Originally Published Aug. 22, 2013

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously adopted a rule Wednesday to ban the practice of law by all personal staff who work for the appellate courts.

The issue of practice of law by judicial staff has recently been in the limelight with Justice Seamus P. McCaffery under federal investigation over referral fees his wife received from law firms. Federal investigators have subpoenaed the law firms regarding referrals paid to McCaffery’s spouse, Lise Rapaport, as well as campaign donations made by those firms to McCaffery’s judicial campaigns.

Personal staff includes staff attorneys, law clerks, administrative assistants, secretaries or tipstaff, the rule now states.

Rapaport has worked in McCaffery’s chambers for more than a decade.

The rule now states that “neither the prothonotary, deputy prothonotary, chief clerk, nor any person employed in the Office of the Prothonotary, nor any personal staff employed by an appellate court or by any judge thereof shall practice before any court of tribunal of this commonwealth. Nor shall any person otherwise practice law.”

As the rule was previously drafted, the practice of law was not allowed by a law clerk, administrative assistant or secretary employed in Pennsylvania’s three appellate courts before any Pennsylvania court and the practice of law otherwise was not allowed without the prior approval “of the judge on whose staff such person is employed or of the president judge if such person is not so employed.”

However, the rule will allow court staff to act pro se and to manage their personal affairs or the affairs of a relative.

Judicial staff may do pro bono work as long as they do not enter an appearance in court, are not involved in a matter of controversy that is likely to come before the court for which they work, and they have the written approval of the jurist for whom they work and the chief judge of the court for which they work, whether that is the Supreme Court chief justice, the Superior Court president judge or the Commonwealth Court president judge.

The amended appellate procedural rule was adopted without going through the Appellate Court Procedural Rules Committee.

McCaffery’s statements of financial interest disclosed as sources of income through his wife the law firms of Saltz Mongeluzzi Barrett & Bendesky; Brookman, Rosenberg, Brown & Sandler; Martin Banks Pond Lehocky & Wilson; attorney Mark A. Cunningham of Marlton, N.J.; Silverman & Fodera and other related firms; “Jaffe, Friedman,” which is related to Peter S. Friedman; Fox Rothschild; and SchmidtKramer.

Sources have said McCaffery is also under investigation for making contacts to Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas civil leadership on two cases being prosecuted by Saltz Mongeluzzi. Firm founder Robert Mongeluzzi said in an email earlier this week that the firm never paid McCaffery a referral fee, that Rapaport was paid only one referral fee for a case referral made approximately 10 years ago, and “I never contacted Justice McCaffery on the two cases you cited in your email and have never asked Justice McCaffery to contact the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County about any of our firm’s cases.”

Amaris Elliott-Engel can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or aelliott-engel@alm.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisTLI.