June 15, 2011
South Korean Conviction No Basis To Summarily Disbar
The District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility has issued an interesting report on a complicated question of law. The case involves an attorney who was convicted in Incheon District Court, South Korea, on charges that she had stolen $1,100 on a flight from the United States to South Korea.
Bar Counsel reported the conviction and statutes (with translations) to the Court of Appeals and sought an interim suspension for a "serious crime" conviction. The attorney objected and disputed the translations.
The court suspended the attorney and sent to the matter to the board for a moral turpitude inquiry. If it's moral turpitude, it's disbarment in the District of Columbia. This legal principle dates back to the bar discipline case against Charles Colson.
Bar Counsel sought a moral turpitude finding based on the fact of conviction. The attorney argued the the Korean legal system is "quite different" from that in the U.S. and that the conviction should not be treated as would a state or federal felony.
The board agreed with the attorney, concluding as a matter of law that the South Korean conviction was not a "serious crime" within the jurisdiction of the court's Rule XI, Section 10, which sets forth the procedures for criminal convictions. In effect, the board's interpretation would limit the rule to convictions in the United States.
If the court disagrees on the jurisdictional point, the board indicates that it would not find moral turpitude per se but would send the matter to a hearing committee rather than treat the conviction as a felony theft. A hearing was held in Maryland (where the attorney also is admitted) which led to a finding of no misconduct.
The case is In re Jinhee Kim Wilde and can be accessed though this link. (Mike Frisch)
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