State Supreme Court Denies Review of Hunt Reinstatement
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The state Supreme Court has denied review of the State Bar Court’s recommendation that former civil rights lawyer A. Thomas Hunt be reinstated as a licensed California practitioner.
The action, taken without dissent at yesterday’s weekly conference in San Francisco, lifts the last impediment to the resumption of practice by Hunt, who resigned with disciplinary charges pending in 1994 and has been seeking reinstatement since 2000.
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 rehabilitation by clear and convincing evidence.
The State Bar’s general counsel challenged the bar court’s findings, saying the bar court had given inadequate weight to the claims of former Hunt clients who say the lawyer abandoned them and never paid restitution.
The court’s action “comes as very sad news to the many people that Hunt has hurt in the past,” Howard Bennett, the leader of a group of ex-Hunt clients—more than 100, the former English teacher claimed—told the MetNews.
“I really think the California Supreme Court should be ashamed of themselves,” Bennett said. “They have taken out the eyes of the statue of justice. She is now truly blind.”
Bennett 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, Mark Werksman, said his client would have been reinstated “years ago,” had it not been for “vindictive obstruction” by a State Bar that “completely lost all perspective.” He said that Hunt hopes to draw on the “tremendous circle of friends and colleagues” who supported his reinstatement in order to rebuild a practice focusing on civil rights litigation, among other things.
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.
In other conference actions, the justices:
•Agreed to decide whether California’s new standards for neutral arbitrators may be applied to securities industry arbitrations. Div. Seven of this district’s Court of Appeal said the Ethics Standards for Neutral Arbitrators in Contractual Arbitration, as they are officially known, are preempted to the extent they conflict with National Association of Securities Dealers rules that have been approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Justice Fred Woods explained that under the NASD’s rules only an official of the organization can disqualify an arbitrator. The new California standards, in contrast, allow disqualification by the Superior Court in certain circumstances.
The Judicial Council’s disclosure rules, Woods went on to say, “also appear to stand as an obstacle to the NASD rules” by requiring more extensive disclosures of potential conflicts of interests, with attendant increases in “costs, complexity and uncertainty of the arbitration process” than the NASD requires.
The case is Jevne v. Superior Court (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 486.
•Denied a petition by Court TV and other media organizations seeking to open the Scott Peterson murder trial to television cameras. The retired judge hearing the case, Alfred Delucchi, had expressed concern about the impact of cameras on jurors and witnesses.
•Ordered depublication of a Third District Court of Appeal opinion holding that a governor’s declaration of a state of emergency is subject to judicial review under an abuse-of-discretion standard. A Sacramento Superior Court judge had ruled that courts could not second-guess then-Gov. Gray Davis’ decision to declare an emergency with respect to electricity shortages and suspend various legal provisions related to energy contracts, but the Third District Court of Appeal had disagreed.
The state of emergency was lifted while the appeal was pending, but the appellate panel elected to rule on the merits because the issue might recur. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was substituted for Davis and defended his prerogative to declare states of emergency in National Tax Limitation Committee v. Schwarzenegger (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1266.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company