Monday, August 5, 2013

Base, Vile And Depraved

The lawyers of the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility have rich imaginations.

They imagine that an attorney can be convicted of felony traveling for the purpose of engaging in sex with a minor and not engage in conduct involving moral turpitude.

In D.C., if an attorney is convicted of a felony that involves moral turpitude per se, disbarment is automatic. If not, a hearing committee conducts a hearing to explore whether the offense involves moral turpitude on its facts and thus warrants disbarment.

The board majority (all the lawyers except one recusal and one not participating) concluded that a hearing was appropriate for an attorney who went to Russia "for the purpose of engaging in sexual acts with a 15-year-old Russian minor..."

The reasoning:

We conclude...that the offense is not a crime of moral turpitude per se, because applying the least culpable offender standard, a person could violate the statute without engaging in conduct that is so reprehensible that it manifestly offends generally accepted moral standards. For example, a person could travel  with the requisite illicit intent under the statute yet think better of it after crossing the relevant jurisdictional line and decide not to pursue sex with a minor.

Back on Planet Earth, there are the actual circumstances of this case, reported here by the Mail Online:

A Philadelphia lawyer has been jailed for making a 12-year-old boy from the famed Bolshoi Ballet Academy his sex slave for six years....he will spend the next 15 years behind bars.

And from the Office of the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania:

In the summer of 1998, Schneider, founder and president of the Apogee Foundation, traveled to Moscow, Russia where he told two ballet instructors at the Moscow State Academy of Choreography that he was willing to provide “assistance” to students attending the academy. The instructors identified a 12-year old student whose family could no longer afford to pay his board. Schneider convinced the boy’s parents to allow him to live with Schneider in an apartment a few blocks from the school. Between August 22, 2000 and November 22, 2001, Schneider engaged in a sexual relationship with the victim, bringing him to Philadelphia for a summer program in 2001, then returning to Moscow with the victim in August 2001 to continue the sexual relationship. Schneider was arrested March 27, 2010 in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Notably, both non-lawyer members of the board dissented and would find the conviction meets the definition of a crime of moral turpitude: "base, vile or depraved, or [where] society manifests a revulsion toward such conduct because it offends generally accepted morals."

Lay Member John Barker:

I disagree that the offense is less serious than other sex crimes against children simply because the operative conduct is travel with unlawful intent. One who commits the offense does not merely travel with a bad idea. Rather he or she specifically intends to commit an act of sexual abuse against a child and travels for the express purpose of carrying out the crime.

I agree completely.

The non-lawyer's analysis in dissent shows both more common sense and clear understanding of the law than the tortured reasoning to avoid disbarment found in the board's order.

It is also noteworthy that the beneficiary of this gift has been suspended for non-payment of bar dues since 1997 and failed to report the conviction as required by rule.

The case is In re Kenneth Schneider, Bar Docket No. 2-11-D465.

A copy can be obtained from the Board on Professional Responsibility. (Mike Frisch)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2013/08/the-lawyers-of-the-district-of-columbia-board-on-professional-responsibility-have-rich-imaginations-they-imagine-that-an-at.html

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