Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania disciplinary opinion imposing a public censure on a former state criminal prosecutor who was arrested of possession of cocaine and marijuana and later received a diversion and dismissal of the criminal charges. The case is Pennsylvania Disciplinary Counsel vs. Yanoff, No. 71 DB 2012 (October 4, 2012).
According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion, on November 29, 2008, the lawyer was in a vehicle in a driveway near a city street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A police officer observed him empty a white powdery substance onto a magazine, and use a straw to snort the substance. The lawyer was arrested and found to be carrying a blue “ziplock” packet containing 1.079 grams of cocaine and a small plastic bag containing .79 grams of marijuana.
At the time he was arrested, the lawyer had recently been hired as an Assistant District Attorney in Philadelphia. Following his arrest, the District Attorney’s office suspended the lawyer without pay. On November 30, 2008, the lawyer was arraigned and formally charged with possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and possession of a small amount of marijuana, in violation of Pennsylvania criminal statutes and he resigned his position as an Assistant District Attorney on December 8, 2008.
On December 21, 2009, the lawyer entered a nolo contendere plea to possession of a controlled substance (cocaine) and possession marijuana and was placed on supervised probation for a maximum term of 12 months, subject to drug testing and screening. The lawyer successfully completed the probation on December 29, 2010 and the criminal charges were dismissed without an adjudication of guilt.
The Pennsylvania Disciplinary Counsel charged the lawyer with violating Pennsylvania Bar Rules. The lawyer subsequently entered into a consent agreement wherein he admitted violating Pennsylvania Rule of Professional Conduct: RPC 8.4(b), which states that “it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects” and agreed to a discipline of public censure. According to the consent agreement (which was adopted in the opinion), the following mitigation was present: remorse by pleading nolo contendere to the criminal charges; payment of the full amount of costs that was imposed upon him by the Court as a result of his plea; admission to engaging in misconduct and violating the charged Rule of Professional Conduct; “remorseful for his misconduct and understands he should be disciplined, as is evidenced by his cooperation with Petitioner and his consent to receiving a public censure”; no prior criminal history; and no prior disciplinary history.
Bottom line: Notwithstanding the fact that he was a state criminal prosecutor, this Pennsylvania lawyer’s criminal case was dismissed and he received a minimal discipline of a public censure (reprimand) by showing remorse and other mitigating factors. I don’t know if I need to say this, but lawyers (particularly those who are supposed to uphold the criminal laws) should not possess and use cocaine and possess marijuana since it is obviously against the law. A lawyer/state prosecutor in Florida might also not receive such a relatively minimal discipline and would almost certainly lose his or her job.
Be careful out there!
Disclaimer: this e-mail does not contain any legal advice and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
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