Thursday, December 4, 2008
The rules governing bar discipline in the District of Columbia require immediate suspension when an attorney is convicted of a felony offense, with a provision that the suspension may be set aside on a showing of good cause. In a rare instance finding such a showing, the D.C. Court of Appeals decided against an interim suspension:
We conclude that respondent has shown good cause for the court to stay the interim suspension. His prior unblemished record as an attorney; his plea of guilty to what amounts to a strict liability offense involving no scienter or moral turpitude; and the fact that his violation arose from conduct outside of his normal legal practice all suggest a very low degree of risk that permitting him to practice in the interim will harm the public. For the same reasons, but subject of course to development of a factual record in the disciplinary process, we think that the likelihood that respondent will receive a significant sanction, i.e., a suspension (if at all) of more than brief duration, is very small. Stated differently, there is a reasonable possibility on this record that interim suspension might exceed the sanction that will eventually be imposed on respondent. Considering, finally, the harm to respondent’s livelihood and ability to support his family that interim suspension may entail, we conclude that respondent has met his burden to show good cause for why the court should stay its hand.
The offense at issue involved a violation of D.C. law prohibiting engaging in the business of money transmission without a license.
It has now been pointed out to me that the court had declined (with Bar Counsel's blessing) to impose interim suspension in a case involving a criminal conviction for misdemeanor theft. Under the court's rules, such an offense is deemed a "serious crime" and requires suspension absent a showing of good cause. These two cases suggest to me that the court is more inclined to let an attorney maintain a license after conviction than it had been in the past. (Mike Frisch)