Friday, January 24, 2014
Supreme Court Rules:
Child Pornography Crime Punishable by Summary Disbarment
By MICHAEL J. PEIL, Staff Writer
Knowingly possessing child pornography constitutes moral turpitude per se, and a lawyer convicted of the crime is subject to summary disbarment, the California Supreme Court unanimously held yesterday.
The court, in an opinion by Justice Carol A. Corrigan, ordered that Gary D. Grant be disbarred. The justices rejected the State Bar Court Review Department’s recommendation that he be placed on three years’ probation, with two years of actual suspension, after he pled guilty to a felony under Penal Code §311.11(a).
Grant, an Orange County lawyer who was admitted to practice in 1994, was charged with three counts of knowingly possessing child pornography in 2008.
After pleading guilty, he was placed on probation for three years with various conditions, including 90 days in jail and having to register as a lifetime sex offender. He has been on interim suspension since 2009 as a result of the conviction.
On two occasions in 2009, Grant admitted to having violated the terms of his probation, after adult pornography was found on his computer and he had sent sexual text messages to a former girlfriend. He was sentenced to 183 days in jail for the violations. State Bar prosecutors told the Review Department that the crime involved moral turpitude per se, and was thus grounds for summary disbarment under Business and Professions Code 6102(c). The Review Department disagreed, finding that knowingly possessing child pornography “may or may not” involve moral turpitude.
The matter was then referred to the Hearing Department.
At the trial, the prosecutor admitted the testimony of forensic specialist Amy Wong. The media was not admitted into evidence, but Wong described various videos and images containing nude and semi-nude girls of ages below 16 and 14.
Grant testified in his own defense, admitting to having images of child pornography, but explaining that he acquired them by email. He said that he “found [them] repugnant and instantly deleted [them].”
He also explained that he pled guilty to possessing these images because he interpreted the law to mean that even fleeting computer images of unsolicited child pornography was considered a violation of §311.11.
The defense also called Grant’s former colleagues and clients as character witnesses. These witnesses said Grant was a competent attorney, and that his conviction did not alter their view that he possessed good moral character.
The judge concluded that Grant’s conviction involved moral turpitude and recommended disbarment. The Review Department, however, said Wong’s testimony was inadmissible as lay opinion, and that the remaining evidence of the felony conviction was insufficient to establish moral turpitude.
Corrigan, however, in her opinion for the high court, said that all possession of child pornography involves moral turpitude, because even a passive observer of the content inflicts suffering on children. An audience, she explained, drives the economic demand for the material and thereby contributes to further victimization of children by pornographers.
Citing In re Lesansky (2001) 25 Cal.4th 11, Corrigan said, criminal conduct that is not committed during the practice of law involves moral turpitude if it reveals a deficiency in a character trait that is necessary to practice law, involves a serious breach of duty owed to another or society, or a flagrant disrespect for societal norms.
“The knowing possession of child pornography is ‘a serious breach of the duties of respect and care that all adults owe to all children, and it show[s] such a flagrant disrespect for the law and for societal norms, that continuation of [a convicted attorney’s] State Bar membership would be likely to undermine public confidence in and respect for the legal profession.”
State Bar Executive Director and CEO Joseph Dunn, in a statement released yesterday, said:
“[This] decision recognizes that belonging to the legal profession is a privilege and not a right. The bar’s ability to hold attorneys to the highest standards is critical in maintaining the integrity of the profession.”
The case is In re Grant on Discipline, 14 S.O.S. 323.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company