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The Meryl Terpitude Adventures

California Joan’s partner proudly brags about his role in several notorious attorney discipline cases

By Ellen R. Peck
©2005. All rights reserved.

Ellen R. Peck
Peck

The airplane lurched violently as it descended to land in Libya. The deafening roar of the engines in the cargo hold kept Meryl Terpitude from hearing lawyer Edward J. Bloom’s gasp of fear. It was 1977. Meryl, Bloom and Bloom’s client, Jerome Brower, all sat on five-gallon pails, labeled “drilling mud.” Bloom glumly surveyed the cargo hold containing 42,300 pounds of the plastic explosive C4, packed in five-gallon pails, covered with a layer of putty.

Bloom knew that the layer of putty was to disguise the contents and to prevent damage in transit. With each jolt of the plane, he feared that the putty might not be enough to prevent a violent explosion, blowing them all to smithereens. Here he was, a California lawyer in his late 60s, in a cargo plane over the skies of Libya, smuggling illegal munitions to Libyan nationalists.

It had all started with his client, Jerome Brower, who owned a business dealing in explosives, including C-4, and other chemicals. Brower had been Bloom’s client for about eight years, when Brower met with some Libyan nationals in Washington, D.C., and agreed to obtain 42,300 pounds of C-4. C-4 was on the United States Munitions List and could not be exported without a license from the Department of State.

Bloom was a signatory on Brower’s Swiss bank account into which the Libyans’ advance funds for the explosives were deposited. Bloom went to Europe, picked up the money from the Swiss bank account to pay for the explosives, and after Brower arranged to purchase the C-4 from three different manufacturers, Bloom hand carried the cash to the manufacturers.

The explosives arrived and were stored at Brower’s California facilities, then repackaged in the pails and hauled by a trucking firm, arranged by Bloom, to Houston for shipment. Brower wanted to ship from Houston because he believed security there was not as great as at other airports at that time.  

Once in Houston, Brower gave $82,000 to Bloom to acquire an airplane to transport the explosives to Libya. Bloom flew to Miami and leased a cargo plane, telling the aircraft company that it would be used to transport drilling supplies. Meryl smiled at the memory of Bloom refusing to sign the lease himself, requiring another co-conspirator to sign. However, Bloom listed the destination as “Lisbon and beyond” rather than Libya.

Back in Houston, the pails of explosives were loaded onto the leased aircraft and a false export declaration was filed with the United States Customs Service, showing that drilling mud was being exported to Lisbon. Bloom gave his copy of the false declaration to Brower. Bloom sat on the five-gallon pails all the way to Lisbon where Brower met the plane and joined Bloom in the cargo hold for the final ride to Libya. When they landed, after delivery of the explosives, Bloom got $10,000 for his role in the transaction. (In re Bloom (1987) 44 Cal.3d 128, 132-133, 745 P.2d 61, 241 Cal.Rptr. 726.)

“Poor Bloom!” Meryl Terpitude said to California Joan, with uncharacteristic compassion. “He got caught after one of the most exciting adventures I ever had with a lawyer.”

“What happened to him?” Cali asked.

“After a jury trial, Bloom was found guilty of conspiracy to commit offenses against the United States (18 U.S.C.A. §371), with presenting a false writing to an agency of the United States (18 U.S.C.A. §1001), with unlawful export of an article on the United States Munitions List without an export license (22 U.S.C.A. §2778(c)), and with unlawful transportation of hazardous materials by cargo aircraft (49 U.S.C.A. §1809(b)). Of course, the California Supreme Court found that the facts and circumstances of the commission of these criminal violations, including the numerous acts of deception, involved moral turpitude. They disbarred him.” (In re Bloom, supra, at pp. 134-136.)

That night, Cali had been tossing and turning in her bed, unable to sleep, when Meryl called. He was on the lam, hiding from the FBI. Cali knew she should not talk to Meryl, but her curiosity about his exploits got the better of her.

Meryl continued to brag about his involvement in leading lawyers astray. “Almost always, whenever lawyers seek to mislead judges or judicial officers with artifices or false statements of fact or law, I have been involved. (Bus. & Prof. Code, §6068, subd. (d); CRPC 5-200(B); Matter of Temkin (Review Dept. 1991) 1 Cal. State Bar Ct. Rptr. 321, 330; Grove v. State Bar (1965) 63 Cal.2d 312, 316; Chefsky v. State Bar (1984) 36 Cal.3d 116,124.) 

“It’s funny —  the lawyer does not have to actually deceive the court for me to be present,” Meryl said. “ Wilful deception is established where the lawyer knowingly presents a false statement which may tend to mislead the court. (Davis v. State Bar (1983) 33 Cal.3d 231, 239- 240.) Even when fabrications are the work of another and the lawyer is not aware of the truth at the time the statements are presented, the lawyer is culpable of deceit and moral turpitude when the lawyer learns of their bogus nature and continues to assert their authenticity. (Olguin v. State Bar (1980) 28 Cal.3d 195, 198-200.)

“I have been involved regardless of whether the deceit is achieved by concealment, half-truth or false statement of fact. (See Green v. State Bar (1931) 213 Cal. 403, 405 — Green misled court by giving false testimony concerning nonexistent person and received one-year suspension.) I am involved even when the misrepresentations are made to a tribunal when the attorney is a litigant in pro se.” (Davis v. State Bar, supra, at p. 240; Matter of Temkin, supra, at p. 330.)

“Well, of course, moral turpitude is denounced because the deceit is an endeavor to secure an advantage by means of falsity,” Cali responded. (Pickering v. State Bar (1944) 24 Cal.2d 141, 145 — Pickering filed complaint alleging that husband was deprived of wife’s services and consortium for two weeks, although attorney knew that parties were not legally married and had been separated during such two weeks.)

“Deceit to tribunals is my stock in trade. But one of my most memorable exploits was being part of the political dirty tricks gang in the 1970s,” Meryl reminisced.

In 1971, just four years after he had been admitted to practice in California, Donald Segretti was thrilled to accept a job, offered by some of his friends who were members of President Nixon’s staff, in connection with the president’s re-election campaign. For $16,000 per year plus expenses, he agreed to pull pranks on Democratic presidential aspirants in order to foster a split among the candidates to make it less likely that the party would unite behind the one finally receiving the nomination. Segretti also agreed to use a fictitious name in performing the dirty tricks to insulate himself from association with President Nixon’s office in the event the activities came to public light. (Segretti v. State Bar (1976) 15 Cal.3d 878, 882-883.)

Meryl remembered that Segretti recruited others to assist him, and he joined Segretti’s gang. “Segretti and the gang thought up some really good pranks when we met and had a beer or two:   

  • “We prepared and distributed a letter on ‘Citizens for Muskie Committee’ letterhead accusing Sens. Hubert Humphrey and Henry Jackson of sexual improprieties. Of course, the accusations were completely false.
  • “Another great one was a news release, prepared on Sen. Hum-phrey’s stationery, alleging that Rep. Shirley Chisholm once had been committed to a mental institution and was still under psychiatric care. Again, we all knew that the claims were false!
  • “We printed letters to delegates on the letterhead of Sen. Eugene McCarthy, another Democratic presidential candidate, suggesting that McCarthy and Chisholm delegates switch their votes to Humphrey. The letter looked like it was signed by a McCarthy worker, but the signature was forged. We distributed a number of the letters to certain McCarthy and Chisholm delegates, but others were mailed without postage so that when they were returned to McCarthy headquarters, the workers would become aware of what had happened, too.
  • “Segretti sent out notices that free lunches and drinks would be distributed at certain headquarters of Sens. Humphrey and Muskie at specified times. Imagine the confusion created when all of the people showed up for a free lunch and there wasn’t any.
  • “Another time, we ordered liquor and other items for Muskie campaign workers; we invited foreign guests to a Muskie fundraising dinner, provided for their delivery to the dinner by limousine and hired a magician to entertain. These events caused great confusion at the Muskie dinner.
  • “I thought dropping some stink bombs at a Muskie picnic and at Muskie headquarters was a little ordinary, but we had run out of ideas by that time.” (Segretti v. State Bar, supra, at pp. 883-884.) Meryl’s glee at the havoc he had created was immeasurable.

Cali remembered that Segretti pleaded guilty to violating 18 USC, §612 (publication or distribution of political statements) and one count of violating 18 USC §371 (conspiracy) by conspiring to violate §612. In the resulting disciplinary proceedings, the California Supreme Court held that Segretti repeatedly committed acts of deceit designed to subvert the free electoral process, all of which involved moral turpitude. They suspended Segretti from practice for five years, execution stayed, with five years of probation, an actual suspension for the first two years and required him to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.

Most disciplined lawyers who were thereafter suspended had to take the exam. (Segretti v. State Bar, supra, at pp. 883-884, 890-892.)

Meryl did not seem to notice Cali’s horror at his escapades and continued to brag about his adventures. “I have been involved in a lot of celebrated and notorious attorney misconduct cases. I was there when a bright district attorney, who was destined for high political office, brutally murdered his wife and her lover, as they lay naked in their love nest. (In re Kirscke (1976) 16 Cal.3d 902 — convicted of murder and disbarred.) I was involved when a lawyer arranged an abortion for a client in exchange for sexual favors to him, his 17-year-old son and several other male friends. (In re Plotner (1971) 5 Cal.3d 714.) I was involved when a lawyer hired one of his clients, a known ‘hit man,’ to blow away another client.” (In re Mostman (1989) 47 Cal.3d 725.)

“Meryl, you are totally disgusting.” Cali started to give him a piece of her mind, but Meryl interrupted with his recollection of his involvement in illegal gambling activities in the early 1970s.

“Lawyer Martin C. Calaway, admitted in 1956, planned to start an unlawful gambling operation in the San Fernando Valley with John Vaccaro, a professional gambler, and others. Calaway agreed to contribute $20,000 ($10,000 in cash and $10,000 in legal services) for which he would get 20 to 25 percent of the ‘take.’ Calaway v. State Bar (1977) 20 Cal.3d 165, 168-169.)

“Calaway actually loaned $7,500 to Vaccaro, at least $2,500 of which was actually used to fund the game. The $7,500 loan to Vaccaro came from funds held by Calaway as conservator of the estate of an 86-year-old incompetent. The funds were disbursed without the knowledge or approval either of the conservatee or of the court with jurisdiction over his affairs; the loan was not disclosed by Calaway’s subsequent accountings; and the loan was not fully repaid until after a federal prosecution had commenced. (Calaway v. State Bar, supra, at pp. 168-169.)

“Calaway invested $5,000 of his own money and received some of the proceeds from the illegal gambling. Calaway gave practical advice to his co-conspirators about obtaining gambling equipment, chips and customers to frequent the new establishment, and the purchase of ‘sanction’ or protection from the police. Calaway also gave legal advice to them regarding the illegal nature of the proposed operation and the necessity of concealing its activities. Finally, Calaway knew that the dice and card games operated by his associates were ‘rigged’ to cheat the customers and increase ‘house’ profits.” (Id., at p. 169.)

Cali interrupted. “Wasn’t Calaway disbarred in 1977, after his federal conviction of violating 18 USC, §1955 (conducting, financing, managing, supervising, directing or owning an illegal gambling business) and 18 USC, §371 (conspiring to violate §1955)?”

“Yes!” Meryl answered. “The Supreme Court found once again that I was involved in both the commission of the illegal gambling conspiracy to acquire profits by cheating customers and of violating the federal prohibitions against illegal gambling. (Calaway v. State Bar, supra, at pp. 169-170, 171.) But he was readmitted in 1986!” (Calaway v. State Bar (1986) 41 Cal.3d 743.)

“Meryl! Give your involvement with lawyers a rest for the holidays at least!” Cali said in her most commanding voice. 

“No problem. I’m going on vacation to visit a friend at the North Pole,” Meryl said merrily and hung up.

“I never believed my mother when she told me there was no . . .” Cali’s dream was interrupted by her very real alarm clock buzzer, reminding her that her partner Meryl Terpitude was not being investigated by the FBI, and was not at the North Pole but was waiting at the coffee stand for her to discuss their presentation to the court on a motion. As she jumped into her “law suit,” she wished that all California lawyers would have the happiest and healthiest holiday season, for peace on earth and for freedom from moral turpitude.

Ellen R. Peck, a former State Bar Court judge, is a sole practitioner from Escondido and a co-author of The Rutter Group California Practice Guide: Professional Responsibility.

Certification

  • This self-study activity has been approved for Minimum Continuing Legal Education credit by the State Bar of California in the amount of one hour of legal ethics.
  • The State Bar of California certifies that this activity conforms to the standards for approved education activities prescribed by the rules and regulations of the State Bar of California governing minimum continuing legal education.

SELF-ASSESSMENT TEST

  • Indicate whether the following statements are true or false after reading the MCLE article on moral turpitude. Use the answer form provided to send the test, along with a $25 processing fee, to the State Bar. If you do not receive your certificate within four to six weeks, call 415-538-2504.
  1. Unlawfully presenting a false writing to an agency of the United States involves moral turpitude because an essential element is dishonesty
  2. Unlawful export of an article on the United States Munitions List without an export license may involve moral turpitude where the surrounding facts and circumstances involve dishonesty or deceit. 
  3. Transportation of hazardous materials by cargo aircraft in violation of federal law may involve moral turpitude if accompanied by dishonesty. (In re Bloom, supra, at pp. 134-136.)
  4. Lawyers’ attempts to mislead judges or judicial officers with artifices or false statements of fact or law do not involve moral turpitude. 
  5. Moral turpitude will be involved only when the lawyer actually deceives the court.
  6. Moral turpitude is involved whenever the lawyer knowingly presents a false statement which may tend to mislead the court.
  7. Client fabricates evidence without Lawyer’s knowledge. Lawyer later learns of fabrication but continues to assert the authenticity of the evidence. No moral turpitude is involved.
  8. Moral turpitude is involved even though the deceit is achieved by concealment, half-truth or false statement of fact.
  9. Moral turpitude is not involved when a lawyer who represents himself or herself in pro se in litigation makes a misrepresentation to a tribunal, since the lawyer is acting outside of the role of an attorney.
  10. Deceit involves moral turpitude because it is an endeavor to secure an advantage by means of falsity, which is unseemly for a lawyer.
  11. Filing a complaint alleging that husband was deprived of wife’s services and consortium for two weeks, although attorney knew that parties were not legally married and had been separated during such two weeks, is just zealous advocacy and is not moral turpitude.
  12. Unlawful political dirty tricks accompanied by acts of deceit designed to subvert the free electoral process involve moral turpitude.
  13. The California Supreme Court has rejected the idea that suspended lawyers should take and pass the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination as a part of their disciplinary terms and conditions.
  14. The commission of murder does not always involve moral turpitude. 
  15. If an attorney arranges for an abortion for a client in exchange for sexual favors to him, a minor and other male friends, it involves moral turpitude.
  16. Engaging one client, a known “hit man,” to kill another client does not involve moral turpitude unless there is prejudice to the client by reason of the termination, consistent with CRPC 3-700(A)(3).
  17. A lawyer’s involvement in setting up an unlawful gambling operation in violation of federal law involves moral turpitude.
  18. Regardless of your answer to question 17, if a lawyer sponsors, aids and abets an unlawful gambling activity in which he knowingly cheats the customers by rigged gaming devices, the conduct involves moral turpitude.
  19. “Borrowing” funds to loan to another from funds held by a lawyer as conservator of the estate of an incompetent, without consent of the conservatee or the court, involves moral turpitude.
  20. A California lawyer who is currently disbarred is disbarred for life and may never be readmitted.
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