Thursday, August 16, 2012

Attorneys - Pa. Supreme Court - exclusive power to court to regulate

City of Pittsburgh v. Silver and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Cmwlth. Court - August 16, 2012

In this open records case, the Commonwealth Court stated that

Article V, Section 10(c) of the Pennsylvania Constitution states that "[t]he Supreme Court shall have the power to prescribe general rules … for admission to the bar and to practice law." PA. CONST. art. V, §10(c). Thus, the Supreme Court is empowered by the Pennsylvania Constitution to exclusively govern the conduct of attorneys practicing law in this Commonwealth. Beyers v. Richmond, 594 Pa. 654, 665, 937 A.2d 1082, 1089 (2007); Commonwealth v. Stern, 549 Pa. 505, 510, 701 A.2d 568, 570 (1997).

The Supreme Court’s exclusive authority in this area is founded on the separation of powers between the branches of our Commonwealth’s government. Beyers, 594 Pa at 666-67, 937 A.2d at 1090-91.10 “[I]t is well settled that the power to regulate and define what constitutes the ‘practice of law’ is vested in the judiciary, and not in the executive or legislative branches of government.” Gmerek v. State Ethics Commission, 751 A.2d 1241, 1254 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000), aff’d per curiam, 569 Pa. 579, 807 A.2d 812 (2002) (citation omitted). “Pursuant to [its] constitutional authority, [our Supreme] Court adopted the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, which govern the conduct and discipline of attorneys.” Stern, 549 Pa. at 510, 701 A.2d at 571. See Pa. R.D.E. 103 (“The Supreme Court declares that it has inherent and exclusive power to supervise the conduct of attorneys who are its officers (which power is reasserted in Section 10(c) of Article V of the Constitution of Pennsylvania) and in furtherance thereof promulgates these rules….”).

Our Supreme Court’s sole jurisdiction over the practice of law includes the conduct of litigation, which necessarily includes lawyers’ efforts to settle litigation. See Laudenberger v. Port Authority of Allegheny County, 496 Pa. 52, 436 A.2d 147 (1981), appeal dismissed sub nom. Bucheit v. Laudenberger, 456 U.S. 940 (1982). Allowing anyone to make ongoing requests under the Right to Know Law concerning all correspondence regarding settlement impermissibly intrudes into the conduct of litigation because it would lessen the frank exchange of information between the parties thereby adversely affecting the ability for litigation to settle. Moreover, the conduct of litigation could be affected because other parties to the litigation could constantly seek information about settlement discussions to discern the other parties’ belief as to the strength or weakness of their case. Allowing an administrative agency to order the release of documents would interfere with the courts’ sole control over the conduct of litigation.

Moreover, Pa. R.P.C. 1.6(a) states that "[a] lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation…."