Pa. Supreme Court disbars Philadelphia lawyer Willie Lee Nattiel Jr.

A once-prominent Philadelphia lawyer has been disbarred by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court after failing to respond to professional and ethical complaints.

The action, which takes effect Feb. 28 and strips Willie Lee Nattiel Jr. of his law license, was published Thursday by the Supreme Court.

The 23-page opinion lists 10 charges against Nattiel, most involving mishandling client funds and failures to appear for meetings and court hearings of people he had agreed to represent.

Nattiel, 55, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Philadelphia lawyer Michael Coard, who worked with Nattiel on several cases, Friday called the disbarment "aberrational," and said Nattiel had been combating serious health problems: two heart attacks and stent implants, neurological problems resulting from concussions received playing college football, and continuing depression.

Coard said Nattiel had also been dealing with the emotional aftermath of the rape of a relative.

"For 24 or 25 years, he had an excellent reputation among lawyers, black, white, and female, and even among many prosecutors," Coard said.

According to the opinion, Nattiel was temporarily suspended Sept. 28, 2012, and the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition for discipline May 1, 2013.

Though served with disciplinary notices at his office at 747 E. Woodlawn St. in East Germantown, Nattiel did not respond to the petition and did not appear at a hearing last Feb. 12. The hearing committee recommended disbarment last June and the Disciplinary Board approved the recommendation July 26.

A graduate of Wake Forest University law school, Nattiel was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1988. He became active in issues involving African Americans and the justice system, and was a mentor to young black lawyers.

In 1991, as an officer of the Barristers' Association of Philadelphia, Nattiel criticized the appointment of then-Common Pleas Court Judge Lynne M. Abraham as district attorney.

"Among many black and Hispanic attorneys," Nattiel told the Philadelphia Daily News at the time, "she was not a good judge for their clients."

He also was involved with Coard in publicly protesting the lack of criminal charges in two highly publicized incidents involving police: a 2010 case in which a Philadelphia police sergeant shot himself in a shoulder and blamed it on a black assailant, and Abraham's decision as district attorney to not charge the officers involved in a 2008 chase, car stop, and violent arrest - videotaped by a Fox29 news helicopter - of four black suspects.

Beginning about 2005, Nattiel's personal and professional life appeared be in crisis. According to the opinion, Nattiel filed for bankruptcy in 2005, had 11 open judgments against him in Common Pleas Court, and was the subject of nine code enforcement cases filed by the City of Philadelphia.

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