California Bar Journal
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California Bar Journal

The State Bar of California


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Front Page - April 2001
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News / News Briefs
Bar foundation gives $50,000 grant to fund Conference of Delegates
Bar hit with $2.35 million fee demand in lawyer dues case
Bush administration ends ABA review of judicial candidates
Special publication in May Bar Journal
Davis appoints two public members to board of governors
George lauds five years of reform
2001 Annual Meeting will be held in Anaheim
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Trials Digest
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Legal Tech - FindLaw: Lawyers' home on the web
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From the President - Butter a slice, not a full loaf
Is it wrong to copy a song?
Letters to the Editor
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Update on ethics
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MCLE Self-Study
Kids and the Law
Self-Assessment Test
MCLE Calendar of Events
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You Need to Know
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Public Comment
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Ethics Byte - 2 new rulings send litigators back to basics
Forgery, grand theft, fraud convictions lead to resignation
Attorney Discipline
Supreme Court upholds summary disbarment statute
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Continued from Page 1
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requires more than acquiring the knowledge and mastering the technical skills needed to advise or represent clients."

As for moral turpitude, Kennard acknowledged that it is difficult to define with precision but offered new guidance:

"Criminal conduct not committed in the practice of law or against a client reveals moral turpitude if it shows a deficiency in any character trait necessary for the practice of law (such as trustworthiness, honesty, fairness, candor and fidelity to fiduciary duties) or if it involves such a serious breach of a duty owed to another or to society, or such a flagrant disrespect for the law or for societal norms, that knowledge of the attorney's conduct would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession."

Lesansky also argued that he did not actually commit a criminal act, but rather was convicted of an attempted offense, and therefore should not be subject to summary disbarment.

He had met a woman in an online chat room who used the screen name "Lisabruce" and described herself as a 14-year-old who looked like she was 17. In fact, Lisabruce was 20-year-old Jennifer Hersey, who was working on a television news story about sex on the internet.

After several conversations, some with sexual overtones, Lesansky met Hersey twice, but he claimed it was apparent to him that she was not a child, and there was no physical contact or sexual activity at either meeting. Lesansky was arrested and pleaded no contest to one count of an attempted lewd act upon a child.

Kennard said there was no question Lesansky's crime constituted moral turpitude because it was "extremely repugnant to accepted moral standards." Further, she added, his attempted act "demonstrated a readiness to engage in a serious sexual offense likely to result in harm to a child."

Paguirigan had admitted to forging a witness' signature to two declarations. Although she pleaded no contest to the charge, she argued to the Supreme Court that even when statutory criteria for summary disbarment are met, the court's precedents require the State Bar Court to hold an evidentiary hearing on the circumstances of the crime. In addition, she said her due process rights had been violated.

Kennard rejected both arguments, saying that when a felony conviction satisfies the statutory requirements, as Paguirigan admitted hers did, the attorney is not entitled to a further hearing.

The due process rights are honored in the criminal proceeding, the court said.

The justices also rejected Paguirigan's contention that the statute is a legislative infringement on the court's authority over attorney discipline and that the Supreme Court improperly delegated that authority to the State Bar Court. As it has stated repeatedly in other decisions, the court reiterated that it has the final say in attorney discipline.

Joynce Kennard"If you're an attorney and you're convicted of a felony that meets the statutory criteria under 6102(c), you're going to be summarily disbarred, period," said Richard Zanassi, the bar's attorney who argued the cases. "The statute is there to protect the public, the courts and the profession. If you're convicted of the crime and 6102(c) applies, that's it."

Ellen Pansky, the attorney for Paguirigan and Lesansky, agreed. "I think the court made a clear decision that it will defer to the legislature's decision that an attorney convicted of a felony involving moral turpitude is going to be summarily disbarred and the appropriate forum to take advantage of the right to due process is in the criminal proceeding," she said.

Summary disbarment was initially enacted by the California legislature in 1872 and remained the law until 1955, when it was eliminated. It was reinstated in 1986 and amended in 1997 to remove the requirement that the crime must be committed during the practice of law or in a manner "such that a client of the attorney was a victim."

Four other summary disbarment cases before the court were deferred pending the decisions in Lesansky and Paguirigan. Pansky, who is handling one of those matters, said she was not certain how the decisions will affect those cases.