Frackville lawyer to help judge compatriots

Although many people believe lawyers work mostly for the cash, Michael J. O'Connor said he will make no money for performing his newest assignment.

"I'm up to the challenge," O'Connor said this week of his appointment to a three-year term on the hearing committee of the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. "I was surprised that I got this. It's an honor to be named."

A Frackville lawyer who founded the eight-lawyer firm Michael J. O'Connor & Associates, 608 W. Oak St., O'Connor joined the committee on July 1 after being appointed by the 13-member board.

He will serve District 2, which includes Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton and Schuylkill counties and is headquartered in Trooper, Montgomery County. It is one of four districts that cover the state: District 1 is Philadelphia, Harrisburg-based District 3 covers Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh-based District 4 covers Western Pennsylvania.

The board and its committees mete out punishment for lawyers who break the rules of professional conduct. Sanctions range from informal admonitions to disbarment.

"What the committees do is hear cases and review files," said Megan Kurtz, a spokeswoman for the board.

One of 32 lawyers on the District 2 committee, O'Connor said his position includes no salary but has rewards far beyond monetary ones.

"You're giving back to the profession," he said.

Furthermore, he said he and the other lawyers on the committee serve vital roles in preserving public confidence in the legal profession, something that has been shaken in Northeastern Pennsylvania by the scandals involving the Luzerne County judiciary.

"It's something that has to be done," O'Connor said. "If somebody's breaking the rules, that hurts the whole profession."

Kurtz said the lawyers sit in three-member panels to hear cases.

"I will be sitting on at least one hearing per year," O'Connor said.

Kurtz said that while the committee members hear cases, they do not make the final rulings.

"They can only make recommendations. They do not make the final decision," she said. Those final decisions, including ones on whether to dismiss a case, are made by the board, Kurtz said.

O'Connor's term as a committee member will expire on June 30, 2014. Kurtz said O'Connor, as is the case with other committee members, would be eligible to serve a second three-year term.