HOLLIDAYSBURG - Former Blair County judge Richard A. Behrens, who resigned from the bench more than 25 years ago for improperly touching a young girl, has now been suspended from the practice of law for the indecent assault of an 18-year-old female relative.
The latest incident occurred four years ago. Behrens, 68, entered a no-contest plea to indecent assault in August 2009. Senior Judge John K. Reilly Jr. sentenced Behrens to two years' probation and ordered him to undergo counseling.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court Disciplinary Board issued an order last month suspending Behrens from the practice of law for one year and one day. Behrens has 30 days to close out his Hollidaysburg law practice, meaning the suspension will begin May 24, a spokeswoman for the board said Monday.
Behrens was not available for comment Monday afternoon.
The attorney began his law practice in Blair County in 1973 and received the nomination on both the Republican and Democratic tickets for a seat on the Court of Common Pleas in May 1981.
He was elected in November 1981 and began a 10-year term as Blair County's third judge.
Behrens was charged with a crime in 1984 because he improperly touched a 14-year-old girl, according to the disciplinary board's opinion.
The charges were dropped, but "as a result of the incident in 1984, [Behrens] voluntarily resigned from the bench in Blair County ... where he served as a Common Pleas judge," the opinion stated.
Behrens received counseling from 1984 through 1995.
In 2008, Behrens took the 18-year-old to an Altoona Curve baseball game, and on the way home, he pulled to the side of the road, stopped his car, removed his glasses and began fondling the woman, police said.
Again he entered counseling and continues to attend group therapy on a weekly basis, the board said.
The Rev. Jon "Sandy" Hommer of the Roseland Christian Fellowship in Glasgow said he meets weekly with Behrens.
"I believe he has made tremendous progress," Hommer said Monday.
Hommer, who called himself Behrens' mentor, stood by Behrens during the various hearings before the state disciplinary board. Behrens also presented six letters of support from the Blair County legal community in Blair County.
A three-member committee initially recommended that Behrens be suspended for three months but that the suspension be stayed and he receive two years' probation.
The disciplinary board challenged the committee's recommendation, pointing out that "disciplinary sanctions are intended to protect the public from unfit attorneys and maintain the integrity of the legal system."
The board admitted the Behrens case is a "difficult matter" because his crime was not against a client, he self-reported his conviction and he showed "sincere remorse."
"However, the focus of this matter remains [Behrens'] serious misconduct against an 18-year-old female relative. [He] admitted to a past similar incident with [the 14-year-old]," the board stated.
A member of the board, Carl D. Buchholz III, filed a dissenting opinion that was joined by three other board members. The Buchholz opinion stated that the majority of the board failed to consider that Behrens has been in weekly counseling and in meeting with a minister.
"[Behrens] is taking necessary steps to address his personal problems. [His] misconduct was serious and regrettable, but did not occur in his professional capacity and did not involve any clients," the dissenters contended.
They suggested Behrens be allowed to continue practicing law while receiving therapy.