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At a time of state budget cuts, lawyers in Dauphin County, Pa., are enjoying a new lawyers’ lounge and other improved courthouse amenities. The perks didn’t come free. They were paid for by an “errant attorney” fund collected from lawyers who committed various courtroom infractions. In two years, 63 attorneys have been assessed a total of $17,860 for misconduct and civil discovery abuses, according to the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa. The money goes into a fund controlled by the costs and fines office at the Dauphin County Courthouse and used by President Judge Joseph H. Kleinfelter for the renovations. A judge who did not want to be identified said that about 75% of the collected money was for abuses that occur in the natural course of discovery, like the filing of a certificate of readiness when a case was not ready, or failure to answer discovery. An official with the Dauphin County controller’s office, who also asked not to be identified, said the fines also include minor infractions like being late to court. Lawyers were sometimes fined $100 or $200. Critics said the policy leaves lawyers with little choice. Lynn Marks, a lawyer and director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a nonpartisan court reform group, said lawyers who refused to pay would risk a contempt hearing before Kleinfelter and will have to practice in front of him again. As president judge, he hears contempt matters. The fines were levied by him and at least one other judge. “The fact that he used the money on things that might be beneficial to the court is irrelevant,” Marks said. “There is a contempt law and a process, and I don’t see anything in the law that permits what he is doing.” Kleinfelter declined to comment, as did the director of the costs and fines office. A fellow judge who asked not to be identified praised Kleinfelter for letting lawyers avoid contempt charges that might reflect negatively on their professional standing and malpractice insurance. However, the county controller’s office official said that the money should have been considered county funds and turned over to the controller’s office. Kleinfelter spent the money on improvements for the lounge that included window treatments, a microwave and lighting. The controller’s office official said the office had turned the matter over to county auditors with a recommendation that the money be treated as public funds. McAree’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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