Admission Denied for Failure to 'Address Criminal Past'
Editors' Note: This article has been updated to reflect a Correction.
A state appeals panel has refused to admit to the practice of law a man who was involved in a burglary during which an elderly woman was murdered, ruling that although he turned his life around after getting out of prison in 1985, he has failed to take responsibility for his crimes.
The 3-2 Appellate Division, First Department, panel ruled Thursday in Matter of Anonymous, M-1559, that while the unnamed applicant's crime did not necessarily preclude his admission to the bar by itself, he did not "adequately address his criminal past." Justices Peter Tom (See Profile), David Friedman (See Profile) and John Sweeny (See Profile) joined the unsigned majority opinion.
Justice Richard Andrias (See Profile) dissented, joined by Justice Helen Freedman (See Profile), saying that the majority's decision went against the First Department's 2012 decision to admit Neal Wiesner, an attorney previously convicted of attempted murder and other crimes (NYLJ, March 21, 2012). Tom sat on the panel in both cases.
The applicant's criminal history began in 1973, when he was arrested for selling bottles of counterfeit perfume, though the charges were later dismissed. In 1975, he was arrested for selling $21,000 worth of cocaine in at least four separate sales, but was released when he agreed to act as a confidential informant, giving police information about organized crime and drug trafficking. This information resulted in a single arrest.
In December 1975, the applicant and another person were arrested for murdering a 69-year-old woman whose apartment they burglarized. The woman suffocated to death when the two burglars put a gag around her mouth. The applicant pleaded guilty to burglary in the first degree and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years. While in prison, he earned a bachelor's degree from New York State University/Regents College. In 1980, after serving five years of his sentence, he was released on parole. He was finally discharged in 1986.
After that, the applicant's life took what the First Department called a "commendable turn for the better." He earned a J.D. from Cardozo Law School and applied to the bar, but his first application, in 1987, was rejected because of his "lack of candor" about his criminal past, according to the majority.
In 1990, the applicant moved to renew his application. In 1994, the Committee on Character and Fitness denied his second application.
The applicant moved to renew once again in 2008. This time, a subcommittee of the Committee on Character and Fitness recommended that he be admitted, but the full committee rejected that recommendation by a 16-12 vote. The applicant then moved for the First Department to admit him despite the committee's recommendation.
The applicant's statements about his past have changed significantly over the course of his long campaign for bar admission. In 1987, he admitted that he had been arrested for "a drug sale," which he undertook only as a "favor" for a "friend." He did not disclose that he was arrested for multiple drug sales, or for selling fake perfume.