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Greensburg lawyer ordered to report himself to disciplinary board

| Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012

A U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge has taken the unusual step of ordering a Greensburg attorney to report himself to the state disciplinary board for alleged improprieties.

Chief Judge Thomas P. Agresti accused attorney David Colecchia, 43, of "a deliberate misrepresentation" and ruled he could not collect about $11,000 in fees from a Latrobe couple. He said the attorney had a history of ignoring court procedures.

"The court has employed fines, remonstrations, admonitions, and other tactics over the years in an effort to get Colecchia to 'see the light' but they have had no demonstrable effect. His latest misconduct is the most serious yet. The court therefore finds that it must try a new approach," Agresti wrote in the Jan. 9 opinion.

He ordered Colecchia, an attorney since 1994, to submit Agresti's opinion and other records to the board for possible sanctions for the "blatant dishonesty."

Professor Mark Yochum, a bankruptcy court expert at Duquesne University School of Law, said judges rarely order attorneys to turn themselves in to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.

"That's a little twist there," Yochum said.

But judges do use opinions to chastise attorneys.

"They don't do this but for egregious situations," Yochum said. "I think it's appropriate even though it seems tough on the lawyer. It's not animosity but it's a judge saying there's habitual bad behavior in my court."

Paul Killion, chief disciplinary counsel for the Supreme Court, said he could not comment on Colecchia because of confidentiality requirements. Killion said it is rare for a judge to order an attorney to report himself.

"That doesn't happen very often. ... This is a little bit of a different methodology," Killion said.

Killion said disciplinary board investigations are done in private, but sanctions imposed on lawyers are made public. There is no record of prior sanctions against Colecchia.

Agresti took Colecchia to task over his billing in a 2006 bankruptcy case involving the Latrobe couple. The judge declined to comment, saying through a court employee that the opinion spoke for itself.

Colecchia tried to bill his clients for an appeal over whether a gas company had a right to terminate service. Colecchia agreed to take on the appeal for free, despite the fact that service had been restored, the judge said.

The court ruled Colecchia could keep $2,500 the couple had already paid, but he was not entitled to additional fees. The couple could not be reached for comment.

According to Agresti's opinion, Colecchia misrepresented a fee agreement with his clients during several court hearings that concluded on Dec. 12. The client testified that there was no formal agreement. Colecchia claimed in court that such a document existed.

Colecchia later conceded he could not produce a contract.

In one hearing, Colecchia blamed his failure to produce the document on an employee who was on maternity leave. But the baby was born seven months after that, the judge said.

The judge suggested that Colecchia took on the appeal "to make a name for himself."

"The court finds that the only reason the appeal was taken was in furtherance of Colecchia's own desire to 'make new law' on what he considered to be an important legal issue, even though an appeal was senseless from his client's standpoint," Agresti wrote.

The appeal was denied, court records show.

Colecchia on Friday referred all questions to his father, Arnold Colecchia, who said his son complied with the order to report himself to the disciplinary board, but he was collecting facts to challenge the judge's opinion.

"We don't have enough information to respond," Arnold Colecchia said.

In his opinion, Agresti referred to 10 cases in which attorney Colecchia was cited, admonished or sanctioned in bankruptcy court for his failure to follow rules, meet deadlines and other infractions.

Agresti did note that Colecchia has some admirable qualities.

"At times he appears to have genuine compassion for his clients and zealously advocates on their behalf. He also appears to take seriously his obligation to stay current on the law and is not reluctant to assert a novel legal position," Agresti wrote.

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