Monday, February 2, 2004
High Court Asked to Block Reinstatement of A. Thomas Hunt
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel has asked the state’s highest court to reject the State Bar Court’s recommendation that former civil rights lawyer A. Thomas Hunt be reinstated as a member of the State Bar.
The OCTC Thursday filed a petition for review with the state Supreme Court, asking the justices to take a final look at the case of the Title VII class-action pioneer who resigned from the State Bar with ethics charges pending more than 10 years ago.
The bar court’s Review Department concluded in December that Hunt has been rehabilitated and should be reinstated, agreeing with the hearing judge. Then-State Bar Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo, now a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, ruled in 2002 that Hunt had established by clear and convincing evidence that he has been sufficiently rehabilitated.
Howard Bennett, the leader of a group of ex-Hunt clients—more than 100, Bennett claimed—who opposed reinstatement, said he was pleasantly surprised at the decision to seek review.
“Congratulations to the State Bar for deciding to again appeal the decision to give Hunt his license back,” Bennett said in a statement Friday. “So many people were hurt by him that it is hard to understand why he should ever be allowed to practice law again.”
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.
Hunt’s Lawyer ‘Stunned’
Hunt’s lawyer, Mark Werksman, said he was “stunned” the State Bar’s lawyers “would exhibit this type of vindictiveness.” They have been “ardent, adamant, and unrelenting” in their efforts to prevent his client from practicing law again, Werksman said.
“Four separate judges have made intensive review of the record and found that Tom Hunt should be reinstated,” he added, referring to Bacigalupo and the three Review Department judges.
In her December opinion, Review Department Judge Judith Epstein acknowledged that Hunt “has caused great harm” to the former clients whose cases he failed to pursue.
But 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.
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 professional success.
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.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company