Scranton, Pa

UPDATE: Injustice in the Pennsylvania Legal System 

Posted: January 22, 2024

On January 11, 2024, former Pennsylvania defense attorney Corey Kolcharno was sentenced on four counts of promoting prostitution. As a result, Kolcharno will face up to two years in prison. Additionally, Kolcharno will be on probation for two years, must pay a fine of 17,000 dollars, and complete 250 hours of community service.   


As we previously reported, on August 8, 2022, Kolcharno was charged with four counts of promoting prostitution. On October 10, 2023, Kolcharno pled guilty to all charges. At that time, Attorney General Michelle Henry announced that he would be sentenced at a later date, following a presentence investigation. 


As a practicing defense attorney in Lackawanna County, PA, Kolcharno faced these charges after forcing four of his female clients to “pay” for his legal services with sexual acts and materials between 2018 and 2022. Following a Pennsylvania State Police investigation, Kolcharno was accused of leveraging his position of power to sexually exploit and violate his vulnerable clients, when he should have been advocating for and protecting them.   


One victim told investigators that Kolcharno knew that she was in recovery and having financial struggles. Knowing this, Kolcharno offered her $500 in exchange for sex and did not bill the victim for his legal services. In 2019, Kolcharno told another victim that he would remove $500 from her bill if she had sex with him. Upon investigation, Kolcharno’s staff had in fact deducted $500 from the victim’s account.  


Following these two instances, another victim came forward with similar experiences. Kolcharno had taken on her brothers case, knowing that she was struggling financially as a single mother. While Kolcharno worked on her brother’s case, he requested nude photographs from the victim and asked for sex as payment for her brother’s legal fees. Following each sexual encounter, Kolcharno gave the victim $500 in cash. The victim stated that she felt trapped and ashamed because Kolcharno was aware of her financial situation.   


Following Kolcharno’s plea, Attorney General Henry stated, “Officers of the court are held to higher standards because their work is essential to our justice system, and this individual manipulated and abused those he had an obligation to defend.” Despite this sentiment, the decision by Attorney General Josh Shapiro to charge Kolcharno with promoting prostitution alone— and not human trafficking— is telling of the apparent leniency for a former attorney-turned-sexual-predator. 


Pennsylvania Act 105 (2014) defines human trafficking as a criminal offense and encompasses 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 fact that facilitates any [such] activity.” In Pennsylvania, a human trafficking conviction can carry a sentence of up to 40 years in prison.   


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. Individuals charged with promoting prostitution may be sentenced to up to three years in prison for a first offense. 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 these convictions, the average sentence is 10-21 months. The disparity between the prosecution of these two offenses is telling of the apparent leniency for a man who was entrusted to advocate for vulnerable persons, but instead exploited them and his position of power for sexual acts. 


A client’s trust in their attorney is the crux of the attorney-client relationship. Moreover, it forms the basis of the adversarial legal system. When an attorney violates the trust between them and their client by exploiting their client’s vulnerability, and then the legal system fails to adequately respond to this violent threat of behavior, the legal system’s building blocks of ethics and justice are rendered a pile of rubble.   


Still, Attorney General Shapiro neglected to demonstrate the Commonwealth’s disapproval of attorneys who sexually exploit their clients when he chose not to charge Kolcharno with the more appropriate and more serious human trafficking offense. As the chief prosecutor in Pennsylvania, Shapiro has not only the responsibility to condemn these abuses of the justice system by filing appropriate charges, but also the opportunity to demonstrate the severity of this crime with a human trafficking charge. Charging a defense attorney with human trafficking after he leveraged his position of power over his victims to obtain sexual gratification in exchange for legal services is an ideal opportunity to demonstrate our Commonwealth’s condemnation of this behavior and dedication to justice for victims. Yet, the less severe charge was chosen. 


As part of Kolcharno’s plea agreement, Kolcharno was required to surrender his license to practice law. Unfortunately, Kolcharno is not alone in the department of giving up law licenses for engaging in exploitative and unethical behavior.In 2021, the Pennsylvania Bar Association President was allowed to resign after he was charged with patronizing a prostitute.   


Cases like these suggest that the Pennsylvania Bar may have a serious problem on their hands. It is evident that permissive punishments like surrender or resignation are failing to prevent trusted attorneys and elected industry leaders from committing violent sexual crimes – even 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. Prior to Kolcharno’s plea, the Office of the Disciplinary Council successfully petitioned for a temporary suspension of Kolcharno’s law license while the case against him was being resolved. We hope this suspension signaled a more active approach to disciplining lawyers who engage in sexual exploitation.   


The CSE Institute commends the bravery of Kolcharno’s victims who came out and spoke of Kolcharno’s crimes. Their bravery and voices are imperative in the mission of changing the sex trafficking narrative.   


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

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