Engle, Shapiro, Smith Win Reversal at Pennsylvania Supreme Court

August 22, 2022 Firm News

Michael J. Engle, Ashley E. Shapiro and Ryan Aloysius Smith, attorneys in Armstrong Teasdale’s Philadelphia office, recently secured victory at the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for their client, a former Philadelphia County Municipal Court judge, in a case involving the forfeiture of the judge’s state pension.

The judge, Joseph J. O’Neill, had resigned from the court in 2016 after pleading guilty to two counts of making false statements to federal investigators. The State Employees’ Retirement System (SERS) informed him that he had forfeited his pension on the grounds that, under Pennsylvania’s Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, his conviction under federal statute was “substantially the same” as the state crime of making false reports to law enforcement authorities which triggers forfeiture of state pension.

Engle and Shapiro filed a challenge to SERS, which was denied, as was a subsequent formal appeal. In a further appeal to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, the Court relied on its own precedent, Merlino v. Philadelphia Board of Pensions and Retirement, to rule in favor of SERS and stating that the federal crime was “substantially the same.”

Engle, Shapiro and Smith submitted the matter on brief to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which concluded in its Aug. 16, 2022, decision that the two offenses were not substantially the same and reinstated the judge’s pension. Further, the Court determined that the Commonwealth Court erred in its reliance on Merlino as precedent.

The six-year-long case has been the subject of coverage by The Legal Intelligencer and Law360.

Engle, a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers, has more than 20 years of experience handling complex criminal cases, internal investigations and compliance matters. He also handles a variety of civil litigation matters, especially the defense of False Claims Act or qui tam actions. Engle’s clients rely on his sound judgment as they face complex allegations, and appreciate his ability to provide individualized attention and consistent communication.

Shapiro has more than a decade of experience defending clients in criminal litigation, internal investigations and corporate compliance matters. A strong advocate and trial lawyer, she has experience at both the federal and state levels across many jurisdictions, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. She also handles a variety of civil litigation matters, especially the defense of False Claims Act or qui tam actions.

Smith counsels clients on a variety of criminal and civil matters and regularly represents clients in a range of commercial disputes, from breach of contract to theft of trade secrets and high-stakes litigation in heavily regulated industries. A skilled legal writer, he has served as the primary author on a variety of motions, briefs and petitions, including successful suppression motions, motions to dismiss, habeas corpus petitions, bail motions, evidentiary motions and motions for return of property.

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