The state Supreme Court Office of Disciplinary Counsel has slapped state Sen. Jeffrey Piccola with 14 charges of professional misconduct in his capacity as a private attorney. Piccola denies the charges.
A hearing on the charges has been scheduled before the state Supreme Court Disciplinary Board at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 24.
The charges filed in a 73-page petition of the state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board are related to Piccola’s legal representation of a Utah-based “heir hunting” firm.
Kemp & Associates searches courthouse estate filings throughout the U.S. to connect potential beneficiaries of various estates with inheritances for one-third of whatever assets the beneficiaries are due to receive, according to the office of disciplinary counsel.
Piccola, a Dauphin County Republican, has represented Kemp & Associates in numerous estate beneficiary cases during the past 20 to 25 years.
Since 1999, Kemp & Associates has paid Piccola a 5 percent contingency legal fee from whatever amount a beneficiary receives through Kemp & Associate’s efforts, the office of disciplinary counsel said.
The office of disciplinary counsel alleges that Piccola engaged in numerous unprofessional actions in his estate work connected to Kemp & Associates, including “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation.”
The soon-to-retire state senator filed a 52-page answer to the office of disciplinary counsel denying all the charges against him on July 23.
One of the estates Piccola allegedly helped to misrepresent was that of former Patriot-News film critic Sharon Johnson, who died on Oct. 3, 2003, according to the office of disciplinary counsel’s petition.
Sen. Jeffrey Piccola faces 14 charges of professional misconduct from Supreme Court
August 2, 2012
Senator may face sanction
Jeff Piccola was accused of misconduct as a lawyer for work he did outside the legislature.
Mark Scolforo/Associated Press
August 3, 2012
HARRISBURG – A senior state senator faces allegations that he violated rules of professional conduct for lawyers while working for a Utah-based company that helps find heirs to people who died without leaving a will.
The Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board this week scheduled an October trial in the case of Dauphin County Republican Sen. Jeff Piccola, a 35-year legislative veteran and Education Committee chair.
According to a 72-page complaint filed June 29 by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Piccola’s violations include a rule that prohibits dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. He has denied all the allegations and did not have a conflict of interest as alleged, his lawyer, Robert H. Davis Jr., said Thursday.
“There isn’t any authority in Pennsylvania for the legal propositions that they’re talking about,” Davis said. “There’s no case that holds that the particular activity for which he was engaged with Kemp, which is a nationally prominent organization, is wrong in any way.”
The charges relate to his dealings as local lawyer for Salt Lake City-based Kemp & Associates, an heir-hunting firm, as it contacted and came to work on behalf of heirs to three people who died in south central Pennsylvania in 2003 and 2006.
Disciplinary board lawyer Harold E. Ciampoli Jr., who filed the petition for discipline, described how Kemp contacted the potential heirs, and said Piccola and the company worked on their behalf in exchange for a third of whatever they eventually inherited.
Piccola got 5 percent, and his response filed July 23 said he had worked for Kemp on about 60 estates that involved hundreds of heirs.
Ciampoli said Piccola was not able to provide competent representation to those claimants because it would have conflicted with his own interest, and Kemp’s interest, in getting paid. He argued that Piccola knew – or should have known – that similar agreements between heirs and heir-hunters were invalidated by state court rulings in 1936, 1951, and 1981.
“Allegations are allegations. Proof is a different thing,” Davis said. “Jeff is disappointed that this occurred. . . . As you can see from our answer, we believe he’s an honest, ethical lawyer.”
Potential penalties range from informal admonition to disbarment, but Davis said disbarment was highly unlikely.