Monday, May 5, 2014

Prison To Pizza To Practice Resumed

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has reinstated a disbarred attorney.

Katie Mulvaney of The Providence Journal has the story

After stints as a pizza maker and chef, John M. Cicilline will return to the courtroom – as a lawyer.

The state Supreme Court on Friday issued an order allowing the older brother of Congressman David N. Cicilline to resume his law practice. Justice William P. Robinson III dissented.

The older Cicilline’s return to the courtroom comes six years after he and his former law partner pleaded guilty to shaking down clients accused of drug offenses. He was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his crimes.

“We believe that the conduct of the petitioner which led to his disbarment was caused by a misguided effort to assist a client who the petitioner believed was facing an unduly harsh punishment under the sentencing guidelines in effect for non-violent marijuana dealers,” the court wrote. “The petitioner has paid a heavy price for that error of judgment, and we are confident that he is truly remorseful for his conduct. We believe that he has been rehabilitated and can return to the practice of law.”

The court said its decision came after careful review. Cicilline, it said, had passed the Multi-state Professional Responsibility Examination, and completed an extensive questionnaire. Disciplinary Counsel, too, conducted an investigation and has no objections.

Under the order, lawyer William J. Murphy will monitor Cicilline’s practice for two years, filing quarterly reports.

Once prominent and politically connected defense lawyers in Rhode Island, Cicilline and his partner Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr. pleaded guilty in 2008 to felony counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal authorities. Bevilacqua is the son of late state Supreme Court Chief Justice Joseph A. Bevilacqua.

The high court disbarred Cicilline, with his consent, following his conviction. A disbarred lawyer may petition for reinstatement in five years after passing an ethics test.

Since Cicilline’s release from prison in 2009, he worked a stint as the owner and chef of a downtown sandwich shop and pizzeria called Federal Wrap. He also sold cars and managed a Westminster Street restaurant. The Bristol police last year charged Cicilline, then 55, with driving under the influence after stopping him for speeding and running a stop sign on Thames Street. The driving-under-the-influence charged was dismissed in District Court. He admitted to refusing to submit to a chemical test before the Rhode Island Traffic Tribunal and was ordered to perform 10 hours of community service. His driver’s license was suspended for six months.

Cicilline petitioned the court to have his law license reinstated last year.

From the opinion

When we consider a reinstatement petition, we review the entire career of a petitioner. We note that prior to his disbarment the petitioner was a respected member of the bar and practiced for twenty-two years without receiving any public discipline. The majority of his practice was devoted to representing defendants in criminal cases. This court has received over eighty letters of support for the petitioner from active members of the bar, requesting that we give the petitioner a second chance at practicing law. Many of the letters of support submitted on his behalf are from former prosecutors who were the petitioner’s adversaries in contested trials. All spoke highly of his prior reputation for honesty, integrity, fairness, and competence in his representation of his clients. We find such strong expressions of support from the petitioner’s peers to be unusual and persuasive.

We believe that the conduct of the petitioner which led to his disbarment was caused by a misguided effort to assist a client who the petitioner believed was facing an unduly harsh punishment under the sentencing guidelines in effect for non-violent marijuana dealers. The petitioner has paid a heavy price for that error of judgment, and we are confident that he is truly remorseful for his conduct. We believe that he has been rehabilitated and can return to the practice of law.

The dissent

After much soul-searching and after meticulously reviewing the petition submitted by Mr. Cicilline and the accompanying supporting materials, I am unable to conclude that the petitioner has successfully borne "the burden of demonstrating by clear and convincing evidence" that, at this point in time, he has satisfied the demanding criteria for readmission that are set forth in Article III, Rule 16(c) of the Supreme Court Rules of Disciplinary Procedure. It is entirely possible that, after a longer period of the petitioner’s separation from the practice of law, my view of his petition would be different from what it is today; but, as of today, I am unable to vote to grant the petition. I have, of course, carefully taken into account the fact that my highly respected colleagues in the majority have come to a different conclusion; and that fact has caused me to be especially circumspect in coming to a decision. In the end, however, I know that I would not be true to my understanding of the applicable clear and convincing evidence standard and my evaluation of Mr. Cicilline’s petition if I were to join the majority. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.

While I have not studied the record, I tend to agree with the dissent that reinstatement after a felony conviction after serving the minimum period of disbarment should only come after an extraordinary showing of rehabilitation.

The driving arrest  and test refusal do not help in that cause.  (Mike Frisch)

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