Thursday, February 25, 2010
Lawyer Who Implicated Miller Draws Disbarment
By ROGER M. GRACE
More than 100 years have passed since a neophyte Los Angeles lawyer, Frank G. Bryant, was disbarred. It happened on June 16, 1903.
The circumstances surrounding that disbarment—by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge—reflect a disciplinary system far different from that which is in place now, and which has existed for several decades.
It reveals a system biased in favor of Establishment lawyers…such as the subject of the present spate of columns, John M. Miller. That prominent attorney, 56, was swiftly (if not precipitously) vindicated by the Los Angeles Bar Assn. of any wrongdoing in connection with a real estate transaction, the fairness of which was drawn into question.
But the bar association did proceed against Bryant, 29, who had been an associate in the law office of Miller & Brown at the time he sold a parcel of property on behalf of one Lizzie Mills, retaining $1,000 from the $4,000 sale.
Just how much Mills grasped when she engaged Bryant’s services, just how much Bryant may have misled and beguiled her (one allegation was that he claimed to have been a friend of her late father when, in fact, he had never met him), and just how much, if at all, Miller had involvement in the transaction, were not clearly established at the time…and I offer no new evidence.
Disbarment proceedings were commenced on April 8, 1902, before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Nathaniel P. Conrey (later a justice of the Court of Appeal, then the California Supreme Court).
As noted here before, a judge of any superior court could, in those days, admit a lawyer to practice, but only in the county in which he sat; the state Supreme Court admitted lawyers to practice in all courts of the state. When it came to disbarment, however, a superior court judge had concurrent power with the Supreme Court to disbar a lawyer in all California counties.
The standard method of instituting a disbarment proceeding was through complaint of a bar association, typically in the name of a representative member or members. In fact, in a 1903 case, the California Supreme Court remarks:
“For a long time, and in a number of cases, we have refused to entertain proceedings to disbar attorneys for alleged professional misconduct, unless the proceeding was instituted or supported by a bar association, or the misconduct was alleged to have direct connection with natters [sic] pending in this court.”
The bar association’s pleading alleges that Mills came to the law office to seek legal services from Miller, but that Bryant convinced her to put the matter in his hands, and, through “false and fraudulent acts, statements, and representations,” gained unfair advantage over her.
One count against Bryant was that he had mendaciously insisted that Miller had involvement in the matter. The bar association’s complaint avers:
“…Bryant falsely and maliciously, both in the public prints and otherwise, and to the Committee on Grievances of the Bar Association, stated and sought to have it believed, by way of excuse and palliation of his aforesaid acts and dealings with the said Lizzie H. Mills, that the same were had and done at the instance and request and with the full knowledge and approval of the said John M. Miller, and that the said Miller was his partner in the transaction and had received one-half of $1000 so retained by the said Bryant out of the $4,000 received by him for said real property; in truth and in fact, as the said Bryant well knew, said Miller had no knowledge of any of said acts and had not received one-half or any part of the said $1000.”
Conrey’s written opinion says, in part:
“As to the penalty, the respondent’s misconduct has left no middle ground. He is a young man of good reputation except as may be affected by the proceedings here under review. If he had come into court acknowledging his error and expressing regret therefor, it may be that the law and the requirements of the situation might have been satisfied by something less than absolute disbarment.
“But when the respondent in such a case opposes the prosecution by every possible objection and denies the facts essential to the truth of the charge against him, there is left no escape from the logic of a situation this created.
“Either the court must find him innocent or must find him guilty with all the word implies.”
Conrey found him guilty.
The disbarment was predicated, in part, on the assumption that this young upstart had maligned a respected member of the bar, his senior, attempting to shift blame to him for his own misdeeds. Soon after that, Miller was adjudicated, in an unrelated civil proceeding, to be a swindler. The appropriateness of Bryant’s disbarment was later re-examined.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company