Editorial: Avenatti, Cohen, Kane, etc., show law hard for some lawyers
Maybe some lawyers spend so much time charting the routes between the rules, they forget that they are supposed to follow them.
A lot of legal eagles have been in big trouble for breaking the rules. On Monday, federal authorities in California arrested Michael Avenatti, the lawyer who became the face of Trump criticism as he represented porn star Stormy Daniels in her case against the president. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years after pleading to crimes including setting up a Daniels payoff.
In Pennsylvania, we have no stones to throw. Last week, disgraced former attorney general Kathleen Kane was formally disbarred, which is probably the least of her concerns as she serves a 10- to 23-month sentence in Montgomery County for perjury and obstruction.
The root of her case was a grudge against Frank Fina, who prosecuted the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case under her predecessor. The Disciplinary Board recommended public censure for Fina and former state Supreme Court justice Cynthia Baldwin for ethics violations during the case, in which Baldwin represented Penn State.
And then there is the Bedford County DA who resigned and admitted to trading sex for favors or the Philly DA who resigned and pleaded guilty in a bribery scandal or the former Centre County DA who lost her license for a year for texting judges and creating a fake Facebook page for spying.
Are rule-breaking lawyers the exception or the norm? An American Bar Association survey shows Pennsylvania has among the highest number of private disciplinary actions of reporting states.
The statistics say there are still a lot more good lawyers than the ones that grab the headlines, but often those are the ones making big things happen. Maybe a career of looking for loopholes and side doors and workarounds has led those lawyers — even the ones with good intentions — astray.
In Pennsylvania, lawyers are required to take two hours of ethics continuing education annually. The state’s website shows complicated issues, like “Ethics and Malpractice Avoidance” and “Social Media: Discovery, Ethics, Evidence and Sanctions.”
Maybe the problem is that it’s all too case- specific. There’s too much “what if,” too much leeway. Sometimes honesty requires a little less plausible deniability and integrity demands fewer gray areas. Maybe something more straightforward is needed.
Like “Ethics: Just Follow the Rules.”