The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has agreed to suspend a Scranton attorney for three years for sending a picture of his penis and masturbating via video-chat with a client’s 14-year-old daughter.
In a per curiam order issued Wednesday, the justices accepted a joint petition from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and attorney Jeffrey Toman, which recommended that Toman be suspended for three years. The disciplinary sentence allows the 34-year-old lawyer to petition for reinstatement to the bar after the suspension.
Although the conduct involved a 14-year-old, who was the subject of the custody battle that Toman had been hired to handle, the joint petition recommended the three-year suspension after observing that the attorney had only been convicted on a single first-degree misdemeanor offense and had agreed to serve prison time as part of his criminal sentence.
“Most significantly, respondent is alleged to have manipulated his attorney-client relationship in order to support contacting his client’s minor-daughter,” the joint petition said. “Additionally, were the facts as charged established, respondent should have been well-aware that the conduct he engaged in was inappropriate.”
The disciplinary sentence highlights how punishment for sex-related misconduct is often not as severe as the disciplinary measures meted out for mishandling client funds.
According to a recent review of disciplinary cases by The Legal, cases involving the misuse of client money had the highest rate of disbarment, at 29 percent.
Recent examples of this trend include a Pittsburgh divorce lawyer who was disbarred in September after he took a retainer from clients and then went missing in Texas, a Montgomery County solo attorney who was disbarred last year for misusing client money and taking excessive fees, and another Montgomery County lawyer who was disbarred on consent in 2016 amid allegations he misappropriated advanced fees and expense retainers from clients. That attorney was later charged criminally for taking money from clients with special needs.
According to The Legal’s review, ineffectiveness and misuse of client funds were the most-frequent forms of misconduct for attorneys in Pennsylvania, with only 2 percent of disciplinary matters stemming from sexual misconduct.
Some attorneys charged with sex-related misconduct, however, do face disbarment. In February, a Philadelphia lawyer was disbarred for allegedly having sex with a 14-year-old girl who had been forced into prostitution by a Germantown couple.
That attorney, Brian Meehan, was sentenced to a two- to four-year prison term in December after being indicted on sexual assault charges in 2014. His Feb. 22 disbarment was a result of his resignation from the practice of law, and was made retroactive to Nov. 6, 2017.
Toman’s case, according to a police report attached to the joint petition, involved the 14-year-old daughter of a client whose phone number he allegedly obtained as a way to “better represent her and her mother in the legal battle.” However, instead of discussing the case, Toman began asking the minor sex-related questions and requesting pictures of her in her in her bra and panties, or in a bikini, the report said. According to the police report, Toman also sent the minor a picture of his penis. On one occasion Toman also sent her a video-chat request, and when she answered it he was masturbating, the report said.
Toman, who according to the police report had been friends with the boyfriend of the victim’s mother, had also asked the minor to be his girlfriend. The 14-year-old, however, ended the relationship, the report said.
According to the police report, a woman who said she was Toman’s girlfriend discovered the texts and threatened the minor if she had any further contact with Toman. The mother, however, discovered the relationship and reported Toman to police. Toman eventually pleaded no contest to a charge of corruption of minors.
The joint disciplinary petition noted that Toman served a portion of his prison sentence, but has been released on probation.
The three-year suspension was made retroactive to Oct. 8.
Toman was represented by Scranton attorney Christopher Powell, who did not return a call seeking comment.