Hello everyone and welcome to this Ethics Alert which will discuss the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspension of a Pennsylvania lawyer for 4 years retroactively for falsely telling four clients that he had resolved their cases and then paying them over $500,000.00 from his own personal funds. The lawyer, Keith Michael McWhirk, was suspended in a July 31, 2020 Order, which is here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/28DB2016-McWhirk.pdf
The lawyer agreed to a four-year suspension retroactive to Feb. 25, 2016, the date that he was previously temporarily suspended from practice. The SC Order is here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/2247dd3%20-%201025598236209037.pdf#search=%22McWhirk%22
According to the Joint Petition in Support of Discipline on Consent, the lawyer was a named partner at a firm called Mandracchia & McWhirk in December 2015 when he lost consciousness and collapsed at a work-related event. He was hospitalized for five days and required surgery for injuries that included facial fractures. Other lawyers who were trying to cover the lawyers files “began to discover mounting evidence of serious ethical misconduct, according to the joint petition. The joint petition is here: http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/DisciplinaryBoard/out/28DB2016-McWhirk.pdf
The lawyer was terminated by the law firm and self-reported his misconduct in February 2016. He provided a list of 11 client matters in which he misrepresented the status of cases to clients. In seven additional cases, the lawyer falsely advised clients that he had filed complaints, motions and responsive pleadings when he had actually not filed them.
In four cases, the lawyer used his personal funds to pay clients after telling them that he had received money from settlements, awards and legal claims. The amounts paid were $10,000.00, $31,000.00, $69,500.00 and $424,000.00. The client who received the $424,000.00 payment was a commercial bank seeking to foreclose on a mortgage and the lawyer misrepresented that he had filed a foreclosure action and also misrepresented that a sheriff’s sale had taken place. The other clients who received personal funds from the lawyer were two other mortgage foreclosure clients and a plaintiff who sued an auto restoration company.
The joint petition in support of discipline set forth mitigating circumstances, including that the lawyer “self-reported his misconduct and was forthright and specific”, cooperated with the Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary Counsel, making admissions that would not have been discovered without his assistance, and “exhibited deep remorse for his misconduct.”
Before his temporary suspension in 2016, the lawyer had practiced law for more than 16 years with no prior discipline and he has been diagnosed with anxiety and depressed mood and he is receiving treatment. The lawyer claimed that the disorder was a causal factor in several elements of his misconduct, as well as a pattern of avoidance that the lawyer learned during childhood.
According to the joint petition, the lawyer “did not mishandle or misuse funds entrusted to him by any client or from the firm but instead utilized his own funds for the ultimate benefit of clients.” “Importantly, no misrepresentations were made to any tribunal.” The lawyer fabricated a court order and a sheriff’s distribution sheet to support his misrepresentations,; however, they were provided only to clients and not used to the lawyer’s advantage.
Bottom line: This is a bizarre case involving a lawyer who engaged in a “pattern of avoidance”, fabricated court documents, and paid clients over $500,000.00 of his own money to cover up his misconduct.
Be careful out there.
Disclaimer: this e-mail is not an advertisement, does not contain any legal advice, and does not create an attorney/client relationship and the comments herein should not be relied upon by anyone who reads it.
Joseph A. Corsmeier, Esquire
Law Office of Joseph A. Corsmeier, P.A.
2999 Alt. 19, Suite A
Palm Harbor, Florida 34683
Office (727) 799-1688
Fax (727) 799-1670