Feb 6, 2024 - News

Attorney faces discipline over repping family in fatal police shooting

Illustration of a black and white gavel with a green tint over a purple and black background.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary Counsel is accusing an attorney of falsely claiming to represent Thomas "TJ" Siderio's father in a lawsuit against the police.

Driving the news: Attorney J. Conor Corcoran faces potential discipline for acting on behalf of Thomas Siderio Sr. without having an agreement in place, per the disciplinary petition.

  • Ethics officials say Corcoran lied to a judge about the status of his representation because he wanted to keep the case and cash in on a potential settlement.
  • He gave interviews to news outlets on behalf of the boy's family and later tried getting Siderio Sr. disqualified from overseeing his son's estate after learning Siderio Sr. had hired another lawyer to handle the case.

Why it matters: The case illustrates the dark, competitive nature among some Philadelphia lawyers to secure high-profile civil rights cases.

What they're saying: Lawyers must abide by strict rules governing how they solicit clients. Some are willing to test the bounds of ethics to gain an edge because they believe the chances of getting caught are slim, Rutgers law professor J.C. Lore III tells Axios.

  • "The pressure for new clients and new business is enormous," he says. "Especially when a case can be life-changing for your practice."

Between the line: Days after TJ's death, Corcoran filed a writ of summons initiating a lawsuit against the four police officers involved in the fatal encounter.

  • Corcoran didn't talk to Siderio's father, who was incarcerated, before taking that action, per the disciplinary petition.
  • He said he believed he was free to do so because he previously represented the father in other cases — a position he later acknowledged was wrong, per the disciplinary petition.

The other side: Corcoran says in his response to the disciplinary petition that he thought he had Siderio Sr.'s permission to file the suit and explained his other actions as an attempt to prevent other lawyers from taking advantage of Siderio Sr.

  • "Unfortunately, in this extremely competitive legal world where professionalism is trumped by business, other lawyers turned [Siderio Sr.] against him," Samuel Stretton, Corcoran's attorney, told Axios.

Yes, but: Nearly two months after filing the writ of summons, Corcoran still didn't have an agreement in place to represent Siderio Sr., per the disciplinary petition.

  • He wrote a letter to another lawyer who offered to represent Siderio Sr. at a lower rate, threatening to report him to ethics officials.

What happened: Siderio Sr. and the boy's mother hired other attorneys, but Corcoran tried getting those firms kicked off the case and threatened to sue them for tampering, per the petition.

  • He used Siderio Sr.'s confidential medical information to try to get a judge to rule that Siderio Sr. was "incapacitated" and couldn't manage his affairs, it said.

What we're watching: Corcoran has requested a disciplinary hearing but a date hasn't been set.

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