Lawyer convicted of possessing child pornography is disbarred by Pa. Supreme Court

By Jon Campisi | Dec 3, 2013

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has disbarred a suburban Philadelphia attorney who had been convicted of possessing child pornography.

In a per curiam order issued on Nov. 26, the high court acted on recommendations by its disciplinary board to disbar attorney Patrick Joseph Donahue retroactive to early February of last year.

Donahue, 52, who practiced law in Media, Delaware County, pleaded guilty in March 2002 to two counts of possession of a computer depiction of a child under 18 years of age in a prohibited sexual act and two counts of photographing another person without the person’s consent in a place where the person has an expectation of privacy, court records show.

The following year, a state judge sentenced Donahue to six months in the Lackawanna County Jail.

He was then paroled for more than a year-and-a-half.

After Donahue was let out of prison, he had to register as a sex offender, his record shows.

Donahue, however, never reported his conviction to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which was required by professional rules governing the conduct of attorneys.

In a report, the disciplinary board stated that Donahue was aware that his criminal defense attorney had not reported the conviction since at least 2005.

The disciplinary board noted that Donahue’s “personal story is sad,” including a history of childhood sexual abuse and a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, but maintained that the tragedies didn’t excuse his failure to report such a serious conviction in his professional records.

The board noted that Donahue was also having financial difficulties and other personal problems and had been looking for business opportunities at the time of his crimes.

In late 1996, the board noted, Donahue began collecting pornographic images on the computer at his law office, with the images numbering more than 100,000 between that time and his arrest in 2001.

At least 5,000 of the images depicted naked children performing prohibited sexual acts.

“Respondent claims that at the time he did not know that child pornography would be retrieved, yet he fully admits that the program which he installed on his computer collected pornography depicting children less than 18 years of age in prohibited sexual acts,” the disciplinary board had written in its report.

The board went on to note that the collecting of child pornography was at least partially a business decision that he discussed in advance with his brother and wife.

A client of Donahue’s suggested that the attorney start a pornographic website, something that seemed appealing.

The business dream, however, was never realized.

Meanwhile, Donahue had been aware that some of the images he had collected and planned to provide as content for a planned website were of people less than 18 years old, according to the disciplinary board.

He even went so far as to label one CD as “Young,” the board had charged.

Also prior to his arrest, Donahue had installed a hidden recording device in a bathroom at his law office with the intent of secretly videotaping females in various stage of undress.

“Respondent provided no real explanation for the camera in the law office bathroom,” the disciplinary board had written in its report.

It was the investigation of the camera incident that led to police seizing Donahue’s computer and ultimately discovering the child porn.

After prison, Donahue got a job working as a paralegal at the Law Office of Lee Herman, court records show.

During testimony before a disciplinary hearing last year, Donahue admitted that his conduct was “inexcusable” and has damaged the public perception of lawyers, the record shows.

He further testified that he believed his criminal defense attorney would have reported the conviction to the disciplinary board.

Nevertheless, Donahue took no steps to report himself and instead registered inactive status on subsequent attorney registration forms, the disciplinary board’s report states.

Donahue was living in Florida at the time, the record shows, and he resumed active attorney status when he returned to Pennsylvania in 2006 or 2007.

“Respondent admits that he ignored the issue of reporting his conviction because he felt that his law license was the only thing he had left in his life,” the board wrote in its report. “Respondent admits that he was aware for at least seven years that he was deficient in reporting his conviction.”

The board argued that Donahue had violated the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement.

In arguing for disbarment, the board stated that while Donahue never had any direct contact with any minor, his possessing illegal child pornography in the form of at least 5,000 computer images facilitated the exploitation of children.

Donahue had sought a public censure with probation or a stayed suspension for one or two years with probation, records show.

The board, however, sought disbarment, “relying on the undisputed fact that [Donahue] committed known criminal offenses dependent upon gross debasement of children in pornography and the invasion of privacy and victimization of women in his law office,” the disciplinary board wrote in its report.

The Supreme Court agreed that disbarment was the appropriate measure in this case.

The high court did not file a full opinion with its one-page per curiam order.

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