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Attorney 'on the run'

November 18, 1998|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - On Monday about half a dozen people stood before Franklin County Judge John R. Walker asking for continuances in their criminal cases because their attorney, Todd A. Dorsett, had failed to show up in court.

"Does anybody know where Mr. Dorsett is?" Walker asked. The answer from the attorneys and officials in the courtroom was no.

Now Pennsylvania State Police are looking for the Waynesboro, Pa., attorney and one of his clients. On Wednesday the police issued an arrest warrant for Dorsett on a charge of hindering apprehension.

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The same report said the Pennsylvania State Parole Office had issued an arrest warrant for Jacob G. Schaff V, 26, of Waynesboro. Cpl. George Cronin at the state police barracks in Chambersburg said he did not know why Schaff was wanted by the parole office.

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Cronin said that hindering apprehension was the only charge against Dorsett filed by state police.

Dorsett, 38, was Schaff's attorney, said Schaff's sister, Jennifer Diamond.

Diamond, of Fayetteville, Pa., said she did not know where her brother was. She said she had not seen him since January, shortly after she returned to the area from out of state.

"He's been on the run for a long time," Diamond said of her brother. She said she did not know why he was being sought by the parole office.

Dorsett's sister, attorney Julie G. Dorsett, has a separate practice in Chambersburg. She declined to answer questions about her brother.

According to the Franklin County Clerk of Courts Office, at least eight criminal charges had been filed against Schaff over the years, the most recent a drunken driving charge in 1996.

According to the Court Administrator's Office, Dorsett has not appeared in court since at least Nov. 4, missing the call of the November trial list and other hearings.

A court administration employee said at least three of Dorsett's clients contacted the office asking how to get in touch with him. They were referred to Frank Dougherty at the Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary Counsel in Harrisburg.

Dougherty was not in his office Wednesday.

The phone in Dorsett's office at 130 W. Main St., Waynesboro, had been disconnected, as had the phone at his home at 128 W. Main St.

A neighbor who asked that her name not be used said she had not seen Dorsett in a week. The woman said Schaff had stayed at Dorsett's house on and off over a period of about three years.

An attorney for more than a decade, Dorsett is also president of the Waynesboro Historical Society.

The police and his clients are not the only ones looking for Dorsett. He had a three-year contract with the county to act as a conflict attorney. Conflict attorneys represent criminal clients who qualify for a lawyer from the Public Defender's Office but cannot be represented by the office because of a conflict of interest.

The contract was to have paid Dorsett $40,906 for 1998. County Controller Carol Fix Diller said her office issued a check for $3,492.16 to Dorsett last Thursday.

The check was supposed to be for services rendered for November. Diller said she learned Tuesday that Dorsett was missing. "I called the bank to stop payment, but it was too late," she said.

Diller said a Waynesboro bank processed the unendorsed check on Monday and the money was desposited in an account. She said the bank could provide no other information because it was confidential.

"We have been apprised of the situation and have spoken with some investigating bodies about it," United Way of Franklin County Executive Director Cindy Hawbaker said of the missing attorney.

Hawbaker said the United Way was among the charities that were supposed to have received money from an estate for which Dorsett was the administrator.

"We had some assurances from him that he was going to be distributing those funds. ... To this day he has not," she said.

The distribution to the United Way was to have taken place in October 1997, but Dorsett kept delaying the payment, Hawbaker said. She said some of the other charities that were to have benefited from the estate had been paid, however.

She said money from estates goes into the United Way's endowment fund, unless otherwise stipulated.

Hawbaker said the United Way has not taken any civil or criminal action against Dorsett.

The state police report said the date of the alleged offense for which they issued the warrant on Dorsett was Thursday, Nov. 12. The report said state police were working with the Waynesboro Police Department and other agencies in its attempt to locate Dorsett and Schaff.

"Naturally we would have concern about what has happened to Todd and we're interested to find out why this happened," said Franklin County Bar Association President William F. Kaminski. He said Dorsett's disappearance would be the subject of an executive session at a meeting of the association this Friday.

"No claims have been formally raised" by clients, Kaminski said.

The association's bylaws state that it can only intervene in fee disputes between its members and clients, according to Kaminski.

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