Disciplinary board: Judge candidate did not follow court order

Sandra Thompson, (D) candidate for Judge Court of Common Pleas, takes part in the York Stands Up bipartisan countywide candidates forum in the Weinstock Lecture Hall inside the Willman Business Center at York College, Monday, May 6, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

A York City-based attorney running for Common Pleas judge made "material misstatement of facts" to her clients in a Philadelphia lawsuit, according to the state Supreme Court Disciplinary Board.

Sandra Thompson violated seven rules of professional conduct, according to the board. Details of the reprimand were released recently.

She did not return messages seeking comment the afternoon of Thursday, Oct. 10.

Thompson, a Democrat, is running against Matt Menges, a Republican, for the position opened by York County Court Judge John S. Kennedy's retirement in 2017.

Reached Thursday, Menges declined to comment on the reprimand, saying he did not think it would be appropriate to do so. 

Public-discipline documents detailing the misconduct state Thompson represented clients in an appeal in a civil suit against the clients' union, the Philadelphia Labor Union, sometime after the case was dismissed in 2012.

Ryan Paddick, the clients' original attorney, was initially hired to handle the appeal, but he was terminated and sought compensation for his work prior to Thompson's hiring, court documents state.

Thompson was hired to handle the appeal with the contingency that she would receive 35% of any recovery or settlement proceeds, according to documents.

After the civil suit was settled, Paddick asserted a charging lien against the clients on the settlement proceedings, but Thompson claimed her retention was only for the clients' claims against the union and not against Paddick's fees, according to documents.

According to an order filed by U.S. Magistrate Judge David Strawbridge, Thompson contended that Paddick's award should come from the clients and not her fee.

Court documents state Thompson was ordered to pay her clients and Paddick by July 10, 2018. While she sent out the payment on July 10 to her clients, Paddick was not paid until October.

Thompson owed him more than $50,000 in legal fees, and she had to pay about $15,000 more in attorney time in January after she did not comply with the court's order, according to documents.

On Thursday afternoon, York County GOP chairman Jeff Piccola said what was troubling about the situation is that she ignored several court orders.

“She clearly has no respect for the office that she’s seeking," he said.

Piccola, a former state senator, himself was reprimanded by the state Supreme Court's disciplinary board in 2012 for failing to withdraw as counsel when a conflict of interest arose, according to records.

York County Democratic chair Chad Baker did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.

Thompson, who is president of the York NAACP and works at her own private law firm, made national headlines when the police were called on her and four other black women at a Dover Township golf course in April 2018.

They alleged discrimination after former York County Commissioner Steve Chronister, whose family owns the Grandview Golf Course, called the police after the five wouldn't leave. Chronister said he believed they were playing too slowly and were delaying other golfers. 

The complaints prompted hearings from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission last year.

Stacey Witalec, spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said a public proceeding for the reprimand will happen but has not yet been scheduled.

— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at cdornblaser@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.