A former public defender has been suspended from practicing law for allegations that he violated the Rules of Professional Conduct for Pennsylvania lawyers.
According to a state Supreme Court order on disciplinary action against local attorney Ronald Langella, he has been suspended from the Pennsylvania Bar for five years. The case went before the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, and the suspension decision was made Jan. 15.
Langella was dismissed from his public defender position in 2008, but McKean County officials declined at the time to say why. He maintained a private practice in Bradford after his dismissal.
According to a legal notice published in Tuesday’s edition of The Era, his suspension is effective Feb. 14.
Langella has been accused of violating the rules in six ways. According to court records, he failed to “act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client,” failed to “keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter,” failed to “promptly comply with reasonable requests for information,” failed to “take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client’s interests” after the end of representation of that client, failed to communicate the fees to a client whom the lawyer has no regularly represented and failed to hold a client’s “funds and property separate from the lawyer’s own property.”
Langella, who was already serving a private reprimand and five-year probationary period due to a previous disciplinary case, failed to comply with his probation conditions by failing to file monthly reports on his oversight of his IOLTA accounts — accounts that hold money for clients or third parties — and failing to pay the court costs and restitution, according to court records.
Court records outlined three clients who asserted that Langella violated one or more of these rules through his representation of them.
One woman who hired him to represent her in a bankruptcy matter in October 2010 asserted he took attorney fees from her, failed to file her bankruptcy petition, failed to respond to numerous phone calls and three certified letters from her seeking information on the status of the case. He also did not refund her fees or forward her file to a new attorney she hired, court records indicate.
In another case, Langella was hired to represent a man “in drafting and recording a deed conveying title to real estate” from his client to another man, records stated. Langella accepted fees from his client. Langella failed to communicate the rate of his fee, according to court records.
Court records also stated that an IOLTA Account contained funds entrusted to Langella from both of the above clients and a third client. On several dates, the account balance did not accurately reflect the amount with which Langella was entrusted. At one point — Jan. 31, 2011 — the IOLTA account was deficient by as much as $1,760.92 out of $2,171.36.
According to the Disciplinary Counsel, at the disciplinary hearing, Langella admitted the account was overdrawn but said it was “not intentional.” He explained his wife gave the gas company the trust account number by mistake, and the company removed the money without authorization.
A document from the Disciplinary Board recommended that Langella be suspended for one year and one day. The board’s members stated, “In order to protect any future clients, (Langella) must be suspended from the practice of law.”
A previous Petition of Discipline had been filed against Langella in 2009, which was the petition that led to his five year probation. According to court records, the petition stemmed from an incident in which he discovered in 2009 that his wife, Catherine Langella, had misappropriated $57,000 in funds that had been entrusted to him. Once Ronald Langella restored the money to his trust accounts, she again misappropriated $76,000 between 2006 and 2007.
For her part, Catherine Langella was convicted in 2009 to a felony charge of theft by unlawful taking. She was sentenced to seven years of probation and ordered to pay $83,314.42 in restitution. She was working as the secretary in her husband’s law office at the time of the misappropriations.