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Attorney Robert F. Simone still doesn’t have a license to practice law in Pennsylvania, but he can begin representing clients in federal court now that the judges of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania have voted to readmit him. The vote came less than two weeks after a hearing before a three-judge panel in which an impressive cadre of lawyers urged the court to give Simone a second chance. Simone, 68, gained notoriety as a “mob lawyer,” representing former Philadelphia Mafia boss Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo and winning several major cases in state court before Scarfo was finally convicted by a federal jury. But in the early 1990s, Simone himself was hit with two federal indictments. He was convicted of racketeering for his role in helping the mob and former Philadelphia City Councilman Leland Beloff in a failed attempt to extort $1 million from Penn’s Landing developer Willard Rouse. When he lost his appeal of the RICO conviction, Simone pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges in the second indictment. Sentenced to four years in prison, Simone returned to Philadelphia after 32 months behind bars and began taking work as a paralegal. During his time in prison, Simone worked on a courtroom memoir that was recently published under the title “The Last Mouthpiece: The Man who Dared to Defend the Mob.” But early this year, Simone began laying the groundwork for his return to the courtroom. His first task was to persuade Chief Judge James T. Giles of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to terminate his probation. Giles ended the probation in March, five months early. In May, Simone petitioned for reinstatement to the Eastern District bar. His lawyer, James J. Binns, said in the brief that while Simone intends to ask the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reinstate his license, the federal courts don’t have to wait for that. Binns said Simone satisfies the requirements for federal readmission because he is “morally qualified and learned in the law.” Before the hearing, Binns submitted a slew of letters from lawyers who said they support Simone’s readmission. Attorney James E. Beasley of Philadelphia-based Beasley Casey & Erbstein wrote that Simone “paid a dear price for his errant ways. And a lawyer pays the price twice: his reputation and occupation.” Beasley told the judges that letting Simone practice again “gives meaning to forgiveness and rehabilitation.” Attorney Louis W. Fryman, chairman of Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel, also in Philadelphia, wrote that he has known Simone for “many, many years,” dating to the time when Fryman did a lot of criminal defense work, and that he never had any reason to question Simone’s character or reputation as a law-abiding citizen. “He had an excellent reputation as a defense attorney, and his conviction and guilty plea before the court was uncharacteristic of the attorney that I knew,” Fryman wrote. “I believe his incarceration and the public humiliation and ridicule that he sustained served not only as a punishment but also as a rededication to his ambition to engage in his profession.” Attorney Martin J. Sobol of Dilworth Paxson in Philadelphia wrote: “I have always found Bob’s character and honesty in the practice of law to be beyond reproach. Despite his problems with the law in the past, his reputation in the legal community is one of excellence and fine moral character.” Attorney Dennis J. Cogan wrote: “Despite his criminal convictions, Bobby enjoys an excellent reputation, among lawyers I know, for being honest and ethical.” If Simone were reinstated, Cogan predicted that he would “hit the ground running” and said, “I would not hesitate to refer clients to him.” Attorney Stephen B. Jarrett wrote that they first met when Simone appeared before Jarrett’s uncle, 3rd Circuit Judge Morton I. Greenberg, who at the time was a New Jersey trial judge. Jarrett quoted his uncle as commenting that Simone was “one of the best lawyers he had ever seen.” Simone hired Jarrett as a law clerk and later, in 1991, as an associate. “I had the dubious honor of working with him when his world was tumbling down,” Jarrett wrote. “I can offer no greater praise, no higher tribute to Robert F. Simone, than to tell you that I chose to remain his associate even when he could no longer pay me.” On July 25, a three-judge panel — U.S. District Judges Harvey Bartle III, John R. Padova and Bruce W. Kauffman — heard oral argument on the motion. Simone took the witness stand and was peppered with questions from the judges about his recent efforts to keep current law. Padova also asked about Simone’s gambling habit and said: “How are you? Past that now?” “I don’t have the money to gamble,” Simone said. “When I was put in prison, they sent me to Las Vegas, and I could see all the casinos from where I was at, and I think I got cured on that trip.” “But I’ve been out of prison now for four years, and I don’t have the urge to gamble. I don’t gamble. I mean, I bet a horse once in a while — it’s in my blood. Just a $2 bet on a horse, $10 bet on a horse. But I’m not a gambling degenerate anymore. I am not a compulsive gambler anymore. I was treated for it by a couple of doctors, and I was treated for it while I was in prison,” Simone said. Taking the witness stand in support of Simone were attorneys F. Emmett Fitzpatrick Jr., A. Charles Peruto Sr., Donald C. Marino, Edward Reif, Robert E. Madden and Charles Peruto Jr., as well as third-year Widener law student Valerie Pedicone, who testified about Simone’s help in tutoring her in criminal law. In his closing argument, Binns told the panel that “Mr. Simone would be a credit to the bar if you saw favorably to recommend his readmission at this time. … He’s gotten over his hurdles, he’s candidly told you where he made the error of his ways, and that resulted in his convictions, for which he has paid his debt.” Pennsylvania Deputy Chief Disciplinary Counsel Paul J. Burgoyne said his office chose not to participate in Simone’s bid for federal readmission even though it was invited to do so by the federal court. But Burgoyne also said his office would not object to a lawyer practicing in federal court while under a Pennsylvania suspension — as long as the lawyer limited his practice to federal law. “Our position would be that as long as you’re not giving advice about Pennsylvania law, you’re not violating your suspension,” Burgoyne said. Burgoyne said he suspects that limiting a practice to federal law would be easier for a criminal defense lawyer than for a lawyer who engages in civil practice. But lawyers who specialize in attorney discipline said Simone may have a much tougher time if he ever tries to get his Pennsylvania license back. One attorney who defends lawyers in discipline cases, who asked not to be named, said he suspects Simone won’t even try to win readmission to the state courts because the process is too difficult and entails a lengthy investigation. “And to be frank, I don’t think he’d have a snowball’s chance, if you know what I mean, considering the nature of his crimes,” the lawyer said. Attorney Stuart L. Haimowitz, who represents numerous lawyers seeking reinstatement, said the state system is much more difficult because “often it’s an adversarial proceeding” in which the lawyer is opposed by disciplinary counsel. The federal courts, he said, are less demanding, requiring only that a convicted lawyer serve his time and finish his probation and then show that he has good moral character and remains learned in the law. But to win back a Pennsylvania license, Haimowitz said, the suspended lawyer must also show that he is rehabilitated. And in recent years, he said, the disciplinary counsel have often urged the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to deny readmission based on the “egregious” nature of the lawyer’s offense, effectively asking that some indefinite suspensions be made life disbarments.

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