Convicted former Allegheny County Common Pleas judge seeks reinstatement of law license
A former Allegheny County judge who served nearly 19 months in federal prison for extorting $13,000 from an attorney in 2002 is seeking to get his law license back to open his own legal practice.
Joseph Jaffe, 62, of Dormont filed a 54-page petition in June, asking the state's Disciplinary Board to reinstate his law license. He was disbarred in 2004. The state Supreme Court will have the final say as to whether Jaffe can practice. The board scheduled a reinstatement hearing Sept. 20.
Jaffe is working as a paralegal earning $12.50 per hour for attorney Milton Raiford and doing part-time work as a paralegal for attorney Mark A. Sindler earning $40 per hour, according to his petition.
Jaffe declined to comment. Raiford did not return a call for comment.
“I became an attorney to seek justice. I became a judge to do justice. I surely lost sight of these concepts leading up to my actions in August 2002. I have acknowledged and taken responsibility for those actions. I have no excuses for those actions — explanations but no excuses,” Jaffe wrote in his petition. “I have thought about my criminal behavior and its effect on me, my family and the public every day of my life since Aug. 7, 2002. I have humiliated and embarrassed myself and my family.”
Sindler said the federal courts have approved Jaffe to do paralegal work on some of his court-appointed cases.
“I believe in giving people a second chance. He served his debt to society. The nature of his wrongdoing was severe but not enough to keep him (disbarred) forever,” said Sindler, noting that former state Attorney General Ernie Preate, who was convicted of fraud, has been reinstated. “(Jaffe is) diligent, conscientious and has my clients' best interest at heart.”
Jaffe's petition sparked a sharp rebuke from a former colleague, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey A. Manning, administrative judge of the criminal division.
“I can't speak for my colleagues, but I believe we as a court would be unequivocally opposed to Joseph Jaffe's readmission to the bar,” Manning said. “He committed the most heinous and disgraceful crimes of extortion using the powers of his judicial office to force lawyers representing litigants appearing before him to pay him money for favorable results. No more outrageous abuse of office could occur. He should not now, nor ever, be readmitted to the practice of law.”
The Disciplinary Board's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the prosecutorial arm of the board, filed a two-page motion in August opposing the former judge's reinstatement.
“Mr. Jaffe's conviction involved his use of his official position to obtain property not due him or his office. Mr. Jaffe knew that the property was given because of the power of his official position,” Disciplinary Counsel Samuel Napoli wrote. “The conduct engaged in by Mr. Jaffe was so serious as to preclude his ever being reinstated to the practice of law in Pennsylvania.”
Jaffe became the first Allegheny County Common Pleas judge to be convicted of a felony when he pleaded guilty to extorting $13,000 in cash from attorney Joel Persky to pay off country club fees, medical bills and other debts.
Jaffe took the money during a meeting at Persky's Squirrel Hill home, unaware that Persky was cooperating with the FBI. The FBI recorded and filmed the transaction.
At the time, Persky's firm had more than 1,300 asbestos cases pending before Jaffe.
As part of his plea agreement, Jaffe acknowledged responsibility for offenses contained in other indictments, but did not enter a guilty plea for them. Those indictments accused him of accepting a $12,500 check from attorney Edwin Beachler III, and later pressuring Beachler for a job.
Legal ethics experts said Jaffe may have a tough time persuading the court to reinstate him. Duquesne University law professor Mark Yochum, who teaches professional responsibility, said the law does allow for people who rehabilitate themselves, but that Jaffe committed one of the worst legal sins.
“He has a harder row to hoe, so to speak, because of the nature of his offense,” Yochum said. “Bribery for a judge, case-fixing and certainly selling decisions are the top-of-the-line worst.”
Yochum said Jaffe might have to petition more than once to get his license back.
Jaffe wrote that he apologizes to members of the bench and members of the bar whenever he can.
“I have lost everything — my reputation, my home, the ability to properly support my daughter, my pension, my self-respect,” Jaffe wrote. “I have paid for my crime but I have the desire, the will, the strength to redeem myself, never losing sight of the harm I caused.”
Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Animal welfare groups see opportunities in dialogue about Vick signing
- Man critical after being shot in Pittsburgh’s Knoxville neighborhood
- Board members bring business attitude to nonprofit August Wilson
- W.Pa. to observe International Overdose Awareness Day
- Port Authority’s plan for car-free communities slow to bear fruit
- Penn Hills fire displaces 10
- Newsmaker: Matthew Opdyke
- Solarize Allegheny powers up with more communities
- 1-year-old girl dies in Spring Hill apartment fire; 8 other people injured
- Pittsburgh region enjoys healthy dose of ‘brain gain’
- Madison Avenue in North Side closing Tuesday, Thursday