California Bar Journal
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Former Michigan judge is disbarred in California, too
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A Marina del Rey attorney who was removed from the Michigan bench for judicial misconduct and then lost his license there was disbarred in California Oct. 19, 2001. LEON JENKINS [#96406], 48, lost his license after a years-long battle in which he argued that the California proceedings were rife with procedural errors and that disbarment was too severe a punishment given the favorable evidence he offered.

The State Bar Court's review department, which considered his case three times, recommended the Supreme Court disbar Jenkins, rejecting his procedural arguments and finding he did not prove his innocence in the Michigan case.

Jenkins was not charged with any wrongdoing in California and he provided extensive evidence of community service. He also argued that the Michigan proceedings relied on a preponderance of evidence to find him guilty of judicial misconduct - a lower standard of proof than is required in California.

But Review Judge Ronald Stovitz said Jenkins' actions in Michigan, which included accepting gifts and favors to influence his conduct on the bench and improper contacts with parties or counsel, were serious enough to warrant disbarment in California. Jenkins "has clearly not sustained his burden to show that culpability should not be found," Stovitz wrote.

"The Michigan [Attorney Discipline Board] considered a full evidentiary record, which established respondent's serious misconduct while a Michigan judge," Stovitz wrote. "The Michigan Supreme Court independently reviewed the record of Michigan judicial disciplinary proceedings, finding respondent culpable of corrupt and improper judicial conduct on 'overwhelming evidence.' . . . [Jenkins] has shown no constitutional unfairness, and his culpability found in Michigan would compel a finding of culpability in California."

Jenkins was admitted to practice in Michigan in 1979 and in California the following year. In 1984, he was appointed a district court judge in Michigan, a position equivalent to a municipal court judge in California before courts here were unified. The Michigan Supreme Court found that between 1984 and 1987, Jenkins "systematic-ally and routinely sold his office and his public trust, . . . committed wholesale violations of the most elementary canons of judicial con-duct, and brought grave dishonor upon this state's judiciary."

The court found that he accepted bribes to dismiss traffic citations, intentionally misstated his address to get a reduction in his auto insurance premiums, solicited an individual for whom he fixed traffic tickets to commit perjury in a federal investigation of Jenkins' conduct, engaged in improper communications with parties and counsel regarding matters coming before him, improperly accepted gifts and favors from litigants and counsel who appeared before him, and signed a writ of habeas corpus to release from custody someone he believed to be a close friend without adequate information about the case.

Although Jenkins was prosecuted twice in federal court, he was not found guilty. In 1991, between the two trials, he was removed from the bench by the Michigan Supreme Court. Three years later, after an 11-day hearing before the state's discipline board, his license was revoked. The following year, disciplinary proceedings began in California under a statute which permits professional misconduct in another jurisdiction to be considered in a disciplinary proceeding in this state.

Although he conceded that he dismissed a few citations improperly, Jenkins disputed most of the evidence against him. He testified he was an inexperienced lawyer and that he had to cope with several deaths in his family, including the sudden death of his wife, leaving him with two young daughters.

After moving to California in 1990, Jenkins' practice involved mostly police brutality, personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice cases. He devoted between 20 and 30 percent of his practice to pro bono work, chaired the NAACP legal redress committee and served on the executive board of another non-profit. He also funded a scholarship in his late wife's name, spoke at schools to encourage young people to complete their education and worked with at-risk youth.

Nevertheless, a hearing judge determined that Jenkins' good works and discipline-free practice fell short of demonstrating adequate rehabilitation. In addition, Jenkins continues to deny the serious acts which led to the revocation of his license in Michigan.

In upholding the hearing judge, Stovitz said Jenkins "failed to demonstrate that he understands the magnitude and severity of his misconduct found in the Michigan decision to revoke his law license."