Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Grudging Acceptance" Of Guilt Not Enough To Obtain Reinstatement

The Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to reinstate a disbarred attorney notwithstanding the favorable referee report and the lack of opposition on appeal from the Office of Lawyer Regulation.

The OLR had opposed reinstatement at the hearing before the referee.

The attorney was convicted in 1984 of conspiracy to obstruct commerce by extortion. His father and brother were also convicted in the same case.

The court here found that the attorney and referee had minimized his role in the crime, in contrast to the conclusions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in affirming the conviction.

The court

The record reveals a pattern of a lack of acceptance of responsibility over the years that have passed since Attorney Balistrieri's conviction.  When the [Board on Attorneys Professional Responsibility] recommended against the reinstatement of his license in 1995, in large part based on its conclusion that he had not accepted responsibility for his criminal conduct, Attorney Balistrieri ultimately responded by claiming that BAPR was biased against him because of his Italian heritage.  He attacked the integrity of the reinstatement process with a completely unsupported charge of ethnic bias rather than demonstrate how his words and actions showed that he now understood that he needed to obey both the letter and the spirit of the law and the ethical rules governing attorneys.

Later, in a deposition in a civil case, he asserted that the charges against him were brought by "a homosexual child molester with a cocaine habit..."

In sum

We are not making a full and unconditional confession of one's crime a prerequisite to the reinstatement of a law license for everyone who has committed a crime.  What Attorney Balistrieri was obligated to prove by clear and convincing evidence, however, was that he has a good moral character, that he possesses a proper attitude toward the standards that are imposed upon members of the bar of this state, which includes both the general law and the Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, and that he will act in conformity with them.  His grudging acceptance of the fact of his conviction after decades of besmirching the individuals who did their job in investigating and prosecuting him or who acted within their proper role in the lawyer regulation system is not enough to meet that standard.

The court also concluded that the referee had "downplayed" other issues relating to post-disbarment taxes and omissions on the reinstatement application.

Justice Bradley dissented and would reinstate in deference to the referee's credibility findings. (Mike Frisch)


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