Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Revocation of California Lawyer’s Federal Bar Membership Reversed
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday threw out an order revoking a California attorney’s ability to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon because he was not a member of the Oregon State Bar.
In a 2-1 ruling, with Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima writing for the majority, the appellate court concluded U.S. District Court Judge Michael W. Mosman’s decision was akin to a disbarment, which gave it jurisdiction to review Mark Corrinet’s claims, and that the attorney—now based in Waldport, Ore.—had been denied due process during the proceedings before Mosman.
Corrinet, who represented himself on appeal and did not return a call seeking comment yesterday, joined the State Bar of California in 1997 before relocating to Oregon about 10 years ago.
Tashima noted the attorney had applied to take the Oregon bar examination, but he was not permitted to sit for the exam at that time, possibly because he had attended a law school which was not accredited by the American Bar Association.
In 2002, Corrinet claimed, the then-chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon “waived” a local rule limiting admission to attorneys “who are active members in good standing with the Oregon State Bar” and admitted him to practice before the court.
The attorney appeared as counsel in a civil action filed in the District of Oregon in 2009 before Mosman. Several months after the complaint was filed, the judge issued a scheduling order for a show cause hearing which gave no indication of the reason it was being set.
At the hearing, Corrinet said, he learned that the proceeding was about him, and he was specifically asked “to explain why he should be allowed to continue as the only member of the District of Oregon’s bar without an active license from the Oregon State Bar.”
Mosman said he would “temporarily” allow Corrinet to continue to appear in the case while seeking admission to the state bar, and five months later, upon learning Corrinet’s application was unsuccessful, issued an order “revok[ing] Mark S. Corrinet’s membership to the Federal Bar for the District of Oregon pursuant to [Local Rule] 83-2.”
Tashima, joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, acknowledged Ninth Circuit precedent, established in 1956 in In re Wasserman, 240 F.2d 213, that the “routine order of denial or granting of admission of attorneys where the District Court followed its own rules and did not violate any right of applicant….is not a final determination within the meaning of [28 U.S.C. § 1291] which gives this Court jurisdiction.”
In 2004, the court revisited this issue in In re North, 383 F.3d 871, which involved an attorney who was suspended from the District of Arizona bar after he was suspended from the Arizona State Bar for failing to pay dues since the local rules for the District of Arizona provided that membership to its bar was “limited to…active members in good standing of the State Bar of Arizona.”
The Ninth Circuit said it had jurisdiction over the appeal in this case, even though the district court’s order was based on a local rule regulating admission and continuing membership in the bar, because it “was clearly an order of suspension and not a denial of admission.”
From these cases, Tashima said, “we discern that although we lack jurisdiction to review routine orders denying admission to a district court, the citation of a local rule governing admission does not shield what is essentially a disbarment from appellate review.”
‘Shown the Door’
Applying this principle to Corrinet, Tashima reasoned, the attorney’s situation was similar to the circumstances presented in North, since Corrinet was seeking review of an order barring him from practicing before the district court after he had already been a member.
“Corrinet did not knock on the courthouse door seeking entry; he was already inside when he was shown the door,” Tashima said, so “the district judge’s order is more like a disbarment order than a denial of admission.” As such, the jurist explained, it was subject to appellate review.
“It is well established that an attorney subject to disbarment is entitled to due process, including notice and an opportunity to be heard,” Tashima continued, and concluded Corrinet had been deprived of such protections.
“First, the judge failed to issue a proper order to show cause; therefore, Corrinet was not on notice of the purpose of the show cause hearing,” Tashima said. The district judge also “failed to adhere to the District of Oregon’s rules regarding the discipline of attorneys” which required that Corrinet be given 21 days to muster a response to the OSC, and precluded the complaining judge from disbarring an attorney, Tashima added.
Tashima further reasoned Corrinet had not received an adequate opportunity to present a defense, or to comply with the order to gain membership in the Oregon State Bar.
Judge Sandra S. Ikuta, however, disagreed with Tashima and Kozinski, contending “the district court’s determination lacked the hallmarks of a disbarment” as it was “neither ethical nor disciplinary in nature,” and so jurisdiction was lacking.
The case is In re Corrinet, 10-35568.
Copyright 2011, Metropolitan News Company