PITTSBURGH — The state Supreme Court decided Feb. 23 to disbar attorney Daniel Domenick, 19 days after he tendered his resignation from practicing law.
In its decision, the Court said that Domenick was disbarred on consent from the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and ordered that he pay costs to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, according to Pennsylvania Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 208(g).
According to the decision, Domenick had agreed to represent clients in financial hardship and wrongful foreclosure cases, in which he would advise clients, draft pleadings and try to negotiate on behalf of his clients with mortgage lenders and loan providers.
Domenick had agreed to do this for a large payment in advance and monthly payments of the fees he charged, which would usually be debited from his clients' bank accounts after they gave written permission.
Domenick failed, according to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, to do work that merited the fees and failed to keep those advance fee payments separate of his property. The ODC also explained that Domenick tried to get help from local attorneys for clients in areas where he couldn't practice, but that he failed to retain those attorneys' services and ended up doing illegal work in many jurisdictions.
The ODC explained Domenick charged and collected illegal fees and/or overcharged fees for his work both in areas he could legally practice and areas he couldn't legally practice.
The ODC also explained that Domenick took exorbitant fee payments from clients in mortgage foreclosure cases, including some who could not afford such fees. According to the decision, Domenick also did not refund his clients these illegal and/or outrageous fees.
The ODC explained that Domenick opened up his own law firm, Domenick Legal Group, which he ran in association with Williams Legal Group, a firm run by a non-lawyer that presented itself as specializing in mortgage debt relief.
The ODC said that the operator of Williams Legal Group required Domenick to use a fee structure that his firm put into place. The ODC also explained that this person, who lost his Ohio real estate license in 2009, lied to Domenick when he told Domenick that his business model cleared disciplinary challenges in the past and that his way of doing business was found ethically proper. The decision said that Domenick took this person at his word regarding ethical matters.
The ODC explained that this person collected a percentage of the legal fees that Domenick took from his clients and that Domenick knew and gave permission to that person to do so. Domenick kept 12 to 27 percent of the gross receipts that his clients gave him. The operator of Williams Legal Group could access and control Domenick's bank accounts, which Domenick also knew about and reluctantly allowed, and this person gave one of his employees a bookkeeping job at Domenick's law firm.
The decision said that Domenick had his clients sign forms allowing direct debits from their bank accounts, allowing the operator of Williams Legal Group to issue electronic checks that were payable to Domenick's law firm and drawn from the accounts of each of Domenick's clients.
Eventually, as the ODC found, Domenick began to regret working with this person and developed depression. According to the decision, this led Domenick to seek counseling through Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in the fall of 2015 and go through inpatient treatment last year.
The ODC explained that Domenick worked to distance himself from the operator of Williams Legal Group in late 2015 and by January 2016 had cut ties with this person entirely, running his law firm by himself for a short time.
The 34 clients spanning 13 states who were harmed by Domenick paid him $509,853.