Pa. attorney approached wrongful death suit responsibly, records show

By Lawrence Smith | Oct 24, 2008

CHARLESTON – Despite being accused of unethical conduct by a candidate for state Supreme Court, records show a Pennsylvania attorney seemingly took the necessary steps to be admitted to practice law in West Virginia.

CHARLESTON – Despite being accused of unethical conduct by a candidate for state Supreme Court, records show a Pennsylvania attorney seemingly took the necessary steps to be admitted to practice law in West Virginia.

Last year, former Justice Margaret Workman filed a civil suit against Roy E. Bell of Fayetteville and Richard A. Peterson, a Greenville, Pa., attorney, alleging Peterson lured Bell away as her client from a wrongful-death suit in Fayette County. The suit was filed against Edgar W. Friedrichs, at whose cabin in Thurmond Roy's son, Jeremy, died on Nov. 7, 1997.

Though Workman's suit does not specify when, records from the wrongful-death suit show Bell discharged Workman as his attorney on Nov. 14, 2002. This came about two months after Bell was admitted co-administrator with his ex-wife, Kimberly Ball, for the estate of their son, Jeremy Bell, on Sept. 17, 2002.

In her suit, Workman alleges Bell discharging her "was without good cause and was the result of the tortious interference with the attorney-client contract" by Peterson. She also accused Peterson of practicing law in West Virginia without a valid license.

However, in a complaint both he and Bell filed against both Workman and Frank Armada, who Ball hired to originally file the wrongful-death suit against Friedrichs, with the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, the investigative arm of the state Bar, Peterson's initial involvement in the case was limited to where he was licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania.

After claiming he received no cooperation from either Workman or Armada did Peterson make a trip to West Virginia, and later file the necessary paperwork to temporarily practice law in West Virginia.

Alleging non-cooperation

According to records, Peterson and Bell filed their complaints, respectfully, on April 25 and 29, 2003, against Workman and Armada.

In his complaint, Bell alleges that when Workman failed to work with Daniel Barber, a Pennsylvania private investigator the family hired to probe the circumstances of Jeremy's death, he fired Workman and directed her to make available to Peterson her case files on the wrongful-death suit.

In a letter faxed on Nov. 19, 2002, Peterson notified Workman that Bell had formally retained him. Though he asked for Workman's case files, Peterson says they to evaluate the possibility of bringing a suit against the Interboro School District in Delaware County, Pa.

According to a two-part investigative report in the Sept. 22 and 29, 2004, editions of the Philadelphia Weekly, allegations that Friedrichs was a pedophile surfaced as early as 1968.

In 1973, after John Stillman, a student at Prospect Park Elementary School where Friedrichs was a fifth-grade teacher at the time, alleged he was molested by Friedrichs, his parents demanded an inquiry. Though school officials, including Principal Robert Castle, interviewed many of Stillman's classmates and uncovered evidence of not only molestation, but also statutory rape, no criminal charges were filed against Friedrichs.

Instead, he was quietly released from his teaching position. In 1975, Friedrichs resurfaced as a teacher, and later principal, in Fayette County.

After Workman failed to respond to not only the letter faxed on Nov. 19, but also the one on Nov. 22, 2002, Peterson and Bell made a visit to Workman's office. Upon asking to see and photocopy the files, Workman refused.

During the visit, Workman handed Bell a copy of a motion she and Armada filed seeking the appointment of a guardian ad litem for Bell, alleging he was acting contrary to the best interests of Jeremy's estate. However, after returning to Fayetteville, Bell learned the motion had not been filed in the circuit court.

Also during the visit, Workman handed Peterson a copy of letter accusing him of the unlawful practice of law. Records show, Peterson filed for and was granted pro hac vice status by Fayette Circuit Judge Charles M. Vickers on March 24, 2003, to represent Bell as co-administrator of Jeremy's estate.

Records show, on April 1 and 3, 2003, Peterson again faxed Workman requesting her cooperation. Not only did she fail to respond to those inquiries but also a follow-up telephone message Peterson left with Workman's secretary "Julie."

Before filing his complaint, Peterson faxed one last letter to Workman on April 12, 2003. In the letter, Peterson said "her failure to cooperate was preventing full evaluation of the Interboro case and that we would hold her responsible for her conduct."

On Nov. 19, 2004, ODC closed Bell and Peterson's complaints. In his closing letter, then-Chief Lawyer Disciplinary Counsel Lawrence Lewis said the root of the disputes is found in Hatcher's order appointing Bell co-administrator with Ball.

"Disputes regarding the interpretation of that order, as well as orders regarding sealed information, and other legal issues all must be raised in that forum and not in this office," Lewis said.

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