California Bar Journal
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not necessarily justify his admission,” she said, asking that Gossage be required to show a lengthy period of unblemished conduct.

Gossage’s attorney, Ephraim Margolin, argued that his client’s turnaround is so rare and remarkable that he should be allowed to practice law. “Having present good moral character is the test,” he said.

Gossage’s history is well-documented. The son of Howard Gossage, a successful advertising executive, and his wife Mary, the daughter of a wealthy banking family from the mid-West, Eben began drinking heavily as a teenager. His father died of leukemia, and by the time Eben was 17 or 18, he was stealing to support a drug habit. Convictions for forging his mother’s and grandmother’s checks in 1973 and ‘74 sent him to jail, where he was at the time of his mother’s death from cirrhosis of the liver.

Out of jail, Gossage descended to the depths of alcohol and heroin addiction. On a morning in February 1975, he visited the apartment of his sister Amy, who was using cocaine on a regular basis. The pair argued, and according to Gossage, Amy attacked Eben with a hammer and a pair of scissors. He wrested the hammer from her and struck her repeatedly on the head. Grabbing the scissors, he stabbed Amy again and again.

The coroner would later report Amy Gossage was stabbed 20 times in the back and 25 times in the neck, and her head had been struck 17 times with a blunt instrument.

Gossage was convicted of manslaughter, sentenced to six months to 15 years in prison and spent two and a half years behind bars.

Upon his release, he resumed the life of a heroin addict and alcoholic, was arrested on DUI charges four times, and faced heroin possession and theft charges. His probation was revoked and he went to state prison for a year.

Gossage emerged from prison in 1983 clean and sober and has remained so. He eventually graduated from Sonoma State University, attended Golden Gate University for four years, working 20 to 30 hours a week, passed the bar exam on the first attempt in 1993 and, according to Margolin, is now a successful real estate developer.

He has clerked for four lawyers and done good works, ranging from tutoring at-risk students to volunteering for a battered women’s shelter.

But he had brushes with the law, racking up eight misdemeanor convictions for traffic violations. He bought a car but didn’t make the payments and accumulated about $200 in parking tickets before the seller finally took him to small claims court.

The Committee of Bar Examiners saw in his behavior an inability to follow the law, and Gossage flunked the moral character test required for admission.

In a trial before State Bar Court Hearing Judge Nancy Roberts Lonsdale, Gossage pleaded his case for admission, arguing that he is rehabilitated. Among his witnesses were state Sen. John Burton, San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan and Public Defender Jeff Brown. Lonsdale found Gossage “met his burden of clearly and convincingly showing present good moral character.”

The committee appealed to the court’s review department, which agreed with Lonsdale on a 2-1 vote and recommended in 1998 that Gossage be admitted.

Wachter told the justices that in addition to his traffic violations and the car-buying episode, Gossage submitted an application for admission to the bar that disclosed only four of 17 convictions, omitted dates of employment and was otherwise incomplete, and signed it under penalty of perjury. “The application presented a very different applicant than the one we actually have,” she said.

Justice Marvin Baxter seemed perturbed by what he characterized as Gossage’s “lack of forthrightness” and wondered how his admission would affect the reputation of the legal profession.

“Does the prospect of rehabilitation . . . always excuse that past criminal conduct as it applies to admission to what I view as a highly respected profession?” Baxter asked.

Margolin responded that admission for Gossage would send a message that while the profession does not condone his past, it recognizes his remarkable turnaround. “There is a time, when you have an unusual accomplishment, to recognize it,” he said.

Justice Joyce Kennard read into the record Gossage’s misdeeds, which she said go “on and on and on.” There are, she said, “a number of episodes which, when considered collectively, do cast doubt on the extent of his rehabilitation. . . . It would appear under the circumstances the rehabilitation period is not substantial enough.”

Several justices questioned just how “substantial” that period should be and wondered if a formula relating the length of rehabilitation to the period of misconduct could be found.

Wachter said previous applicants with less egregious criminal records have been denied admission, and said Gossage is not precluded from re-applying for admission if a longer period of rehabilitation were required. Margolin, arguing that present good moral character should be the standard, said he was “grateful for whatever I can get.” He suggested his client be admitted conditionally so he would not be required to re-take the bar examination. Applicants have five years to be admitted after passing the exam.