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July 30, 2018

D.A.: Chester County divorce attorney allegedly defrauded at least 25 clients

Joshua Janis allegedly stole more than $90,000 he had collected in retainer fees for court work he never performed or completed

Investigations Fraud
Joshua Janis Source/Chester County District Attorney's Office

Joshua Janis, 37, of Downingtown.

An attorney who practiced law for more than a decade in Chester County is facing multiple criminal charges after prosecutors allege he defrauded upwards of 25 clients in recent years.

Authorities announced the arrest on Monday of 37-year-old Joshua Janis, a Downingtown-based attorney who handled family court matters, civil disputes and criminal cases since he began practicing with a law firm in Chester County in 2006. From 2013-2015, Janis ran his own law firm out of Downingtown but took clients from across the county.

Prosecutors grew suspicious of Janis when the Disciplinary Council of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania received multiple complaints from Janis' clients and judges. The complaints eventually resulted in the suspension of Janis' law license and the launch of a criminal investigation.

A review of complaints revealed a consistent pattern, according to prosecutors: Janis allegedly would accept a case, take a retainer fee and deposit the money into his own account rather than place it into a required trust account.

Janis' clients said that after he received their fees, the attorney allegedly did do little to no work on their cases, investigators said. The clients eventually would be compelled to hire a second lawyer to handle their case, represent themselves or wait as the issues with Janis remained unresolved.

Many of Janis' neglected cases allegedly involved routine legal matters, such as divorce and invasion of privacy cases. Clients would pay him a $1,500 retainer — or more — and end up having to scramble to find another attorney.

In one case, prosecutors said Janis had been hire to represent a woman seeking to obtain a civil union divorce for her son, who had married his partner in Vermont in 2001. Janis allegedly told the client that the paperwork had been filed, but when she inquired about a lengthy delay, the attorney claimed the judge had "something against gay people" and said that "straight people's divorces are put first."

Eventually, Janis allegedly told the client her son's divorce was final, even though he had never even filed the paperwork, prosecutors said.

Investigators determined that Janis allegedly defrauded more than 25 clients of more than $90,000, in total.

Janis faces felony theft charges and prosecutors continue to seek out additional people he may have ripped off.

"This is not the first criminal case filed against the defendant, and I fear it will not be the last," Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan said. "We are concerned that there are other victims out there."

Anyone with additional information is asked to contact Detective Jerry Davis at (610) 344-6866.

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