Monday, December 8, 2003
State Bar Panel Says Ex-Lawyer Hunt Should Be Readmitted
Review Department Defers to Judge’s Finding That Fallen Star of Civil Rights Bar Has Been Rehabilitated
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
Former civil rights lawyer A. Thomas Hunt, who resigned from the State Bar with ethics charges pending more than 10 years ago, has been rehabilitated and should be reinstated, the State Bar Court Review Department has concluded.
“Our independent review of the record...establishes that while practicing law, petitioner has performed many good deeds, and yet he also has caused great harm,” Review Department Judge Judith Epstein wrote in an opinion released Friday. “We further note petitioner’s record of rehabilitation is not a perfect one; however, perfection is not what is required for reinstatement.”
On balance, the jurist wrote, “the great good that has resulted from petitioner’s career as a litigator for the under-represented in our society”; his efforts to overcome alcoholism; the strong endorsements of his character by judges, lawyers, and some ex-clients; his remorse at having abandoned clients; and his “substantial efforts” at restitution outweigh his deficiencies.
Then-State Bar Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo, now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, ruled in July of last year that Hunt had established by clear and convincing evidence that he has been sufficiently rehabilitated.
Hunt testified at a three-day hearing before Bacigalupo that he became an alcoholic and failed to properly handle his clients’ cases in part as a reaction to social and political changes that were eating away at his success as a groundbreaking civil rights attorney.
Epstein said the hearing judge was correct in giving great weight to a host of testimonials from prominent attorneys, clients for whom Hunt won historic civil rights victories, and Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen S. Trott, and in crediting the facts that Hunt stopped drinking and regularly participates in Alcoholics Anonymous and the Other Bar, an organization that helps lawyers with substance abuse problems.
Hunt appears to have made great strides since being jailed eight years ago, the review judge said.
The Review Department decision drew a negative response from Howard Bennett, the leader of a group of ex-Hunt clients—more than 100, Bennett claimed—who opposed reinstatement.
“I think this is a travesty of justice and I feel so sorry for the many people he has hurt in the past, Bennett told the MetNews. “It doesn’t seem to me as if the powers that be at the State Bar really care who they let practice law.”
Bennett, a former English teacher, lost his age discrimination suit against the Culver City school district by default after Hunt failed to pursue the case. He won a malpractice judgment and pursued collection efforts for several years before accepting a settlement three years ago.
State Bar Deputy Trial Counsel Alan Gordon said it was clear that the Review Department gave great deference to Bacigalupo’s findings. The chief trial counsel must decide within 15 days whether to seek review in the California Supreme Court, which will have the final say on whether Hunt gets his license back, Gordon said.
Hunt’s lawyer, Mark Werksman, said it “would be malicious” for bar attorneys to take the case further. Hunt “paid a heavy price for his misconduct,” the attorney said, adding that it will be “a great benefit to the community” to have him resume representing clients.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company