Pa. woman charged with forging docs to claim she was an attorney
PITTSBURGH — A central Pennsylvania woman used forged documents to pretend to be a lawyer for a decade and was in line to be named partner when her fraud was discovered late last year, according to charges filed by the state Attorney General's Office.
Kimberly Kitchen, 45, of James Creek was charged Thursday with forgery and unauthorized practice of law.
State prosecutors contend Kitchen fooled BMZ Law by forging a law license, bar exam results, an email showing she attended Duquesne University law school and a check for a state attorney registration fee. The firm is based in Huntingdon, about 110 miles east of Pittsburgh, but has offices in Duncansville and Lewistown, according to its website.
“It's mindboggling to me that she could so successfully fool so many people,” said Downtown Pittsburgh estate lawyer Charles J. Avalli. “She must be a smart lady to be able to accomplish everything she accomplished. She probably could have gone through law school on her own if she had the talent to pull off this charade.”
Kitchen handled estate planning for more than 30 clients “despite never having attended law school, nor being admitted to the bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” the attorney general said in a statement.
Kitchen was, however, the past president of the Huntingdon County Bar Association, said her attorney, Caroline Roberto.
“There are things about the charges we don't agree with, so we're going to be fighting some of the charges,” Roberto said, though she wouldn't be specific.
But Christopher Wencker, president of the county bar association, said he doesn't think the charges are severe enough.
“For a decade of that kind of behavior, those kind of charges are insufficient and don't represent the depth or level of betrayal that was shown,” Wencker said.
The forgery charge is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to five years in prison; the unauthorized practice charge is a third-degree misdemeanor, carrying up to a year in jail.
Wencker said the county bar plans to meet Tuesday to formulate a statement.
A law firm representative didn't immediately return a call seeing comment. But in December, when the Huntingdon Daily News first reported on the case, the firm issued a statement saying it would be going through all her cases.
If Kitchen improperly handled an estate, those whose estates she handled could file civil complaints against her and/or her Huntingdon County law firm, Avalli said. But if she properly administered their estates, they may not have claims against her, he said.
Avalli said Kitchen was probably working at a competent level, judging solely by her decade-long employment at the law firm.
“If there were no bells and whistles going off after the first year or two, nobody probably had any reason to believe she wasn't who she said she was,” he said.
If the allegations against her are true, Kitchen could have become proficient in her craft by repetition, but would not know the “subtle nuances” of the law or the theoretical foundations of why she'd be doing certain things, said Pittsburgh criminal defense attorney Blaine Jones.
“Law school teaches you the theory, and that's basically the foundation, but you have to get the practical experience, too,” Jones said.
Trib Total Media staff writer Adam Brandolph contributed.