Thursday, January 20, 2005

In Re: Demetra Pasyanos (Cal. Bar Ct. - January 13, 2005)

Generally, I only read (and comment here on) the published opinions of the California Supreme Court, the California Court of Appeals, the United States Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and an occasional district court in California -- basically, all the opinions published in the Daily Appellate Report. But here's an opinion from the Review Department of the State Bar Court, and since it too is of potential interest to Californians -- particularly young California lawyers -- I thought I'd mention it as well.

The opinion involves a situation that I'm sure has been confronted in the past by some of my students, who often come to me (since I teach legal ethics) about their various brushes with the law as they prepare to file their Application for Determination of Moral Character. Here, Demetra Pasyanos -- a recent graduate of Loyola Law School -- files her moral character application with the State Bar and makes various disclosures. Before the State Bar approves her application, however, she's charged with a crime; in particular, violating a restraining order and misdemeanor battery on a cohabitant (which she eventually bargains down to a plea of nolo contendre to misdemeanor "challenging another person to fight in a public place"). She never updates her application to disclose the criminal charges, however, and when the Bar finds out (after they admit her), they move to cancel her license.

The Review Department concludes that Pasyanos' failure to disclose the post-application criminal charges was simply an oversight, rather than an intentional concealment, and this finding is fairly well-supported, especially given the many disclosures that she did make in her application regarding prior incidents with the victim of her alleged assault (with whom she had a longstanding and very troubled relationship). On this basis, the court refuses to cancel her Bar license, and instead simply issues a public reproval, to which she doesn't object. That result seems entirely fair to me. Pasyanos didn't deliberately conceal the charges. Let's not be too harsh on her for a simple mistake.

The case is nonetheless still a reminder that you've got to update your moral character application if anything happens before it's approved. It's also a concrete example of what can happen if you don't; after all, Pasyanos had to deal with two-plus-years of the Bar attempting to cancel her license, which would have been avoided if she'd have properly supplemented her application. Plus, the only reason that she wasn't essentially disbarred is that the court found that her mistake was entirely accidental. There's every reason to believe that the court might well come to a contrary conclusion in the typical "Oops, did I really forget to list that charge?" type of case.

So make your disclosures, and make (and keep) 'em complete. It's the right -- and smart -- thing to do.