Thursday, December 9, 2010

No Moral Turpitude

In a victory for common sense and negotiated sanctions, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals held that a criminal conviction may be the subject of an agreed disposition after the court has referred the conviction for a moral turpitude inquiry. The question was one of first impression. In D.C., a conviction for an offense involving moral turpitude requires disbarment pursuant to a provision of the District of Columbia Code.

The attorney was convicted of false entries in an FCC matter. He was suspended as a result of the conviction in August 2006. A hearing committee was convened and the parties submitted a petition for a negotiated sanction. Pursuant to guidelines set forth by the Board on Professional Responsibility, a hearing committee "evaluate[d] the thoroughness of Bar Counsel's investigation into the matter" and approved the petition.

The court found no evidence of moral turpitude and imposed a one year suspension, which has been fully served. In the criminal case, the government conceded that it could not prove that the attorney had knowingly signed false documents. (Mike Frisch) 

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Comments

To me, this is simply a case of the court imposing an interim suspension on the attorney which abused him until he finally saw the light and agreed to accept a one year suspension nunc pro tunc to January 2007. The attorney had been suspended from 2006. In one more year, he would have been suspended for the full five years which the court considers equivalent to disbarment.

Now everyone agrees that the crime did not involve moral turpitude. Yet Bar Counsel was able to hang this sword over the attorney’s head until he finally acquiesced. The end result is that he has been suspended for four years, he has been forced to agree that he violated RPC 8.4(b) and 8.4(c) (even though it doesn’t make sense that his strict liability crime “involv[ed] dishonesty, fraud, deceit and/or misrepresentation” which “reflect[ed] adversely on [his] honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer”) and the Bar Counsel has been relieved of having to prove anything. Accepting this was the only way that the attorney could finally put this behind him and get back to work. How is this fair?

I agree with your policy arguments as to why negotiated settlements make sense. But this case also amply demonstrates one of the risks and how the District’s disciplinary regime will use something like this to strong arm the attorney until he finally breaks.

Stephen

Posted by: FixedWing | Dec 9, 2010 1:21:48 PM

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