Dec
04

Oprah Winfrey as Disciplinary Counsel?

Former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph P. Ganim was convicted by a federal jury and served seven years in prison for his role in a racketeering conspiracy that extorted some $800,000 from contractors seeking to do business in the Park City. That verdict was returned in 2003. He’s done his time. Now he wants his law license back. One obstacle standing in his way is his refusal to express remorse.

Someone tell me this is a sick joke.

Ganim’s reinstatement campaign took him to the State’s Supreme Court last week, where his counsel faced questions about whether Ganim was truly sorry for what he had done.  

A panel of lawyers in Fairfield County reviewed Ganim’s reapplication to the bar, and recommended that he be permitted to resume practicing law. But a three-judge panel rejected those recommendations, relying, in part, on his refusal to issue “any apology, expression of remorse, or explanation” for the conduct that led to his conviction.

Chief Disciplinary Counsel, Patricia King, last week told the Supreme Court that, in her office’s view, Ganim has to “come in and give us some explanation of how he came to be convicted of a 4-year crime spree.”

Stand your ground, Joe. If disciplinary counsel wants to figure out how you got convicted, send her a copy of the trial transcript. I assume she’s not too busy to read it.

The law of conspiracy has long been criticized for casting too broad a net, entangling within its web both those culpable and those merely in the vicinity of the unlawful acts of others. Ganim has always maintained his innocence. He fought to prove it at trial, claiming that close associates peddled access to him and used his name for criminal purposes. He lost that trial.

It speaks volumes about his character that he is not willing to change his tune simply to get what he wants. I presume that if he were to come whining, mewling and sniveling into Ms. King’s office, all would be forgiven. But wouldn’t that be proof positive that Ganim was a liar, a chameleon willing to change colors to suit the tastes of his audience?

Justice Carmen Espinosa seemed to get it right during last week’s argument. Is Ganim to forever be barred from the practice law for “exercising a constitutional right to claim he is innocent?”

I understand that the practice of law is a privilege, and that members of the bar must demonstrate sufficient character to be entrusted with the care of the affairs of others. But let’s not transform this character and fitness requirement into a species of naive moralism.

We all know, or should know, that juries do from time-to-time get things wrong. I suspect the danger of jury error is greatest in areas where the law is broadest and most sweeping, such as conspiratorial liability. Recall that in a conspiracy case, all that need be proven is that two or more people agreed to accomplish some unlawful act, and that, thereafter, one of the conspirators makes an overt act in furtherance of the conspiracy. Satisfy this simple proof, and all co-conspirators, whether they even know one another or not, are guilty. It’s a repugnant law, really, the best friend of lazy prosecutors everywhere.

The law is not morals. When we pretend otherwise we transform dispassionate doctrine into the hot lead of prejudice. I am disappointed in Ms. King’s unseemly posturing as the Oprah Winfrey of the bar. What instinct leads her to think that preying on fellow lawyers will inspire public confidence in an already untrusted profession?

Joseph Ganim is a felon. He’s paid whatever debt his sentencing judge thought he owed to society. He doesn’t owe anyone tears, remorse, or regrets. Holding him hostage until he delivers his very own pound of flesh is demeaning. Either give him his law license back or declare once and for all that a felon disables a lawyer for life.

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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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