Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Colaizzi, 010419 PASCDC, 2534-3
|Docket Nº:||2534 Disciplinary Docket 3, 120 DB 2016|
|Opinion Judge:||PER CURIAM|
|Party Name:||OFFICE OF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL, Petitioner v. ROBERT J. COLAIZZI, Respondent|
|Case Date:||January 04, 2019|
|Court:||Supreme Court of Pennsylvania|
Attorney Registration No. 52696 (Allegheny County)
AND NOW, this 4th day of January, 2019, upon consideration of the Report and Recommendations of the Disciplinary Board and Respondent's Petition for Review, Robert J. Colaizzi is suspended from the Bar of this Commonwealth for a period of one year and one day and he shall comply with all the provisions of Pa.R.D.E. 217. Respondent shall pay costs to the Disciplinary Board. See Pa.R.D.E. 208(g).
BEFORE THE DISCIPLINARY BOARD OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
OFFICE OF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL, Petitioner
ROBERT J. COLAIZZI, Respondent
No. 120 DB 2016
Attorney Registration No. 52696 (Allegheny County)
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE DISCIPLINARY BOARD OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA
TO THE HONORABLE CHIEF JUSTICE AND JUSTICES OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA:
Pursuant to Rule 208(d)(2)(iii) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ("Board") herewith submits its findings and recommendations to your Honorable Court with respect to the above-captioned Petition for Discipline.
I. HISTORY OF PROCEEDINGS
By Petition for Discipline filed on September 25, 2017, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Petitioner, charged Robert J. Colaizzi, Respondent, with violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct ("RPC") arising out of allegations that he committed misconduct in six separate matters with respect to the mismanagement of IOLTA Account funds and the mismanagement of a nonlawyer employee. On November 13, 2017, Respondent filed an Answer to Petition.
Following a prehearing conference held on January 4, 2018, a disciplinary hearing was held on February 9, 2018, before a District IV Hearing Committee. Petitioner offered Administrative Exhibit 1, consisting of the parties' stipulations, and Petitioner's Exhibits 1 through 76, which were admitted into evidence. Petitioner did not call any witnesses. Respondent introduced the testimony of one witness and testified on his own behalf. Respondent did not offer any exhibits.
Petitioner filed a Brief to the Hearing Committee on March 22, 2018. Respondent filed a Brief to the Hearing Committee on May 15, 2018.
The Hearing Committee filed a Report on June 14, 2018, concluding that Respondent violated RPC 1.15(b), 1.15(d), 1.15(e), 5.3(a), 5.3(b), 5.3(c)(1), 5.3(c)(2), and 8.4(d), and recommending that Respondent be suspended for two years, with the suspension stayed in its entirety and probation for two years, subject to a practice monitor and conditions.
The parties did not take exception to the Hearing Committee's Report and recommendation.
The Board adjudicated this matter at the meeting on July 20, 2018.
II. FINDINGS OF FACT
The Board makes the following findings:
1. Petitioner, whose principal office is located at Pennsylvania Judicial Center, Suite 2700, 601 Commonwealth Ave., P.O. Box 62485, Harrisburg, PA 17106-2485, is invested, pursuant to Rule 207 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, with the power and duty to investigate all matters involving alleged misconduct of an attorney admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and to prosecute all disciplinary proceedings brought in accordance with the various provisions of the aforesaid Rules.
2. Respondent is Robert J. Colaizzi, born in 1962 and admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in 1988. Respondent's attorney registration address is 950 Greentree Rd., Suite 203, Pittsburgh, PA 15220. Respondent is subject to the disciplinary jurisdiction of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
3. Respondent has no prior record of discipline and is on active status.
4. In 2011, Respondent was retained by Rose Regan and Lois Phillips as co-executors of the Estate of John H. Strahsmeier ("Decedent"). Administrative Exhibit ("AE") 1.
5. Following the death of Decedent, Ms. Regan had withdrawn $149, 200.26 from an account she jointly held with Decedent. AE 1.
6. Subsequently, another co-executor, John T. Strahsmeier, demanded that Ms. Regan return the funds, but she refused to do so. AE 1.
7. The issue was litigated in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Orphan's Court, and by orders dated July 25, 2011, and November 14, 2012, the Honorable Lawrence W. O'Toole directed Ms. Regan to return the money to Decedent's Estate. AE 1; PE 3; PE 4.
8. Following protracted appellate litigation and enforcement action, Ms. Regan forwarded to Respondent on November 23, 2012, a cashier's check made payable to Respondent and Robert Amelio, Esquire, Mr. Strahsmeier's counsel, in the amount of $40, 000. AE 1.
9. At that time, Respondent's wife, Andrea Colaizzi (now Bonfili) ("Andrea"), a nonlawyer, worked as Respondent's law office manager. She deposited the proceeds of the $40, 000 into her personal Allegheny-Kiski Postal Federal Credit Union Account. AE 1.
10. Following further enforcement action, in December 2012, at Andrea's direction, Ms. Regan wired the additional sum of $57, 763.90 into Andrea's personal Allegheny-Kiski Postal Federal Credit Union Account. AE.1.
11. At a hearing before Judge O'Toole on December 27, 2012, Respondent represented to the court that the funds were being held in an account at First Niagara Bank. This statement was based upon information that Respondent received from Andrea, and not his own personal knowledge. AE 1.
12. Based upon that representation, Judge O'Toole ordered that by the next day, Respondent hand-deliver a cashier's check in the amount of $97, 763.90 to Mr. Amelio. AE 1.
13. Respondent did not deliver the check to Mr. Amelio. AE 1.
14. On December 28, 2012, Ms. Regan filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy action at case number 12-359176-MER in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Colorado. AE 1.
15. By order dated February 14, 2013, the United States Bankruptcy Court directed Respondent to turn over property he had received from Ms. Regan to the United States Bankruptcy Trustee, but Respondent failed to do so. AE 1; PE 7.
16. After being questioned in March 2013 by Ms. Regan's bankruptcy counsel, by letter dated March 18, 2013, Andrea submitted her resignation to Respondent and stated in part, that she had "diverted the funds wired by Ms. Regan, to [Andrea's] personal account," lied to Respondent and all parties involved, lied "at every turn to prevent the discovery of [her] deception" and had retained Attorney [Philip] DiLucente to represent her. AE 1; PE 10(a).
17. From the funds diverted by Andrea, a total of $18, 050.00 was paid, by cashier's checks, to Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh on behalf of the children of Respondent and Andrea. AE 1.
18. On March 20, 2013, Judge O'Toole issued a rule to show cause why Respondent should not be held in contempt. AE 1; PE 13.
19. A contempt hearing was held before Judge O'Toole on April 10, 2013: a. Respondent testified that he had not been able to comply with the February 14, 2013 Order to deposit funds with the United States Bankruptcy Trustee because Andrea had already "misdirected" the funds. AE1.
b. Respondent denied any knowledge of his wife's actions until her March 18, 2013 letter to him. PE -14.
c. Respondent argued that he was never entrusted with the funds since they were diverted by Andrea and he had no knowledge of the existence of the Allegheny-Kiski Postal Federal Credit Union account.
20. By Order dated April 10, 2013, Judge O'Toole found Respondent in contempt of court and sentenced him to a period of incarceration of six months in the Allegheny County Jail, with the purge condition that the $97, 763.90 be paid over to Mr. Amelio. AE1; PE15.
21. Respondent subsequently claimed to have the funds but was incarcerated for several days before he was able to purge himself of the contempt. AE 1.
22. To purge himself, Respondent obtained the money from: a loan by Andrea's father to Andrea; the income from his law practice; and the remaining funds in his law firm's Allegheny-Kiski Federal Credit Union account. AE 1.
23. Andrea was criminally charged, entered a plea of guilty and was sentenced to restitution and five years of probation. NT. 52-53.
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