will discuss the recent case of a Pennsylvania lawyer who was suspended after his conviction for delivering marijuana to a jail inmate.  The lawyer was initially suspended on February 3, 2010 based on his felony conviction and, in an Order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania dated October 3, 2011; he was suspended for 3 years retroactive to the date of the initial suspension.   The discipline case citation is:  Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. William Floyd Conway, Case No. 149DB2009 (Pa. Supr. Ct., October 3, 2011).

According to reports, the lawyer needed money for cocaine, his drug dealer was in jail, and the dealer’s girlfriend asked him to take the marijuana into the jail in exchange for money and some cocaine.  The lawyer apparently agreed and was arrested by detectives after he concealed an envelope containing marijuana in his sock, signed into the Allegheny County Jail, met with the inmate in the attorney-client room, and gave him the marijuana.

After he was arrested, the lawyer provided a voluntary statement and admitted to receiving an unsealed envelope “with the contents inside,” accepting it, sealing the envelope, concealing it in his sock and delivering it to the inmate.  He pled guilty to criminal charges in June 2009 and was sentenced to five years of probation.

The lawyer claimed in mitigation that he was addicted to drugs at the time of his misconduct in 2007 and that the addiction was the cause of his misconduct.  In a 1989 disciplinary case, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a psychiatric disorder can only qualify as a mitigating factor if it was a causal factor in producing the professional misconduct.  The disciplinary report found that cocaine use was not the cause of the lawyer’s behavior; however, the report set forth several other mitigating factors, including the actions the lawyer took to prevent reoccurrences of the behavior, his cooperation with the board, and his remorse.

In a strong dissent, a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice pointed out that the lawyer had previously been arrested in 2004 and charged with possession of crack cocaine and careless driving and subsequently entered a guilty plea to disorderly conduct; however, he was apparently not required to inform the Pennsylvania Disciplinary Board of the conviction and was not disciplined.  The lawyer also had an arrest in 1976.  In the dissent, the Justice argued that “(the lawyer’s) history bespeaks dubious and reckless character traits that are not easily subject to reform, particularly given that (he) is 63 years of age” and that he should be suspended for 5 years.

Bottom line:  Lawyers, please try not to do this…

…and be careful out there!

As always, if you have any questions about this Ethics Alert or need assistance, analysis, and guidance regarding these or any other ethics, risk management, or other issues, do not hesitate to contact me.

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