In a recent development, a lawyer with the Erie County Court of Common Pleas in Pennsylvania, James P. Miller, has been suspended for four years due to his chronic failure to properly represent indigent criminal defendants. Miller, who now resides near Pittsburgh, was under contract as “outside conflicts counsel,” handling cases in which the Public Defender’s Office had a conflict of interest.
The disciplinary report issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court revealed that Miller engaged in “serial neglect” of his cases between 2019 and 2021. Examples of his neglect include failing to communicate with a 15-year-old defendant for 13 months and meeting with a 17-year-old defendant only once over the course of a year. In another case, Miller did not perform any work on behalf of a client for 14 months, except to request a case postponement.
The complaints against Miller became so numerous that Erie County Judge John J. Mead had to remove him from 50 criminal cases in May 2021 and assigned the cases to other attorneys. Miller faced further consequences when he refused to turn over the case files, leading Mead to threaten him with arrest for contempt of court. Eventually, Miller handed over the files, and the other lawyers resolved the cases.
The disciplinary board’s report highlighted Miller’s repeated failure to serve his clients, lack of diligence, failure to meet deadlines, and failure to follow court orders. The board described Miller’s neglect of juvenile clients as appalling, as they were part of a vulnerable population and deserved better representation.
In addition to his contract work with Erie County, Miller had a private practice and previously worked as an assistant public defender and district judge in McKean County. His LinkedIn account indicates that he graduated from the law school at the University of Pittsburgh in 1992.
Miller, who blamed health problems for his neglect of cases, failed to provide evidence during the disciplinary hearing to support his claims. The board determined that a four-year suspension was necessary to protect the public, preserve the integrity of the legal profession and the courts, and discourage similar misconduct.
Once the suspension period ends, Miller will have the option to petition for reinstatement. However, his lack of proof regarding medical issues and failure to respond to the disciplinary charges may impact his chances.
This case underscores the importance of ensuring proper representation for indigent defendants and highlights the Erie County Court of Common Pleas’ commitment to rectifying the situation by promptly addressing Miller’s neglect of his clients’ cases.