A lawyer who “manipulated his attorney-client relationship” with a woman to facilitate inappropriate sexual communications with her 14-year-old daughter will lose his law license for three years, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered May 9.
The discipline proceedings against the lawyer, Jeffrey T. Toman, highlights variations in the way states discipline attorneys who are convicted of sex crimes involving minors.
Toman pleaded no contest in 2017 to “corruption of minors,” a first-degree misdemeanor, after an investigation into his contact with the daughter of a woman he represented in a custody dispute.
According to court records, Toman was also the “best friend” of the mother’s boyfriend, and he met the 14-year-old victim during a ski outing with the family.
In an affidavit, a police detective said Toman began to communicate directly with the child in the summer of 2015, when he was given her phone number “for the purpose of establishing a relationship with her to better represent her and her mother in the legal battle.”
Toman then began to send inappropriate sexual messages to the child, authorities said, and the contact continued for several months.
In 2016, Toman was charged with three third-degree felonies-unlawful contact with a minor, dissemination of explicit sexual material to a minor, and criminal use of a communication facility-and one misdemeanor, corruption of a minor.
He ultimately pleaded no contest to just the misdemeanor charge.
That would have been enough to warrant disbarment in some states-including California, which has a per se rule of disbarment for lawyers convicted of crimes involving child endangerment, and neighboring New Jersey, where the state supreme court recently rejected a bright-line disbarment rule but indicated the sanction would be imposed in “egregious” cases. See 33 Law. Man. Prof. Conduct 307.
But several Pennsylvania lawyers convicted of child sex crimes have received suspensions from practice, as noted in a joint petition for discipline consent that bar counsel and Toman filed in this case.
In its May 9 per curiam order, the court accepted that joint petition and adopted the recommended sanction: a three-year suspension from practice.
Manipulating Attorney-Client Relationship
The petition highlighted some circumstances warranting significant discipline.
“Most significantly, Respondent is alleged to have manipulated his attorney-client relationship in order to support contacting his client’s minor daughter,” the petition said.
But the petition said there were also mitigating circumstances.
Among others, those included the fact that Toman “was ultimately convicted of only a single first-degree misdemeanor offense,” that he “accepted prison time as part of his sentence,” and that he “did not have physical contact with the minor,” the petition said.
The court granted the petition without comment.
The police affidavit said Toman began sending inappropriate text messages to the child-asking her whether she had a boyfriend and if she was a virgin-shortly after getting her phone number.
The child said Toman then sent her pictures of his genitals and asked her to “send him pictures of her in her bra and panties,” the detective wrote.
Authorities said the inappropriate contact continued for several months, and included “FaceTime” conversations in which Toman masturbated and asked the girl to reciprocate.
The child said Toman’s girlfriend contacted her in early 2016 to say “she knew what was going on” and threaten to tell the girl’s mother if the contact didn’t cease.
Several months later, the child’s mother confronted her daughter “after getting ‘mother’s intuition’ and observing how [Toman] looked at [the child] when they were in the same room,” the detective said.
Christopher T. Powell Jr., Scranton, Pa., represented Toman. Chief Disciplinary Counsel Paul J. Killion and Disciplinary Counsel Anthony A. Czuchnicki, Harrisburg, Pa., represented their office.
The case is Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Toman , No. 113 DB 2017, Pa., 5/9/18.