April 21, 2009

Professionalism Part Deux (Duh?): Sex Offenders Shouldn't Practice Law

Recently, Eric Gaynor, a Connecticut lawyer was sentenced to five years for receipt of child pornography and running a child porn website. Here's the kicker: he was a former chairman of the Orange Board of Ethics. He currently still retains his law license, though is subject to "sanctions from state disciplinary officials" according to a Law.com article.

The Connecticut Code of Professional Ethics
contains this statement:
A lawyer’s conduct should conform to the requirements of the law, both in professional service to clients and in the lawyer’s business and personal affairs.
This is expounded on by Rule 8.4 which provides that it is professional misconduct to

(2) Commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects;
(3) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation;

Further, the commentary of 8.4 states:

Many kinds of illegal conduct reflect adversely on fitness to practice law, such as offenses involving fraud and the offense of willful failure to file an income tax return. However, some kinds of offenses carry no such implication. Traditionally, the distinction was drawn in terms of offenses involving ‘‘moral turpitude.’’ That concept can be construed to include offenses concerning some matters of personal morality, such as adultery and comparable offenses, that have no specific connection to fitness for the practice of law. Although a lawyer is personally answerable to the entire criminal law, a lawyer should be professionally answerable only for offenses that indicate lack of those characteristics relevant to law practice. Offenses involving violence, dishonesty, breach of trust, or serious interference with the administration of justice are in that category. A pattern of repeated offenses, even ones of minor significance when considered separately, can indicate indifference to legal obligation.
How will the state disciplinary board interpret this rule in this case? To the child advocate, it is clear that the circulation of child pornography is more than moral turpitude. It may be that the board relies on the "repeated offenses" clause because of the number of young boys involved in Gaynor's illegal conduct.

A solution to this intricate dance for Connecticut and other states is providing a clear clause in their professional ethics legislation that sex offenders cannot retain a license to practice law. It is a dark stain on an honorable profession that there might ever be a question of sex offenders practicing law, particularly sex offenders that have preyed on children.

A nation so allegedly outraged by sex offenses against children still seems to provide fairly light consequences to sexual predators. The legal profession should be a leader in changing that trend.

1 comment:

  1. I have to congratulate you for speaking up about this when I know you will face contention from the Bar and perhaps some peers.

    You know, it makes no sense that students who have a "record" find it difficult to become attorneys - yet once entrenched, they can commit an outrageous crime and essentially have their hands slapped.

    Thank you for bringing this to people's attention. You might want to post this on facebook or another networking site to let even more people know what is going on.