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Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California January2004
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Bar court urges reinstatement of former civil rights lawyer

Former civil rights attorney A. THOMAS HUNT, who resigned from the State Bar in 1994 in the face of multiple charges of misconduct, will win back his law license if the Supreme Court accepts a recommendation by the State Bar Court. Hunt [#55353], 63, blamed his problems on alcoholism and told the court he has not had a drink since 1992.

The bar court recommended Hunt's reinstatement in July 2002, but the State Bar sought review, arguing that Hunt was neither remorseful nor appreciative of the extent of harm he caused and that he had not proved his rehabilitation.

The court's review department disagreed. Acknowledging that Hunt's conduct was reprehensible and caused great harm, Judge Judith Epstein also noted the "great good" that resulted from his career. Hunt's record of rehabilitation is not perfect, she wrote, but "perfection is not what is required for reinstatement."

A graduate of Harvard law school, Hunt became a well-known civil rights advocate, serving as lead counsel in numerous class action civil rights and employment discrimination cases. "I always thought [Hunt] would end up on the lawyers' equivalent of Mt. Rush-more," wrote federal appellate Judge Stephen S. Trott in a letter on his behalf. He added that Hunt "earned the great respect of many of his friends and colleagues for his selfless devotion to others less fortunate than himself."

Wrote longtime friend and attorney Paul Grossman, Hunt "probably obtained more good jobs for minorities and women through class action litigation than any single human being."

But alcohol was Hunt's downfall and by 1991 he was suspended for not paying his bar dues. He continued to practice, however, and before getting sober and paying his dues the following year, he faced a wide range of misconduct involving 10 separate client matters, some of which were class actions affecting numerous clients.

So acrimonious was his relationship with one-time client Howard Bennett, who won a $1.575 million default judgment for Hunt's mishandling of his civil rights claim, that Bennett established the "Victims of Lawyer Hunt Club Inc." for individuals who claimed Hunt harmed them.

He practiced law while suspended, didn't complete the work he was hired to do, did not keep clients informed about the progress of their cases, failed to appear at hearings and abandoned his clients. The dispute with Bennett led to three charges of felony grand theft, which were dropped. Bennett and Hunt ultimately were involved in eight civil suits against one another before settling their various claims three years ago.

Subsequent to his resignation, Hunt worked as a paralegal and in 2001, applied for reinstatement. At a three-day hearing before the bar court, he presented 17 good character letters extolling his legal abilities and service to the community as a result of his civil rights cases. The judge recommended his reinstatement.

In agreeing, Epstein, writing for a unanimous three-judge panel, relied heavily on the testimonials of judges, attorneys and former clients, most of whom acknowledged Hunt's alcoholism. Those witnesses described him as superior in intellect, honesty and commitment to the law, she said, adding that his work as a paralegal was "extensive and significant, and he was entrusted . . . to continue to challenge unfair disparate treatment of minorities and the under-represented."

Epstein lauded Hunt's efforts to overcome his alcoholism, as well as his steps to make restitution to clients he wronged.

She also disagreed with the bar's position that Hunt is not remorseful or cognizant of the extent of harm he caused, noting that the record "is replete with [Hunt's] unequivocal acknowledgement of the serious harm he caused to his clients, his friends and to the administration of justice."

Bar prosecutor Alan Gordon said he was both surprised and disappointed by the ruling. "The review department obviously did not deem the shortcomings in the case for rehabilitation to be as significant as the office of chief trial counsel," he said. He added that no decision has been made on whether to appeal.

Joining Epstein in the decision were review Judges Ronald Stovitz and Madge Watai.

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