Crimes that Involve Moral Turpitude
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was barred from practicing law in the nation’s capital, following his conviction for perjury and obstructing justice in the White House leak investigation.
Under the procedures established by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Libby, 57, will lose his license to practice or appear in court in Washington, effective June 12, 2007. Libby could seek reinstatement to the bar five years from that date.
Libby was found guilty of lying to the FBI and other federal investigators about whether he discussed the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame with reporters in the spring and summer of 2003. This past July, a federal judge sentenced the former White House aide to thirty months in jail, but President Bush commuted the sentence, calling it “excessive.” Libby did pay a fine of $250,000 and remains on probation for two years.
The three-member Court of Appeals, in ruling on the disbarment, stated that it had no choice. “When a member of the bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory.”
Melvyn I. Weiss, the high-profile class action lawyer, pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to make hidden payments to plaintiffs in class action suits filed by his firm.
Weiss had been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles with conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements. His decision to plead guilty came after his former law partner, William Learch, pleaded guilty to a role in the same kickback scheme.
According to the indictment, the New York firm of Milberg Weiss made an estimated $250 million in fees over two decades by filing class actions on behalf of plaintiffs who received substantial kickbacks in return for their participation in the lawsuits. The indictment charged that the firm paid over eleven million dollars to plaintiffs in suits against Xerox Corp., United Airlines, and other major corporations.
Weiss, 72, could be sentenced to 18 to 33 months in prison, but it is possible that half that time will be home confinement or community service. As part of the deal, Weiss agreed to forfeit 9.75 million in “ill-gotten gains” and pay a $250,000 fine.
In corporate circles, the plea was greeted with deep satisfaction. The New York Times quoted Lisa A. Rickard, president of the Institute of Legal Reform at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as saying: “Bill Lerach and Mel Weiss practically invented the securities class-action lawsuit and used it throughout their careers to cause major harm to our judicial system.”
Weiss issued a statement through his lawyer: “I deeply regret my conduct and apologize to all those who have been affected . . . . I believe that it is very important to preserve [class action suits] for the benefit of victims of wrongdoing affecting the masses.”
It's Not Always Like the Movies
Richard F. “Dickie” Scruggs, the Mississippi lawyer who built his reputation in asbestos litigation and then by suing cigarette manufacturers, pleaded guilty in March to conspiring to bribe a Mississippi State Judge. The well-connected attorney, whose litigation against tobacco companies on behalf of the State of Mississippi was portrayed in the movie The Insider, starring Russell Crowe, faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Scruggs had at one time brought suit along with attorney John Griffen Jones against State Farm Insurance after Hurricane Katrina. The lawsuit against State Farm was settled for $26.5 million, but Jones claimed that he was cheated out of his share of the fee. According to court documents, Scruggs and other defendants planned to bribe the judge assigned to hear the fee dispute. The judge reported the alleged bribe offer and cooperated with the federal prosecutors.
It was originally thought that Scruggs would fight the charges, and his decision to plead guilty was considered somewhat of a surprise. His attorney, John Keker, was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying that the prosecutors had brought charges based on a “manufactured crime.” Scruggs’ son, Zachery, was also charged, but did not plead. His trial is scheduled to start at the end of March.
Scruggs’ plea was to one count of conspiracy. He faces up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000.
Where Are They Now?
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, affectionately referred to by his friend and patron, George W. Bush as “Fredo,” has been having a difficult time making it on the big-time lecture circuit since leaving office.
In his first appearance, at the University of Florida, Gonzales was greeted with a mixture of cheers, boos and scattered interruptions when speaking to a crowd of approximately eight hundred people. According to reports, Gonzales avoided talking about the controversies he faced while in office, including the dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys, and focused instead on encouraging students to consider a career in public service. About fifteen minutes into his speech, two University students climbed onto the stage wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods on their heads. One protestor stood next to Gonzales, who avoided looking in his direction. University police officers eventually removed the protestor, but others climbed onto the stage and removed shirts or jackets revealing yellow T-shirts that read “SHAME.” After the speech, Gonzales sat down for a question and answer session. Reportedly, the University’s student-run speakers’ bureau paid Gonzales $40,000 for the appearance.
Student leaders at Pomona College briefly considered inviting Gonzales for a speech in November, but then vetoed the idea. Kelly Schwartz, chairperson of the speakers committee, said that the committee ultimately made its decision based on a consideration of price and student interest level. “In the case of Gonzales, it was a combination of not having the funding and the impression that students would not attend this event,” she said. According to reports in the student newspaper, the agency promoting Gonzales had asked the school to pay him $35,000, in addition to first-class accommodations.
In February, Gonzales gave a speech at the University of Washington, and received a fee of $36,000. The University student newspaper said that during his speech, Gonzales “repeatedly made references comparing himself and the Bush Administration to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, suggesting that Lincoln was highly criticized during his presidency and is now highly revered.”
Gonzales apparently believes that full story about the Administration will be known only in the future. “There is a difference between what you do and what people say you do. It’s going to take years for the entire story to be told,” Gonzales has said. “If you worry about criticism you end up paralyzed and do nothing.”
What lies ahead for the former Attorney General is uncertain. According to CNN, his friends and former associates are seeking contributions from $500 to $5000 for a legal defense fund should he need it.