|Arguments that attorneys should not be summarily disbarred without
consideration of mitigation will be heard by the California Supreme Court, which has
accepted two cases challenging automatic disbarment. The statute, Business &
Professions Code §6102(c), requires automatic disbarment of any attorney convicted of a
felony which involves moral turpitude or where an element of the offense is the specific
intent to deceive, defraud, steal or make or suborn a false statement.
The State Bar
Court's review department ordered that Pasadena attorney STUART K. LESANSKY
[#120826], 47, be summarily disbarred May 11, 1999, following his conviction of
an attempted lewd act upon a child 14 years old. Sexual crimes involving children
constitute moral turpitude per se.
Lesansky has not been allowed to practice since April 30, 1998, when he was placed on
He challenged the summary disbarment recommendation, questioning whether disbarment
should be automatic without consideration of the facts and circumstances surrounding a
conviction. He also argues that the summary disbarment statute, enacted by the
legislature, is an unconstitutional infringement on the Supreme Court's authority.
Lesansky, a member of the Century City Bar Association's board of governors from 1990
to 1997, 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 with Fox News on a story about sex on the
After several conversations, some with sexual overtones, Lesansky made arrangements to
have lunch with Hersey in San Diego. When they met, it became apparent to Lesansky that
Hersey was an adult, according to his petition to the Supreme Court. They continued their
online communication and met a second time in Los Angeles.
There was no physical contact or sexual activity at either meeting, but after the Los
Angeles meeting, Lesansky was arrested. He pleaded no contest Jan. 28, 1998, to one count
of an attempted lewd act upon a child, and was sentenced to one year of probation and
ordered to pay $200 to a restitution fund and attend psychiatric counseling.
According to his petition, the bar court did not consider any of the circumstances
surrounding Lesansky's conviction or any mitigation. Had he been permitted to present
mitigating evidence, it would have included conducting MCLE programs in his capacity as
chair of the Century City bar's litigation section, teaching at the UCLA extension
program, helping the homeless, and serving as legal counsel to the Los Angeles Cultural
Theaters project. Lesansky and his wife are congregants at the Woodland Hills Christian
Church, where he has taught Bible studies and sings in the choir.
Lesansky was examined by a psychologist, who determined he does not have an abnormal
sexual interest in young girls.
He also offered a long list of individuals who would testify to his good moral
character, including federal and state judges, officials of the Century City Bar
Association and a variety of former clients.
R. Gerald Markle, Lesansky's attorney, argued that the bar court should consider all
the facts and circumstances surrounding a conviction before it imposes discipline.
Further, he said the summary disbarment statute does not recognize any value in
rehabilitation, and to the extent it mandates disbarment for conduct the court has
previously found warrants a lesser sanction, it violates due process.
The Supreme Court, he wrote, "has traditionally applied a balancing test on a
case-by-case basis, and has weighed the nature of the illegal conduct against both
mitigating and aggravating factors, to determine appropriate discipline.
"The State Bar Court's conclusion that disbarment must invariably follow every
conviction of any felony involving moral turpitude represents a serious departure from
longstanding precedent governing discipline for attorney misconduct."
Bar attorney Richard Zanassi said summary disbarment is fully warranted in Lesansky's
case, adding that the Supreme Court "has not hesitated to impose summary disbarment
where the criteria under the statute have been met."
Zanassi also dismissed Markle's argument that the statute violates the separation of
powers. "This court," he wrote, "has long respected the exercise by the
legislature, under its police power, of a reasonable degree of regulation over the
practice of law. . . . Given that the court, not the legislature, ultimately decides the
appropriate degree of discipline, petitioner has failed to demonstrate an unconstitutional
encroachment on this court's authority by the legislature."
A second appeal, by Los Angeles attorney Cristeta S. Paguirigan, [#115992], 39,
also is pending before the court. The bar court recommended Paguirigan's summary
disbarment in 1998 after she was convicted of forging two declarations in a civil matter,
a crime of moral turpitude.
She argued that automatic disbarment was inappropriate because it is not always imposed
on attorneys convicted of similar offenses.
The court agreed to hear Paguirigan's appeal in June, but has not scheduled oral