Felons and attorneys

July 9, 2010
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The newest crop of law school graduates are about to take the July bar exam, except for the ones who are convicted felons.

You can’t be a felon and a lawyer in Indiana but if you are already an attorney and commit a felony, you could keep your license.

It doesn’t make sense to me.

Based on Admission and Discipline Rule 12, anyone convicted of a felony “prima facie” shall be deemed lacking good moral character. As you know, you must have good moral character to join the bar. Possibly there have been exceptions to this, but I imagine it’s a high standard to overcome to prove to the character and fitness committee that your felony record won’t affect your ability to be a lawyer.

What if you committed the felony when you were 18 and you are now 30? You’ve paid your time and in the grand scheme of felonies, it was minor and won’t affect your ability to practice law. I guess you’ll have to prove it.

Something must happen once you become a lawyer because if you don’t have a felony in your past, but commit one while an attorney, you could still remain an attorney. Chances are you’ll be suspended, or disbarred if it’s bad enough, but attorneys who commit felonies can retain their admission to the bar.

Why do the standards for good moral character change? If having a felony deems you “prima facie” lacking in good moral character, shouldn’t being convicted of one while an attorney “prima facie” mean automatic disbarment, and shouldn’t the burden of proof be on the felonious lawyer to prove he/she should get to keep his/her law license? The fact that it’s not this way smells like a double standard to me.

But attorney discipline is fluid and it’s hard to concretely say that “if you do X you’ll receive Y as a punishment.” A lot depends on agreements between the lawyer and the Disciplinary Commission. Sometimes attorneys who appear to have committed more serious offenses are given the same or lesser punishment than one who appears to have committed a less serious offense. But that’s the nature of our disciplinary process. What do you think?
 

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  • It is a rigged system
    For proof see how they processed this 12 year attorney from Kansas, admitted to the SCOTUS, cleared by the National Board of Law Examiners, no felonies, one misdemeanor 20 years ago, reference from federal judge William C. Lee .... but politically incorrect due to my religious faith and thus denied "good moral character" or fitness or for some reason. Rotten in Denmark.

    www.archangelinstitute.org (see Orwell post)

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  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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