Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners, No. S009069

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Citation264 Cal.Rptr. 361,782 P.2d 602,49 Cal.3d 933
Decision Date04 December 1989
Docket NumberNo. S009069
Parties, 782 P.2d 602 George N. SEIDE, Petitioner, v. COMMITTEE OF BAR EXAMINERS OF the STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA, Respondent.

Page 361

264 Cal.Rptr. 361
49 Cal.3d 933, 782 P.2d 602
George N. SEIDE, Petitioner,
v.
COMMITTEE OF BAR EXAMINERS OF the STATE BAR OF CALIFORNIA, Respondent.
No. S009069.
Supreme Court of California,
In Bank.
Dec. 4, 1989.

[49 Cal.3d 935] George N. Seide, Woodland Hills, in pro. per.

Page 362

Michael Rochford, Long Beach, for petitioner.

Diane C. Yu, Truitt A. Richey, Jr., State Bar General Counsel, San Francisco, and Ellen R. Peck, Malibu, for respondent.

[782 P.2d 603] THE COURT:

Petitioner challenges the decision of the Review Department of the State Bar Court refusing to certify him for admission to the bar on the ground that he lacks good moral character. We agree with the review department and decline to admit petitioner to practice.

I. BACKGROUND

In February 1987, the State Bar informed petitioner he had passed the California Bar examination, but would not be certified to practice law pending an investigation into his moral character. A three-member panel held four days of hearings between October 1987 and January 1988, and [49 Cal.3d 936] found the following facts:

From 1975 through 1982, petitioner was arrested five times for drug-related offenses. In 1975 he was arrested at his girlfriend's house for possession of marijuana; the charges were later dismissed. He was arrested again in 1978, at Miami International Airport, when a suitcase he had checked at a friend's request was found to contain cocaine. Petitioner testified before the hearing panel that in the airport incident he knew he was participating in a crime; he assumed the suitcase contained several pounds of marijuana to be resold in California. According to petitioner, he was to be compensated for his participation by reimbursement of his airfare. Again all charges were dismissed. In 1979, petitioner was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport when, acting on behalf of another friend, he picked up a package containing marijuana. No charges were filed. In 1982, police searched his car following a traffic stop, and found a small amount of cocaine. Again, no charges were filed.

Petitioner's involvement with drugs drastically expanded until finally, in 1981, he and a partner entered into an extensive cocaine trafficking enterprise, which extended over the next 11 months. Petitioner testified at length to the scope of his drug dealing, at one point estimating he and his partner had participated in more than 50 transactions, including 5 sales of more than a pound of cocaine. The conspiracy ended in September 1982, when petitioner and his partner were arrested by undercover federal agents after selling them six pounds of cocaine (valued at more than $500,000). Petitioner pleaded guilty and was convicted of knowingly and intentionally distributing 2.845 kilograms of cocaine, and aiding and abetting the distribution of another 27 grams of cocaine. For these crimes he received a three-year suspended sentence, with a six-month actual sentence and five years' probation. Petitioner served 147 days at a federal work camp and his probation terminated in September 1988.

Significantly, all but the first of these arrests occurred after petitioner entered law school, which he attended from 1976 to 1979. He first took the bar examination in 1979. He finally passed the exam in 1986. Hence, petitioner's most extensive drug dealing actually took place while he studied for the bar exam.

Two of the three-member hearing panel found petitioner possessed good moral character and recommended he be admitted to practice law. These members observed that petitioner cooperated throughout the proceedings, and expressed remorse for his past acts involving the use and sale of drugs. While acknowledging petitioner's previous criminal activities were serious, the panelists nonetheless determined that he had successfully rehabilitated himself and earned a reputation for honesty, reliability, fairness, and trustworthiness.

[49 Cal.3d 937] The final panel member dissented, remaining unconvinced of petitioner's rehabilitation. In her opinion, petitioner's character evidence was at best questionable. Moreover, even were such testimony given full weight, the combined evidence of rehabilitation adduced at the hearings demonstrated only the normal behavior expected of any member of society, rather than the

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exemplary behavior required of one who has committed serious crimes and seeks admission to the bar. The fact that petitioner had engaged in his most serious misconduct while studying for the bar indicated to the dissenting panelist the inadequacy of his law school education. Arguing[782 P.2d 604] "[t]he study of law consists of more than a mere knowledge of black letter decisions," the dissenter concluded that "[c]learly the system failed [petitioner]."

The review department, although adopting most of the panel's findings of fact, reversed the panel's conclusion that petitioner possessed good moral character. Instead, the department found the evidence of rehabilitation unpersuasive because petitioner was still on probation during the State Bar hearings and his character evidence was suspect. The department also concluded petitioner showed no remorse for his previous criminal conduct and failed to accept responsibility for his acts, further demonstrating that he was not rehabilitated. Consequently, the department unanimously (13-0 vote) refused to certify petitioner for admission to the practice of law.

II. DISCUSSION

"The fundamental question [is] whether petitioner is a fit and proper person to be permitted to practice, and that question usually turns upon whether he committed or is likely to continue to commit acts of moral turpitude." (Hightower v. State Bar (1983) 34 Cal.3d 150, 157, 193 Cal.Rptr. 153, 666 P.2d 10.) When the applicant has previously committed acts of moral turpitude, he must demonstrate that he is rehabilitated and currently possesses the moral qualifications to be a member of the bar. (Ibid.; March v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1967) 67 Cal.2d 718, 731, 63 Cal.Rptr. 399, 433 P.2d 191.) In making this determination we give great weight to both the hearing panel's factual findings and the review department's recommendation. (See In re Kreamer (1975) 14 Cal.3d 524, 532, fn. 5, 121 Cal.Rptr. 600, 535 P.2d 728.) While the applicant bears the burden of showing that the State Bar's findings are not supported by the evidence or that its recommendation is erroneous, all reasonable doubts are resolved in his favor. (Siegel v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1973) 10 Cal.3d 156, 173, 110 Cal.Rptr. 15, 514 P.2d 967.) Once the applicant furnishes enough evidence of good moral character to establish a prima facie case, the burden shifts to the bar to rebut that showing with evidence [49 Cal.3d 938] of bad moral character. (Bernstein v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1968) 69 Cal.2d 90, 95, 70 Cal.Rptr. 106, 443 P.2d 570.)

Petitioner's cocaine trafficking clearly involved acts of moral turpitude and demonstrated bad moral character; we have held such offenses to warrant disbarment. (See, e.g., In re Giddens (1981) 30 Cal.3d 110, 177 Cal.Rptr. 673, 635 P.2d 166.) Unlike disbarment proceedings, in which the State Bar must prove an attorney is unfit to practice, an applicant for certification must show he is morally fit. (Hallinan v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1966) 65 Cal.2d 447, 451, 55 Cal.Rptr. 228, 421 P.2d 76.) Hence, this court may properly refuse to admit an applicant to practice law upon proof that would not justify an order of disbarment.

Several facts make petitioner's conduct particularly egregious. First, such serious criminal activities are all the more reprehensible when committed by a former law enforcement officer and law school graduate. Before any of his arrests petitioner acted as a deputy sheriff in Florida. He testified that in that capacity he received training regarding controlled substances. He also gave more than 80 drug information lectures to school children, warning them that use of illegal drugs "was a bad thing" and could result in adverse physical reactions as well as criminal prosecution. The fact that petitioner's criminal involvement occurred after this history in law enforcement, and while he studied for the bar exam, bespeaks a blatant disregard of the laws he was sworn to enforce, has studied, and now seeks to apply. Second, according to his own testimony, petitioner's primary motivation for his involvement in illicit drug transactions was financial gain. Thus, petitioner's attempt to offer mitigating

Page 364

circumstances for his drug dealing should generally be discounted. 1

[782 P.2d 605] Against this background of a serious criminal record, petitioner attempts to meet his burden of proving his rehabilitation and...

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13 practice notes
  • Practice and procedure: Patent and trademark cases rules of practice; representation of others before Patent and Trademark Office,
    • United States
    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
    • December 12, 2003
    ...of any sentence and probation or parole. See In re Dortch, 687 A.2d 245 (Md. 1997); Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners (Calif.), 782 P.2d 602 (Cal. 1989). The individual would have to pay the fee required by Sec. 1.21(a)(10) with the application for Paragraph (h)(4) of Sec. 11.7 would prov......
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    • Federal Register December 12, 2003
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    ...of any sentence and probation or parole. See In re Dortch, 687 A.2d 245 (Md. 1997); Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners (Calif.), 782 P.2d 602 (Cal. 1989). The individual would have to pay the fee required by Sec. 1.21(a)(10) with the application for Paragraph (h)(4) of Sec. 11.7 would prov......
  • In re Application of Wiesner
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    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • March 20, 2012
    ...on parole and his application for admission, some of which were omitted from the application]; Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners, 49 Cal.3d 933, 782 P.2d 602 [1989] [seven-year period since applicant's arrests during law school insufficient to purge extensive history of drug trafficking c......
  • Kwasnik v. State Bar, No. S010199
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    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 31, 1990
    ...to commit acts of moral turpitude." (Id. at p. 453, 55 Cal.Rptr. 228, 421 P.2d 76; cf. Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1989) 49 Cal.3d 933, 938, 264 Cal.Rptr. 361, 782 P.2d The burden is on the applicant to prove good moral character. (Hallinan, supra, 65 Cal.2d at p. 451, 55 Cal.Rptr.......
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11 cases
  • In re Application of Wiesner
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • March 20, 2012
    ...on parole and his application for admission, some of which were omitted from the application]; Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners, 49 Cal.3d 933, 782 P.2d 602 [1989] [seven-year period since applicant's arrests during law school insufficient to purge extensive history of drug trafficking c......
  • Kwasnik v. State Bar, No. S010199
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • May 31, 1990
    ...to commit acts of moral turpitude." (Id. at p. 453, 55 Cal.Rptr. 228, 421 P.2d 76; cf. Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1989) 49 Cal.3d 933, 938, 264 Cal.Rptr. 361, 782 P.2d The burden is on the applicant to prove good moral character. (Hallinan, supra, 65 Cal.2d at p. 451, 55 Cal.Rptr.......
  • In re Weisner, 1353 -3805 -318
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    • New York Supreme Court — Appellate Division
    • March 20, 2012
    ...on parole and his application for admission, some of which were omitted from the application]; Seide v Committee of Bar Examiners, 49 Cal 3d 933, 782 P2d 602 [1989] [seven-year period since applicant's arrests during law school insufficient to purge extensive history of drug trafficking con......
  • Menna, In re, No. S038139
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • December 4, 1995
    ...the burden shifts to the bar to rebut that showing with evidence of bad moral character. (Seide v. Committee of Bar Examiners (1989) 49 Cal.3d 933, 937-938, 264 Cal.Rptr. 361, 782 P.2d 602.) When the bar proffers evidence of prior acts of moral turpitude, the applicant must then demonstrate......
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