Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Out of prison, ex-judge Jaffe seeks lawyer license - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

A former Allegheny County Common Pleas Court judge who went to federal prison for attempting to extort a lawyer with cases before him has petitioned the state Supreme Court to have his license to practice law reinstated.

Joseph A. Jaffe, who was disbarred in March 2004, filed the petition with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in June. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 20 in Pittsburgh.

Jaffe pleaded guilty in February 2003 to one count of violation of the Hobbs Act, a federal law that prohibits public officials from using their official power to obtain property or services.

According to investigators, in August 2002, Jaffe showed a list of personal debts to attorney Joel Persky, whose firm had 1,300 asbestos cases before the judge. Jaffe then promised Mr. Persky unlimited access to him in exchange for the cash.

The attorney reported the conduct to the FBI and wore a wire.

Jaffe was sentenced to 27 months in prison and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine and serve three years supervised release.

He spent 181/2 months in a federal prison camp, two months in a halfway house and 18 months under supervision.

"I became an attorney to seek justice. I became a judge to do justice," he wrote in his petition. "I surely lost sight of these concepts leading up to my actions in August 2002. I have no excuse for those actions -- explanations, but no excuses."

Jaffe wrote that he has thought about the effects of his behavior on himself, his family and the community every day since, and noted that he lost everything.

"I have paid for my crime, but I have the desire, the will, the strength to redeem myself, never losing sight of the harm I have caused."

Jaffe is currently working as a paralegal with attorney Milton Raiford, who was disbarred himself in 1994 after pleading guilty to three misdemeanor offenses, in which he had an imposter stand in for one of his clients in a drug case.

He was sentenced to three years probation and ordered to perform 250 hours of community service.

Reinstatement for Mr. Raiford was denied in 2002 because the board felt not enough time had passed, but was granted by the Supreme Court in 2010.

In Jaffe's petition, which included a letter of reference from former Allegheny County Coroner Cyril H. Wecht, he said he interacts with their clients in a spiritual manner.

In a letter dated Aug. 2, counsel to the board wrote that they did not believe Jaffe should be reinstated.

"It is our position that ... the conduct engaged in by Mr. Jaffe was so serious as to preclude his ever being reinstated to the practice of law in Pennsylvania," wrote Samuel F. Napoli.

Criminal Court Administrative Judge Jeffrey A. Manning is also opposed to Jaffe's reinstatement.

"His conduct was unconscionable and unforgiveable," Judge Manning said. "He committed the unpardonable act of a judge, and he should not be given any opportunity to participate in the legal system."

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