Advisory panel opposes Dawn Segal’s reinstatement to Pa. bar

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Suspended attorney Dawn A. Segal remains undaunted in her pursuit to become a practicing attorney once again, despite a blistering report from an advisory panel that opposes her reinstatement to the Pennsylvania bar.

Segal, 61, an out lesbian, was suspended from the bar last year due to misconduct that occurred in 2011-2012 while she served as a Municipal Court judge. As a new judge, Segal had several improper phone conversations with another judge, Joseph C. Waters Jr., about three cases pending before her. Segal maintains she took no actions in the cases that she wouldn’t have taken had Waters not called her about them.

The phone conversations were intercepted by the FBI as part of a larger probe of judicial wrongdoing in Philadelphia. Due to her misconduct, Segal was permanently removed from the bench by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in November 2017. 

After her removal from the bench, Segal practiced law with her spouse, Nancy D. Wasser. But she subsequently consented to having her law license suspended for a year and a day, effective May 9, 2019. Later that month, she began working as a paralegal at Ostroff Injury Law Firm in Blue Bell, Pa.

In August 2020, Segal participated in a three-hour virtual hearing before an advisory panel of the state Disciplinary Board, expressing remorse for her transgressions and a desire to resume practicing law.

“I feel that I have grown personally and professionally through this whole process,” Segal told the panel, composed of attorneys Katherine C. Douglas, Christopher M. Fox and Debra A. Jensen. 

But the panel members weren’t persuaded by the testimony of Segal and her witnesses. To the contrary, on Nov. 23, they issued a scathing 57-page report, recommending that Segal not be reinstated.

“[Segal] does not genuinely understand, acknowledge or appreciate the wrongfulness of her misconduct,” the report states. “The committee finds that Ms. Segal has not genuinely and sufficiently rehabilitated herself and has thereby created concern that she will commit misconduct in the future.”

The report goes on to claim that Segal’s testimony was “internally inconsistent” and lacked credibility. “She insisted that there was no quid pro quo [with Waters], which is demonstrative of her lack of credibility as well as her lack of legal competence,” the panel declared. “The Hearing Committee sees no evidence of true accountability for her actions — nor do they see evidence of [Segal’s] genuine remorse.”

The panel opined that Segal hasn’t done enough self-reflection about her misconduct. “The Hearing Committee finds Ms. Segal lacks insight into the seriousness of accepting calls from Waters and initiating calls to Waters,” the panel wrote.

The panel also rejected Segal’s testimony that she eventually told Waters to stop calling her. “The Hearing Committee simply did not believe [Segal’s] testimony of her telling Judge Waters to stop,” the panel added. “The Hearing Committee finds that [Segal] has neither taken the necessary time nor made the appropriate effort to ready herself for possible reinstatement to the bar.”

In a rebuttal brief filed Dec. 10, attorneys for Segal emphasized her deep remorse for her transgressions. The brief referred to Segal’s August 2020 hearing testimony. “I failed with Waters. I failed in an enormous way,” Segal testified. “But going forward I won’t fail again.”

Segal also testified: “I brought disrepute upon my colleagues, who work so hard to do the right thing. And for that, I will feel remorseful forever.”

According to legal documents, Segal has provided extensive pro bono work in the past and hopes to continue doing so in the future. Her sister died several years ago and she’s devoted much time to helping raise her two nieces. She also helped put her son through college and law school. The young man, Jacob Segal, currently serves as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

During the August hearing, Jacob Segal testified that his mother understood and regretted the impact her actions had upon the legal community, the judiciary, the people around her and the larger community. He also said she understood that all of the negative consequences that happened to her were because of her own actions.

Justin F. Robinette, an LGBT attorney who viewed the virtual hearing, expressed support for Segal. “What more do they want from her?” Robinette posed. “She’s expressed remorse and shown rehabilitation. I wonder whether a non-LGBT attorney would experience the same treatment. The panel appears to nitpick and cast aspersions at every turn. I don’t think their limited role of determining fitness to practice law permits them to pass judgment so harshly.”

Early next year, the state Disciplinary Board is expected to issue a report and recommendation to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding Segal’s bid for reinstatement. Then, after reviewing the matter, the high court will issue an order either reinstating Segal or not reinstating her. 

An attorney for Segal declined to comment for this story.