The petitioner, a twice-convicted felon, submitted his tenth renewed application to the Committee on Character and Fitness for admission to the bar. The unusual and lengthy history of the petitioner’s efforts to gain admission to the New York bar has been affected by differing views of whether the petitioner has the moral character and fitness to practice law. The impediment to approval has been the serious drug crimes committed by the petitioner years ago.
The salient events and ensuing criminal trial conducted over a quarter century in the past can be briefly summarized. Principally, the petitioner was convicted in federal court in connection with his operation of a business from about 1980 to 1982 that had the appearance of legality but which was actually an illegal enterprise for distribution of Quaaludes. The petitioner ran putative sleep clinics where he would direct drug purchasers to physicians participating in the scheme, who would then write prescriptions for the purchasers, which would be filled by participating pharmacies. The scheme was both extensive and financially successful and allowed the petitioner to lead a flamboyant lifestyle, including his own extensive drug use. However, his life increasingly spiraled out of control and, as federal authorities closed in, he entered into a despondent emotional state that manifested itself in criminal law violation acts committed in July 1983 against his former girlfriend, who also was involved in the drug crime scheme. Although the girlfriend had separated from petitioner and moved out months earlier, she yielded to his request to see her again. When they met, he displayed a gun and kept her in her apartment for more than seven hours until she tried to escape while he was in the bathroom. As she jumped from the second floor apartment and tried to flee (seriously injuring herself), the petitioner fired five or six shots in her direction but did not hit her. According to the petitioner’s testimony, he had told her that he intended to commit suicide.
The petitioner was arrested, and in 1985, after a jury trial, he was convicted of attempted murder in the second degree, burglary in the first degree, unlawful imprisonment in the first degree, criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree and criminal use of a firearm in the first degree for which he was sentenced to 12½ to 25 years. In 1987, he pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York to conspiracy to violate federal narcotics laws and to distribution and Quaaludes possession. He was sentenced to time served, having been in federal custody since his December 1984 arrest.
In 1989, Judge of the Federal Court granted a habeas corpus petition on the ground that the petitioner was denied his constitutional right to represent himself at the trial of the state charges. On the eve of retrial, the petitioner entered an Alford-Serrano plea to attempted murder in the second degree in exchange for a sentence of 2 to 6 years, nunc pro tunc from December 1984, to run concurrently with time served for his federal conviction. As a result of the two convictions, the petitioner was incarcerated from December 1984 to January 1990.
After his release from prison, in a remarkably short period of time, the petitioner obtained a college degree and a law degree from CUNY School of Law, and passed the bar in 1994. These academic achievements reflect well on the petitioner’s intelligence and competence, and demonstrate his capacity to reassert control over his future. However, these achievements, while commendable, do not resolve the issue we must determine, which is whether petitioner has been sufficiently rehabilitated to satisfy the character and fitness requirement set forth in Judiciary Law for admission to the bar.
The petitioner’s first application to practice law was submitted to the Court’s Committee on Character and Fitness. The application was not approved, and the Court subsequently denied nine successive motions by the petitioner seeking to renew his application for admission. On August 19, 2009, the Court granted his tenth motion to the extent of referring his renewed application to the Committee for investigation, hearing and recommendation. An evidentiary hearing was conducted before a subcommittee of the Committee on Character and Fitness, which, on February 22, 2010, unanimously recommended his admission. On March 9, 2010, the full Committee met and, by a vote of 20 to 3, recommended the petitioner’s admission.
It is evident that the Committee accorded much significance to petitioner’s ability over an extended period of time to pursue a productive and positive life and career. The careful review of the record likewise persuades the court that his accomplishments are substantial indications of his rehabilitation.
The petitioner’s criminal conduct, committed almost 30 years ago, involved well-orchestrated dishonesty, culminating in his federal conviction, rampant drug use and an inexplicable and almost impulsive act of domestic violence towards his former girlfriend, leading to his New York conviction. The operative question is whether the record demonstrates that the petitioner has completely rehabilitated himself, with specific reference to those character traits, so that he may now be said to possess the requisite character and fitness to practice law.
Since Judiciary Law does not provide a set of standards to evaluate bar applicants with a criminal record, the court may be guided by the standards promulgated by the American Bar Association, which involve the applicant’s age when the criminal law was committed, whether the crime was recent, whether the information about the crime is reliable, the seriousness of the conduct, underlying factors, the cumulative consequences of the crime, evidence of the applicant’s rehabilitation, whether the applicant has since made a contribution to society, the applicant’s honesty during the application process and, in that regard, whether the applicant omitted material information or made material misrepresentations. With respect to the criteria, the record shows that the petitioner was in his 20s when he committed his criminal law violations, which, though very serious, are not recent, having occurred some three decades ago; the evidence in support of his convictions is beyond dispute; he seriously injured a woman whom he professed to love; and he sold significant quantities of controlled substances to prescription drug abusers. In assessing the petitioner’s present application, the court has focused on the extent of his rehabilitation, his contributions to society and his candor before the Committee.
In analyzing whether an applicant with a criminal past has demonstrated adequate rehabilitation, two inquiries generally present themselves: the scope of conduct to be evaluated and the time frame to be employed. In determining what scope of conduct should be considered, the seriousness of the criminal law violations is important, as previously noted, but so too are more recent patterns of behavior that may persuasively demonstrate the applicant’s good character. Rehabilitation means that the record provides a basis to believe that the applicant’s past problems are no longer manifest and his life has changed in such a manner that their recurrence is unlikely.
The court concludes that there is no sound basis to further impede the petitioner’s quest to be admitted to the bar in the jurisdiction where, in an earlier life, he violated the law. The petitioner has sufficiently shown that he possesses the requisite character and fitness for admission to the bar and the court has joined other jurisdictions that have admitted the petitioner to practice.
People can change even if they made the worst thing any man could imagine. If we don’t give second chances, we may not be able to get them too. The NYC Drug Lawyer together with the New York Criminal Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates can help you get the chance you need to make your life better.