PHILADELPHIA - A prominent Philadelphia attorney was disbarred by the state Supreme Court in an order issued last week, which also stripped the lawyer of his license after an investigation by the Disciplinary Board found he had performed numerous code violations.
The action against Willie Lee Nattiel Jr. takes effect Feb. 28, supported by a 28-page report that details several instances in which he accepted client payments for services that were not rendered.
According to the accompanying report issued Jan. 29 by the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Nattiel had been on temporary suspension since Sept. 28, 2012.
Nattiel did not respond to a disciplinary petition filed on May 1, 2013, and failed to appear or present witnesses at a hearing on Feb. 12. The hearing committee filed a report on June 17 recommending Nattiel's disbarment, and no responding briefs were filed in Nattiel's defense.
Nattiel became a member of the Pennsylvania bar system in 1988 after graduating from Wake Forest University law school. He quickly earned a reputation as a mentor to black attorneys while speaking out on cases involving minorities.
According to the petition, Nattiel began to develop of record of disciplinary action in 2008 when he received an informal admonition for failing to abide by two court orders. He received a private reprimand in 2011 and placed on a two-year probation for neglect, lack of communication and failure to take steps to protect a client's interest.
The report details the incidents that prompted the final disciplinary action, providing background on eight cases in which clients retained Nattiel for his legal services, but he did not provide the agreed representation.
For example, in March 2009 he was retained by Traca Reynolds to represent her son in a criminal matter. He informed Reynolds that his fee for the preliminary hearing was $2,500 and $15,000 for the trial. Reynolds made the payments for the preliminary hearing, where Nattiel represented her son and the charges were held over for trial.
Between January and September 2010, Reynolds continued to make payments for Nattiel's fee, totaling $5,200, but Nattiel did not perform any work in preparation for the trial, the petition says.
In the days leading up to the Nov. 29 trial, Reynolds called the office for a progress report. A representative told Reynolds that Nattiel that he was battling an illness and would be unable to represent her son. When she asked for a refund, Reynolds was informed that the money had already been spent and could not be returned.
The disciplinary board used similar incidents to support its findings that Nattiel's actions violated 16 provisions of the professional conduct code, including keeping a clear channel of communication with a client, fully accounting for any funds paid by a client and failure to protect the interests of a client.
"Throughout his representation of his clients, [Nattiel] engaged in repeated misrepresentations, omissions and deceit," the report says.
"His behavior demonstrates a longstanding pattern of neglect, deception and theft, and it appears that after converting unearned fees from numerous clients, [Nattiel] essentially abandoned those clients and ceased all communication."