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Getting Disbarred is Harder Than You Think - ThinkstockPhotos-161759521-c.jpg

Getting disbarred is harder than you think

Two down, 48 to go. Attorney Douglas E. Mackenzie recently got suspended from practicing law in his second state in two years. The latest was Minnesota. Previously, California suspended, and then disbarred him. If he keeps this up, this may turn into a real-life 50 state bar arcade game, “Whack a Mac.”

Actually, California suspended Mackenzie three times, in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and apparently a fourth time, too, before disbarring him. The first two were over his failure to comply with state child and/or family support orders. The third time, the State Bar suspended him over the far more egregious offense of not paying his bar fees. (That’s a “state bar” joke.) He was similarly suspended in Minnesota for non-payment of bar fees. Unlike some bars, state bars apparently don’t let you run a tab. They take their fees very, very seriously.

Actually, maybe it’s not a joke, at that. A judge of some 20 years writes on, “There are only two things a lawyer can be absolutely certain will get him/her disbarred: Steal from your clients or, even worse, fail to pay your bar dues. The latter is the most serious conceivable offense…”

It’s a little unclear in Minnesota Law blog, but it sounds like Mackenzie got suspended a fourth time while still in the middle of his third suspension, because he continued to represent clients in front of the Patent and Trademark Office. That’s apparently what got him disbarred.

While suspension is more common than disbarment, the former is still uncommon, and the latter almost unheard of. (Unless you’re a U.S. President or Vice-President. Spiro Agnew, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were disbarred from practicing in Maryland, New York, and in front of the Supreme Court, respectively.) According to the ABA, in 2011 just 1,046 unjust lawyers were disbarred nationally, out of approximately 1.27 million practicing lawyers, a less-than robust 0.08 percent. Less than a rounding error.

You may recall that in January, the California Supreme Court unanimously rejected “disgraced journalist” Stephen Glass’ application to be admitted to the state bar. Glass’ infamy stemmed from writing dozens of largely fictional accounts for The New Republic and other publications, the problem being they were supposed to be non-fictional accounts. This prompted some critics to point out that it’s apparently much harder to get into the bar than tossed out.

Case in point, the judge quoted above mentions how committing fraud usually won’t get a lawyer disbarred, and committing perjury in some instances will, but only “if a lawyer really works at it.” Yet fraud and perjury might be the exact two most egregious offenses that Glass employed in his long journalistic deception, and which deemed him as unfit to practice law.

This past January, USA Today ran a story on the topic with the rather blindingly obvious headline, “Disbarred lawyers face career, personal hurdles.” Among the human wreckage, however, were two ex- Kentucky attorneys who now write for the online news site, which seems to indicate that the barrier that prevents disgraced journalists from practicing law doesn’t apply in reverse.

In another recent development, the California Supreme Court (California sure is a busy-body in these matters) ruled that lawyers convicted of child pornography charges will automatically be disbarred and prohibited from practicing law in the state. This came about after a bar appeals board ruled that whether a lawyer who had plead guilty to one count of knowingly possessing child pornography was also guilty of moral turpitude, which is cause for disbarment, depended on the circumstances. The state Supreme Court, in essence, basically said “circumstances be hanged,” if you’re guilty of possessing child porn, you’re out for the count.

And that goes double if you haven’t paid your bar fees.

One Comment

  1. Alain Delerm says:

    It is funny how law specialists get busted for not applying it… Sitll, I find the sanctions a bit extreme.