October 11, 2009

If It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief, Does It Take a Lawbreaker to Make a Lawyer?

Monique Chartier

From yesterday's Providence Journal.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has ordered that the Stephen M. Hunter’s license to practice law be suspended for one year. Hunter has been convicted of five crimes.

One felony and four misdemeanors. And just one year later, Mr. Hunter will once again be able to practice law with the blessing of the State of Rhode Island.

In view of the confidentiality that shields the criminal records of both lawyers and non-lawyers and presumably precludes the ability to obtain some basic statistics, all we can do is ask questions. How many lawyers with a criminal record possess or anticipate recovering their Rhode Island law license? Percentage-wise, how does this stack up to the leniency demonstrated to felonious lawyers in other states?

One other important point, not to be found in statistics but in the law itself. Are the terms and conditions for lawyers to obtain, lose and re-obtain their law licenses dictated by the lawyer-heavy General Assembly of Rhode Island? Or does the statute on this point confer latitude and discretion to the RI Supreme Court?

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Section 3.5. Resignations, Suspensions and Expulsions. No member of this Association shall be suspended or expelled except in accordance with the inherent powers of the Supreme Court covering attorneys and counselors.

From: RI Supreme Court
The Rhode Island Supreme Court Attorney Disciplinary Board was established to assist in protecting the public from attorneys who act in an unethical manner or who fail to maintain high professional standards.

The Board is composed of attorneys and non-attorneys. The Board reviews evidence against attorneys, and, if warranted, it then recommends disciplinary action to the Supreme Court, which is empowered to impose sanctions on attorneys. The function of the Board is solely disciplinary and does not have the power to recover fees or damages.

Posted by: Robert Balliot at October 11, 2009 1:38 PM

I know that lawyers are considered to hold a position of particular trust and confidence, but let's think this through.

Any crimes committed by lawyers make them subject to the same laws as anyone else. So, there is no greater liklihood that they will escape punishment.

On the other hand denying someone the right to make a living is an unusal punishment (although with enough notariety that living might be hard to make). This does not seem well thought out in our society. What do you imagine a plumber would have to do in order to get his license suspended? For that matter everyone who holds a state license, electricians, crane operators, beauticians, etc. On the other hand, losing your driver's license is effectively a denial of your ability to make a living, very few people walk to work.

I think it has more to do with the bar looking like it is policing itself than actual punishment. That keeps the General Assembly at bay and prevents laws governing the issue.

P.S. I know several suspended/disbarred lawyers making a living working "behind the scenes" for other lawyers.

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 11, 2009 5:45 PM

Rhode Island criminal records can be looked up here:

Posted by: Jon at October 12, 2009 10:30 AM

The decision to disbar resides with David Curtin. Curtin refuses to punish miscreant lawyers until the story reaches the projo. He is a total disgrace to the bar.

Posted by: Chuck Nevers at October 12, 2009 8:10 PM
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