Scranton, Pa

Injustice in the Pennsylvania Legal System

Posted: October 18, 2022

On August 8, 2022, Corey Kolcharno, a Lackawanna County defense attorney, and former prosecutor, was charged with promoting prostitution after forcing four female clients to “pay” for his legal services with sexual acts between 2018 and 2022. An investigation by Pennsylvania State Police accuses Kolcharno of leveraging the power of his position to violate and sexually exploit his already vulnerable clients when he should have been advocating for and protecting them. Kolcharno has been released on bail pending his trial, and his lawyer has indicated that he intends to accept responsibility for his mistakes and plans to surrender his law license.

Pennsylvania Act 105 (2014) clearly defines human trafficking as a criminal offense covering both sexual servitude and labor servitude. Under the law, an individual commits the crime of sex trafficking when that person “recruits, entices, solicits, harbors, transports, provides, obtains or maintains an individual if the person knows or recklessly disregards that the individual will be subject to involuntary servitude,” or if the person “knowingly benefits financially or receives anything of value from any act that facilitates any [such] activity.” In Pennsylvania, a human trafficking conviction can carry a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.

Despite the applicability of the human trafficking statute, Attorney General Josh Shapiro has chosen to charge Kolcharno with promoting prostitution alone. Compared to the potential sentence for traffickers, first time offenders convicted of promoting prostitution rarely receive a jail sentence, and the grading is substantially lower than that of human trafficking. A CSE Institute audit of cases involving a charge of promoting prostitution between January 1, 2021, and December 31, 2021, reveals that only nineteen percent of these charges result in a conviction; of those convictions, the average sentence is 10-21 months. The disparity between the prosecution of these two offenses is telling, as is the Attorney General’s apparent leniency for a former prosecutor-turned-sexual predator.

A client’s trust in their attorney is an indispensable element of the attorney-client relationship and forms the very foundations upon which our adversarial legal system is built. What happens when an attorney violates that trust by exploiting their client’s vulnerabilities? How should the legal system respond to the very real threat such violent and unethical behavior by its members?

Unfortunately, Attorney General Josh Shapiro has neglected this opportunity to signal the Commonwealth’s disapproval of attorneys who sexually exploit their vulnerable clients by failing to charge Kolcharno with the more appropriate and serious trafficking offense. If the allegations against Kolcharno are true, he leveraged his position of power and confidence over his victims to recruit, entice, or obtain sexual acts in exchange for his legal services. As the chief prosecutor in Pennsylvania, Shapiro has a responsibility to condemn such abuses of attorney power by filing the appropriate charges.

The allegations against Kolcharno also violate the Rules of Professional Conduct and the lawyer’s oath, for which Kolcharno has indicated his willingness to accept responsibility and surrender his license to practice law. Unfortunately, Kolcharno isn’t alone in engaging in exploitative and unethical behavior; just last year, the Pennsylvania Bar Association President was allowed to resign after he was charged with patronizing a prostitute.

These cases suggest that the Pennsylvania Bar may have a serious problem on their hands. Clearly, permissive punishments like surrender or resignation are failing to prevent trusted attorneys and elected industry leaders from committing violent sexual crimes – including against their own clients. Like Shapiro, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board has a responsibility to clarify unequivocally that the lawyers of this Commonwealth do not condone sexual abuse or exploitation. The Office of the Disciplinary Council successfully petitioned for a temporary suspension of Kolcharno’s law license while the case against him is resolved. We hope this suspension signals a more active approach to disciplining lawyers who engage in sexual exploitation.

The CSE Institute commends the bravery of Kolcharno’s victims who spoke to police about Kolcharno’s crimes. Survivor voices are imperative to changing the sex trafficking narrative. But it also requires strong action by legal leadership to bring the most appropriate charges and disbar attorneys who commit acts of sexual violence. As members of the Bar, we will not stand for this.

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

Category: News

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