Kimberly Kitchen, left, leaves the Huntingdon County Courthouse in Huntingdon, Pa., on March 24, 2016, after she was found guilty of posing as an attorney for nearly a decade. Kitchen was convicted March 24 on charges of forgery, unauthorized practice of law and felony records tampering in Huntingdon County. (Photo by Shelly Dietz/The Daily News via AP)
A woman who faked being a lawyer for almost a decade cannot escape her prison sentence for unlawful practice of law, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has ruled.
The three-judge panel held May 16 that Kimberly M. Kitchen did not prove that the sentencing judge misapplied the law in giving her two years’ incarceration along with five years of supervised release.
Kitchen was convicted in March 2016 on two misdemeanors and a third-degree felony for tampering with public records. From 2005 to 2014 she posed as a lawyer in Huntingdon County at BMZ Law until a lawyer in the county uncovered the fact that Kitchen did not have a law license.
Summing up Kitchen’s argument, Superior Court Senior Judge Eugene B. Strassburger III wrote, “Appellant concedes that the commonwealth presented evidence sufficient to prove that she knowingly falsified documentation in order to mislead others into believing she had been admitted to the bar. Further, appellant admits that from 2005 to 2014 she actively practiced law and signed her name to legal documents knowing she was not licensed to do so. However, appellant contends that the evidence of false entry alone does not prove the intent to defraud necessary to increase the grade of this charge to a felony of the third degree.”
However, Strassburger said that the totality of the evidence presented by the prosecution established Kitchen’s intention to defraud.
“Evidence shows that appellant’s actions were knowingly and intentionally calculated to defraud, and not done out of some altruistic, yet misguided, desire to provide competent representation to the clients of BMZ Law or leadership to the Huntingdon County Bar Association,” Strassburger said.
Kitchen’s lawyer, Caroline Roberto, did not return a call seeking comment.
The Legal previously reported that Kitchen began working at Huntingdon’s Juniata College in 1998 as a secretary in the development department, moving up to serve as gifts officer, coordinating donations from alumni. She was good at it, and didn’t need a law license, John Wall, the college’s director of media relations, said in July 2016.
After telling colleagues she was taking night classes at Duquesne University and commuting two hours to and from campus to get her law degree, Kitchen joined BMZ part-time in 2005.
Kitchen was a regular presence in the community. She helped organize an annual telethon for PRIDE Inc., which provides programs for disabled individuals, and a gala put on each year by the Auxiliary to J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital, a Huntingdon volunteer organization. She spoke at senior centers and estate-planning seminars. She served for a year as bar president—in such a small bar, everyone takes a turn—and became a partner at BMZ in 2014.
At the time, she told the Huntingdon Daily News that residents didn’t need to go to Pittsburgh, Harrisburg or Philadelphia to get top legal service—they could stay in town, with attorneys like her. She had claimed she was a guest professor on trust and taxation law at Columbia University, and she received attention from the local paper for it.
Kitchen’s facade swiftly crumbled after her impostor status was revealed. BMZ suspended her practice and investigated the issues raised by Jackson and other bar members.
Within days, Kitchen’s name, once one of eight hanging above the office’s entrance, had been taped over. Kitchen lost the $100,000 she had paid into the firm and its realty group, which functioned as a separate business.
(Copies of the 13-page opinion in Commonwealth v. Kitchen, PICS No. 17-0790, are available at http://at.law.com/PICS.)