The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Office of Disciplinary Counsel has disbarred Media attorney Scott L. Kramer for multiple ethics violations involving six clients over a span of more than six years.
“The cumulative impact of (Kramer’s) misconduct, coupled with aggravating factors such as his lack of remorse, failure to accept responsibility, failure to make full restitution, and no compelling mitigation, warrants disbarment,” according to the order entered Tuesday.
Kramer declined comment on the advice of his attorney Wednesday, signaling a potential appeal of the order.
The conduct leading to disbarment, effective Aug. 29, was memorialized in a 53-page report and recommendation from the Disciplinary Board entered March 15. The report notes disbarring an attorney is an “extreme sanction” reserved only for “the most egregious ethical violations.”
The report notes each of the six unrelated clients had similar complaints – that Kramer improperly retained unearned fees, neglected matters, failed to communicate and failed to provide competent representation.
Much of the report focuses on Kramer’s representation of a man in criminal matters between March 2010 and October 2015. Kramer and the man entered into two fee agreements totaling $420,000 as a “minimum earned upon receipt retainer,” meaning Kramer would be paid that amount regardless of the amount of work he actually put toward the case.
The board found the $420,000 figure was “clearly excessive” and turned out to be more than three times what Kramer would have been paid for the actual work performed at a quoted rate of $300 per hour. Kramer provided only about $136,000 worth of work based on that rate, according to the order, but made 13 transactions for excess fees he was not entitled to between May 2011 and August 2013.
By February 2014, Kramer had received a total $507,900 in legal fees, according to the order. Though he repaid most of the excess fees, the board found he had not done so until after being made aware of a complaint against him and still netted $257,460 – almost twice the amount that would have been billed on an hourly basis.
Kramer additionally comingled funds during his representation of the man, misappropriated $5,000 to make a personal investment that he had not repaid as of March, and lied about filing an appeal on the client’s behalf with the Pennsylvania Superior Court, according to the order.
In another matter, Kramer had clients sign a blank form in anticipation of preparing court documents, which the report notes he admitted was improper, and failed to update his clients on the status of the case.
Kramer also appeared to be confused as to who he was representing in that case and failed to notify the court when his client died, rendering the matter moot. Instead, Kramer simply did not show for a scheduled hearing, according to the report.
While representing another client in an appeals matter, Kramer responded to only one of six letters the defendant sent him seeking an update on the case between January and December 2016, according to the order. The board found the only response concerned a scheduling issue and nothing of substance about the case. The report says that the final letter from the client indicated that in the nearly 18 months since Kramer had been appointed, they had not met or discussed the case.
Kramer additionally mishandled a divorce case in 2014 to the point that his client was given the prospect of signing away his interest in the marital home or facing indirect criminal contempt, according to the order.
Kramer signed a stipulation permitting all of the proceeds from the house sale to go his client’s wife, approximately $32,000, but later told his client he believed he would be entitled to a portion of the proceeds from that sale, the order says.
Kramer was licensed in the state in 2004 and has not had any prior complaints lodged against him, though the order notes his misconduct began in 2010, just six years after he began practicing law. The order states he asked the board to either dismiss the petition for discipline or impose only a one-year suspension, with suspension stayed under a one-year probationary period.
The board declined that request, finding that unlike other cases where attorneys had demonstrated self-reflection and attempted to remedy their issues, Kramer has shown no remorse and failed to accept responsibility for the vast majority of his actions.
“The instant matter warrants more severe discipline due to the absence of compelling mitigating circumstances and the presence of strong aggravating factors,” the board found. “(Kramer’s) multiple and severe breaches of his obligations to his clients demonstrate that he is unfit to practice law and is a threat to the public.”