High court to determine moral character of convicted murderer

The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide the fate of a San Francisco man who killed his sister 23 years ago and now wants to be an attorney. Eban Gossage, 43, passed the bar exam on his first try in February 1993, but his admission has been held up by the Committee of Bar Examiners which determined he lacked sufficient moral character.

The State Bar Court ruled that Gossage has been rehabilitated, but the bar examiners committee has appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court. With Justice Joyce L. Kennard dissenting, the court voted to hear the appeal.

Ordinarily, an applicant for admission to the State Bar must be sworn in within five years of passing the bar exam or retake the test. However, the Supreme Court has the power to waive that rule.

According to Jerome Braun, senior executive of admissions for the State Bar, bar exam applicants are encouraged to apply for moral character clearance while in their last year of law school.

With about 7,500 applicants a year and 11 staff members, it can take up to 180 days to obtain a clearance, said Braun.

Gossage, who runs a real estate business in San Francisco, was from a prominent San Francisco family when he was convicted of forging his mother's and grandmother's checks at the age of 19 in the early 1970s.

He began abusing alcohol and drugs as a teenager and after his release from prison in 1975, became involved with heroin.

In February 1975, Gossage went to the apartment of his 19-year-old sister Amy, a cocaine user, and became embroiled in an argument with her.

According to court records, Amy grabbed a pair of scissors and threatened to stab his eyes. She picked up a hammer as they fought, but Gossage grabbed it and hit her on the head, then stabbed her with the scissors.

Gossage claimed self-defense and was convicted of manslaughter. He was paroled three years later, but was convicted of reckless and drunk driving in 1978, ending up back in prison in 1982 for violating probation by possessing heroin.

In 1983, he was again paroled and decided to turn over a new leaf. He enrolled at Sonoma State University and Golden Gate University School of Law, worked at several non-profit agencies, including a battered woman's organization, and clerked for several well-known San Francisco attorneys.

One of Gossage's character witnesses is Terence Hallinan, San Francisco's district attorney. Hallinan's own application for admission to the bar was turned down 30 years ago because of his arrests during civil rights demonstrations and a few other scrapes.

It took a ruling from the Supreme Court for Hallinan to become an attorney.

The Committee of Bar Examiners was disturbed that Gossage was convicted of eight misdemeanor traffic and vehicle violations between 1987 and 1993.

Gossage was remorseful about the misdemeanor violations and said most of the citations were due to a lack of funds and inattention to deadlines.

Although the State Bar Court felt Gossage was rehabilitated and his infractions did not evidence bad character, review Judge Kenneth Norian dissented, saying Gossage's behavior indicated a "continued inability to follow the law."

One bar official considers the Supreme Court's acceptance of the Gossage matter significant, saying this type of case often results in new standards for moral character determination.