not necessarily justify his admission, she
said, asking that Gossage be required to show a lengthy period of unblemished conduct.
Gossages attorney, Ephraim Margolin, argued that his clients
turnaround is so rare and remarkable that he should be allowed to practice law. Having
present good moral character is the test, he said.
Gossages 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 mothers and grandmothers checks in 1973 and 74
sent him to jail, where he was at the time of his mothers death from cirrhosis of
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
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 His probation was revoked and he went to state prison for a year.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 womens shelter.
But he had brushes with the law, racking up eight misdemeanor
convictions for traffic violations. He bought a car but didnt make the payments and
accumulated about $200 in parking tickets before the seller finally took him to small
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 courts 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
Gossages 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 Gossages 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.