Scranton, Pa

UPDATE: Injustice in the Pennsylvania Legal System

Posted: October 20, 2023

On October 10, 2023, Corey Kolcharno, a Lackawanna County defense attorney and former assistant district attorney, pled guilty to four felony counts of promoting prostitution. Attorney General Michelle Henry announced that he will be sentenced on a later date following a presentence investigation. As part of the plea agreement terms, Kolcharno is required to give up his license to practice law.

As we previously reported, on August 8, 2022, Kolcharno 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 accused 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.

One victim told investigators that Kolcharno knew she was in recovery and struggling financially. With that knowledge, he offered her $500 in exchange for sex and did not bill the victim for legal services rendered during that period. In 2019, Kolcharno told another victim that he would take $500 off her bill if she had sex with him. After reviewing those records, investigators noted that Kolcharno’s staff had deducted that sum from the victim’s account.

Following these two instances, a came forward with similar experiences. Kolcharno took her brother on as a client after he was criminally charged and was aware that the victim was struggling financially as a single mother. While working on his case, Kolcharno requested nude photographs from the victim and asked for sex as payment for her brother’s legal fees. After each sexual encounter, Kolcharno gave her $500 in cash. Accprding to the victim, she felt ashamed and trapped since 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 prosecutor-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 act 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, as is the Attorney General’s apparent leniency for a former prosecutor-turned-sexual predator.

A client’s trust in their attorney is the crux of the attorney-client relationship and forms the basis of the adversarial legal system. When an attorney violates that trust by exploiting their client’s vulnerabilities and the legal system fails to respond adequately to the threat of violent behavior by its members, the legal building blocks of ethics and justice are essentially destroyed.

Attorney General Shapiro neglected the 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. Kolcharno leveraged his position of power over his victims to recruit, entice, or obtain sexual acts in exchange for his legal services. As the chief prosecutor in Pennsylvania, Shapiro had the responsibility to condemn such abuses of attorney power by filing the appropriate charges.

As a part of the plea agreement, Kolcharno is required to surrender his license to practice law. Unfortunately, Kolcharno is not alone in giving up his law license for engaging in exploitative and unethical behavior. For example, 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. 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 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 spoke to police about Kolcharno’s crimes. Survivor voices are imperative to changing the sex trafficking narrative. This change 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 Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 



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