WEST CHESTER – The jury negotiating the trial of a suspended attorney whose former clients claim he stole their money by charging for their representation but did little or no work on their cases will take the case expected to receive early this week.
Prosecutors and defense attorney for Joshua Janis, formerly of Downingtown, were able to testify in front of Judge Patrick Carmody at Common Pleas Court last week more than 35 witnesses – some via video link – over four days.
“We are making efficient progress,” said Carmody on Friday to seven men and five women. “The lawyers are doing a good job” of moving the case forward with minor glitches, he said, allowing them to deliberate the matter ahead of time. The judge had previously earmarked three weeks for the case.
The lead prosecutor, former assistant district attorney Ronald Yen, told Carmody he expected to rest his case on Tuesday. Exton’s defense attorney Ryan Hyde has indicated that he will have to testify for about a day, although it is unclear whether Janis will take a stand in his own defense.
Janis, who now lives in New Jersey, was arrested in 2018 and charged with a litany of charges, most of which accuse him of taking money from a number of people who want his legal services and then doing little or nothing for them What could have been relatively straightforward cases, like an uncontested divorce or a simple custody matter.
He is also accused of stealing money from his previous law firm by paying fees paid by clients that were supposed to be transferred to the law firm’s general account but which he illegally kept private.
Charges include theft by failure to comply with required means, theft by fraud and forgery.
One of the witnesses on Friday was an Elverson woman who was one of the first to complain about his representation with state authorities at the Disciplinary Board. Janis, a graduate of Widener University School of Law, was suspended from exercising the law in December 2015 by the board of directors.
Bonnie Kennedy told the jury interviewed by Yen that she had paid Janis $ 2,500 in cash to represent her on two matters, a custody case against her two sons and a criminal prosecution for alleged breaking into her ex-husband’s home .
Kennedy, who sued Janis for the money she paid him to represent her and won a judgment for the $ 2,500 plus interest, said she hired Janis in September 2014 after viewing his website on the Internet .
“I thought it was very well rounded and would be able to replace me,” she said. “He was articulate, he was confident. He only seemed able to represent me and my children. “
She described the criminal complaint against her as a misunderstanding between her ex-husband and her about the delivery of a birthday cake to the house where he and their sons lived. She said Janis told her the charges were “fraud”. and that she didn’t have to worry. He also assured her that he would get custody of her two sons for her.
When she and her boyfriend Mario D’Orsaneo appeared before Judge James DeAngelo in South Coventry for their preliminary hearing on the burglary charges in December 2014, Kennedy said Janis was unprepared. He had no records for her case and shot in and out of a conference room before the hearings without telling her what was going on.
Ultimately, he escorted her into the courtroom and instructed her to plead guilty, which she allegedly refused to do. “I did it because he told me I was only going to stay out of jail,” said Kennedy, suppressing tears.
During his cross-examination, Hyde asked Kennedy about the sentences for the original charge and asked if she knew she could have faced up to 20 years in prison for the offense. Hadn’t DeAngelo asked her if she knew what she was doing by pleading guilty? “I trusted what (Janis) told me I shouldn’t have done.”
In relation to the custody case, Kennedy described a series of missed meetings and hearings with Janis over several weeks in the fall and winter of 2014. She once met him from the Chester County Justice Center in downtown West Chester at a time when he had told her that they would appear before a master who hears their fall.
“He said it was my fault that it was tomorrow,” she recalled. But shortly afterwards he called her and said he had made an agreement with the lawyer for her ex-husband. “I was confused about how two lawyers could come to an agreement without my intervention,” she said. In the end, there was no agreement, and she had to hire another lawyer to resolve the custody case.
“He never did anything for me,” she said.
Like Kennedy, many of the former clients who testified against Janis said that when they were hired, they gave them no indication of what he would do with their retention fees. Lawyers are required to place such fees in an escrow account and use them in their work. At the time of their retention, you must also conclude a fee agreement, which at Janis usually came about after the first meeting, sometimes for months.
Janis is also facing charges over his ex-wife and mother-in-law who accused him of stealing from them by opening credit card accounts in their name and bills for thousands of dollars in those accounts without their knowledge. These fees are checked separately.