MR. JUSTICE BRADLEY delivered the opinion of the court.
A petition was filed in this case by J.B. Wall for an alternate writ of mandamus to be directed to James W. Locke, district judge of the United States for the Southern District of Florida, to show cause why a peremptory writ should not issue to compel him to vacate an order made by him as such district judge, prohibiting said Wall from practising at the bar of said court, and to restore said Wall to the rights, privileges, and immunities of an attorney and proctor thereof. The petition set forth the proceedings complained of, and an order was made by this court requiring the judge to show cause why the prayer of the petition should not be granted. The rule to show cause has been answered, and we are now called upon to decide whether the writ ought to be granted.
The proceedings of the court below for disbarring the petitioner were substantially as follows:—
On the 7th of March, 1882, during a term of the said court, held at Tampa, Hillsborough County, Florida, the same court exercising both Circuit and District Court jurisdiction, J.W. Locke, the judge then holding said court, issued, and caused to be served upon the petitioner, the following order:—
"CIRCUIT COURT OF THE U.S., So. DISTRICT OF FLORIDA.
"MARCH TERM, 1882.
"Whereas it has come to the knowledge of this court that one J.B. Wall, an attorney of this court, did, on the sixth day of this present month, engage in and with an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, he advising and encouraging thereto, take from the jail of Hillsborough County, and hang by the neck until he was dead, one John, otherwise unknown, thereby showing such an utter disregard and contempt for the law and its provisions, which, as a sworn attorney, he was bound to respect and support, as shows him to be totally unfitted to occupy such position:
"It is hereby ordered that said J.B. Wall be cited to appear and show cause by eleven o'clock Wednesday, the eighth instant,
Wall appeared in court at the return of this rule, and, on the following day, filed a written answer, as follows:—
"This respondent, now and at all times hereafter saving and reserving to himself all and all manner of benefits of exception to the many errors, uncertainties, and imperfections in the said rule contained, prays leave to object, as if he had demurred thereto, to the right, authority, or jurisdiction of this court to issue said rule and require him to answer it:
"1st, Because said rule does not show that the matters therein charged took place in the presence of the court, or were brought to the knowledge of the court by petition or complaint in writing under oath; and,
"2d, Because respondent is charged in said rule with a high crime against the laws of Florida not cognizable in this court, and for which, if proven, this respondent is liable to indictment and prosecution before the State court; but for answer to so much of said rule as this respondent is advised that it is material or proper for him to make answer to, answering, saith —
"He denies counselling, advising, encouraging, or assisting an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering or mob in taking one John from the jail of Hillsborough County and causing his death by hanging in contempt and defiance of the law, or that he has been guilty of any unprofessional or immoral conduct which shows him to be unfitted for the position of an attorney and proctor of this court, as he is charged in the said rule.
"Whereupon he prays to be hence dismissed, &c.
The court overruled the exceptions to its jurisdiction, and called to the stand Peter A. Williams, the marshal of the district, whose testimony, at the request of the respondent, was reduced to writing, and was as follows:—
"Peter A. Williams, being duly sworn to testify, says:—
"I saw Mr. J.B. Wall and others come to Mr. Craft's house about two o'clock, March 6th, and having already heard that a sheriff's posse had been summoned to protect the jail, I thought by
"When they came out I heard one of the party remark, `We have got all out of you we want.' Mr. Wall was one of the party.
"I then thought something was wrong; they all went out of the gate, and Mr. Craft after them, and I followed after them rather slowly, and when I got to the corner I saw the party coming out of the jail with the criminal, the man who was afterwards hanged. They carried him over the steps to the oak tree in front of the steps to the court-house. The crowd gathered around him, and some one threw the man down. I saw him then put on a dray, and afterwards pulled up on the tree. There was a crowd of about a hundred persons there. I don't think I could name any man in that crowd except the sheriff, who was there protesting, as I had come away from the crowd and was on the upper piazza of the court-house. I heard the man hollowing. He was put on a dray with a rope around his neck. The dray went off and he fell to the ground about ten feet from a perpendicular; then the crowd pulled the rope and he went up. The crowd had their backs towards me. I suppose I could have identified some one if I had thought to, but I was excited and did not notice who they were. I saw Mr. Wall coming from the jail with the prisoner until they crossed the fence; then I did not see him any more until after it was over. I did not see him leave the crowd, though he might have done it without my seeing it. When going from the jail to the tree Mr. Wall, I think, had hold of the prisoner; he was beside him.
"I did not see him afterwards until the hanging was over, then the crowd had increased, perhaps, to 200 persons, and I went down to them to the plank-walk.
"This was Monday of this week, the 6th of this month, I think, in Tampa, Hillsboro' County.
"I also saw Mr. Sparkham, the mayor of the city, protesting at the time of the hanging."
To cross-questions he says:—
"When the man fell from the dray he fell his full length to the ground; the rope was slack."
On the next day the court, after argument by respondent's counsel, made an order in the case, "That J.B. Wall be prohibited
The answer of Judge Locke to the rule granted by this court to show cause why a mandamus should not issue, states:—
"That during a session of the Circuit and District Courts of the United States at Tampa, in said Southern District of Florida, he, the said James W. Locke, presiding, on the sixth day of March, A.D. 1882, at the adjournment of said courts for dinner, at about one o'clock of said day, as he was passing from the court-house, a prisoner was being brought to the jail in the same yard by two officers; that upon his return to the court-house after dinner, in a little more than an hour, the dead body of the same prisoner hung from the limb of a tree directly in front of the court-house door; whereby he became personally informed of the commission of a most serious offence against the laws. The same afternoon he was informed of the active participation in said crime of one J.B. Wall, an attorney of said court, by an eye-witness in whom the most implicit confidence could be placed, but who declined to make any charge or affidavit of such fact on account of a fear of said Wall's influence and the local feeling it would cause against him, the said witness.
"That not only from the direct statements of eye-witnesses, but from numerous other sources, reliable information of like import was received; whereupon said J.B. Wall, your petitioner, was, on the said seventh day of March, during a session of the Circuit Court of the United States, in open court, charged in writing by the respondent herein, as judge, with having, with an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, he advising and encouraging thereto, taken from the jail of Hillsborough County, and hanged to a tree by the neck until he was dead, a man to the court known only as John; and cited by rule served upon him to show cause by eleven o'clock A.M. of the next day, the eighth day of said March, why his name should not be stricken from the roll of attorneys and he prohibited from practising in the U.S. courts of said district.
"That at said time of return, said J.B. Wall appeared in person, and by counsel, and moved that whereas said rule had charged him with a criminal offence, indictable by the grand jury of the courts of the State, the matter be continued until after the meeting of such grand jury; and the matter was held under advisement by the court and continued until next day.
"That at the opening of the court the next day, before any order had been made upon the pending motion, came said J.B. Wall,
"That thereupon Peter A. Williams, Esq., U.S. marshal for said district, being duly sworn, testified as follows: [stating the testimony of Williams, as before given.]
"Whereupon J.B. Wall, being himself present and stating that he had no testimony to offer, and desiring to be heard by counsel, was so heard, and the court took the matter under consideration.
"Afterwards, to wit, on the tenth day of March aforesaid, the matter having been fully and duly considered, it was ordered that J.B. Wall be prohibited from practising at the bar of Circuit or District Courts of this district until further order therein.
"All of which matters are true, and as far as relate to the action of the court therein shown and set forth in the records of said court and the papers therein.
"And, further answering, he says that J.B. Wall at no time denied active participation in the hanging as charged, nor answered the spirit and substance of said charge.
"That when the motion for continuance was withdrawn by him, and the demand made that proof be made of the charge, upon inquiry your respondent ascertained that both the sheriff and mayor, who had alone opposed the action of the mob, and the only parties present not active participants, were absent from the city, and could not be summoned to testify without unadvisable delay; of all of which said J.B. Wall had knowledge.
"That on account of the excited state of feeling existing at the time, the timidity of many, from the influential position of some of those engaged in the hanging, and the sympathy of others with the lynchers, it was not advisable to attempt to compel any resident of said city of Tampa who was found to have personal knowledge of the matter, to testify against said J.B. Wall.
"That said J.B. Wall had every opportunity to explain his presence and action in the matter as proven, if innocent, but made no attempt to do so.
"That the evidence, although of but a single witness, for grounds already stated, was to your respondent positively conclusive beyond a reasonable doubt that said J.B. Wall had been guilty of active participation in a most immoral and criminal act, and a leader in a most atrocious murder, in defiance and contempt of all law and justice, and had thereby shown himself unfitted to longer retain the
"Wherefore and upon which showing your respondent would most humbly submit to your Honors that said order prohibiting said J.B. Wall from practising as attorney should not be revoked nor he restored to the rights and privileges of an attorney of said courts
It will be perceived that the rule to show cause, which was served upon the petitioner, contained a definite charge of a very heinous offence, and that an opportunity was given to him to meet it and to exonerate himself if he could do so. It would, undoubtedly, have been more regular to have required the charge to be made by affidavit, and to have had a copy thereof served (with the rule) upon the petitioner. But the circumstances of the case, as shown by the return of the judge, seem to us to have been sufficient to authorize the issuing of the rule without such an affidavit. The transaction in which the petitioner was charged with participating was virtually in the presence of the court. It took place in open day, in front of the court-house, and during a temporary recess of the actual session of the court; and the awful result of the lawless demonstration was exhibited to the judge on his return to the court-room. Under the intense excitement which prevailed, it is not wonderful that no person could be found willing to make a voluntary charge against the petitioner or any one else; and yet, the fact that he was engaged as one of the perpetrators was so notorious, and was brought to the judge's knowledge by information so reliable and positive, that he justly felt it his duty to take official notice of it, and to give the petitioner an opportunity of repelling the charge. This was done in such a manner as not to deprive him of any substantial right. The charge was specific, due notice of it was given, a reasonable time was set for the hearing, and the petitioner was not required to criminate himself by answering under oath. In Ex parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa. St. 220, where the county court on its own motion had cited the parties before it for
Looking at all the circumstances of the present case, we are not prepared to say that the course which was pursued rendered the proceedings void, as being coram non judice. And since they were not void (though not strictly regular), and since no substantial right of the petitioner was invaded, we do not think that the mere form of the proceeding requires us to interpose by the extraordinary remedy of mandamus.
The next question to be considered is, whether the facts charged against the petitioner constitute a legitimate ground for striking his name from the roll. Of this we think there can be no doubt. It is not contended but that, if properly proven, the facts charged are good cause for removal from the bar. A moment's consideration will be sufficient to demonstrate this.
Now, what is the offence with which the petitioner stands
But besides the character of the act itself, as denoting a gross want of fealty to the law and repudiation of legal government, the particular circumstances of place and time invest it with additional aggravations. The United States court was in session; this enormity was perpetrated at its door; the victim was hanged on a tree, with audacious effrontery, in the virtual presence of the court! No respect for the dignity of the government as represented by its judicial department was even affected; the judge of the court, in passing in and out of the place of justice, was insulted by the sight of the dangling corpse. What sentiments ought such a spectacle to arouse in the breast of any upright judge, when informed that one of the officers of his own court was a leader in the perpetration of such an outrage?
We have no hesitation as to the character of the act being sufficient to authorize the action of the court.
A question of greater difficulty is raised as to the legality of proceeding in a summary way on a charge of this nature. It is strenuously contended that when a crime is charged against an attorney for which he may be indicted, and the truth of the charge is denied or not admitted by him, it cannot be made the
As, in urging this argument, much stress is laid upon the fact that the petitioner, by his answer, denied the charge contained in the rule to show cause, it is proper to notice the manner in which this denial was made. The charge, as we have seen, was specific and particular: "That J.B. Wall, an attorney of this court, did, on the sixth day of this present month, engage in and with an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, he advising and encouraging thereto, take from the jail of Hillsborough County and hang by the neck until he was dead, one John, otherwise unknown, thereby showing an utter disregard and contempt for the law and its provisions," &c. The denial of this charge was a mere negative pregnant, amounting only to a denial of the attending circumstances and legal consequences ascribed to the act. The respondent denied "counselling, advising, encouraging, or assisting an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering or mob in taking one John from the jail of Hillsborough County and causing his death by hanging, in contempt and defiance of the law." He was not required to answer under oath, and did not do so. Yet, free from this restriction, he did not come out fully and fairly and deny that he was engaged in the transaction at all; but only that he did not engage in it with the attendant circumstances and legal consequences set out in the charge. Even the name of the victim is made a material part of the traverse.
Upon such a special plea as this, we think the court was justified in regarding the denial as unsatisfactory. It was really equivalent to an admission of the substantial matter of the charge.
Nevertheless, the marshal of the court was called as a witness, and clearly proved the truth of the charge; and no evidence was offered in rebuttal. The case, as it stood before the court, was as clear of all doubt as if the petitioner had expressly admitted his participation in the transaction.
It is necessary, however, that we should examine the authorities on the question raised by the petitioner, as to the
It has undoubtedly been held in some of the cases that where the offence is indictable, and the facts are not admitted, a regular conviction must be had before the court will exercise its summary jurisdiction to strike the name of the party off the roll. At first view this was supposed to be the purport of Lord Denman's judgment in the anonymous case reported in 5 Barn. & Adol. 1088. That was a case of professional misconduct in pecuniary transactions. Lord Denman is reported as saying: "The facts stated amount to an indictable offence. Is it not more satisfactory that the case should go to a trial? I have known applications of this kind after conviction, upon charges involving professional misconduct; but we should be cautious of putting parties in a situation where, by answering, they might furnish a case against themselves, on an indictment to be afterwards preferred. On an application calling upon an attorney to answer the matters of an affidavit, it is not usual to grant the rule if an indictable offence is charged." And the Solicitor-General, Sir John Campbell, who made the application in that case, being requested to look at the authorities, afterwards stated that he could find no precedent for it. In that case, however, the rule applied for was one requiring the attorney to answer charges on oath. On a similar application in a subsequent case charging perjury and fraud, In re ____, 3 Nev. & Perry, 389, Lord Denman said: "Would not an indictment for perjury lie upon these facts? We are not in the habit of interfering in such a case, unless there is something amounting to an admission on the part of the attorney, which would render the intervention of a jury unnecessary."
In another case in the Exchequer, Ex parte ____, 2 Dowl. P.C. 110, where an attorney had been sued in an action at law for an aggravated libel, and a verdict had been rendered against him with only one shilling damages; on an application being then made to strike him off the roll, Lord Lyndhurst said: "Have you any instance of such an application on a verdict for the same criminal act, but for which no criminal proceedings have been taken?" and intimated that if there was any such case, the rule would be granted, but added: "Here there was
But this matter was carefully reviewed by the Court of Exchequer in the subsequent case of Stephens v. Hill, 10 Mee. & W. 28, where motion was made against an attorney who had conspired with others to induce a witness for the opposite party to absent himself from a trial, giving him money, &c. It was objected that the application to strike from the roll could not be heard on these charges without a conviction, inasmuch as a conspiracy is an indictable offence. Lord Abinger took a distinction between a rule to show cause why an attorney should not be struck off the roll, and a rule calling on him to answer the matters of an affidavit with a view to strike him off the roll. The latter course he conceded would be improper, if the offence was indictable, because it would compel the attorney to criminate himself; but not so the former, for he might clear himself without answering under oath; and that this was all that Lord Denman meant in the case before him. Lord Abinger said that as long as he had known Westminster Hall, he had never heard of such a rule as that an attorney might not be struck off the roll for misconduct in a cause merely because the offence imputed to him was of such a nature that he might have been indicted for it; but he said that in the case of applications calling upon an attorney to answer the matters of an affidavit, he had known Lord Kenyon and Lord Ellenborough frequently say, You cannot have a rule for this purpose, because the misconduct you impute to the man is indictable; but you may have one to strike him off the roll. After noticing and explaining the language attributed to Lord Denman, as before stated, Lord Abinger adds: "If, indeed, a case should occur where an attorney has been guilty of some professional misconduct for which the court by its summary jurisdiction might compel him to do justice, and at the same time has been guilty of something indictable in itself, but not arising out of the cause, the court will not inquire into that with a view of striking him off the roll, but would leave the party aggrieved to his remedy by a criminal prosecution."
This expression, about leaving the party aggrieved to his
Some expressions in the cases cited, including the remarks made by Lord Abinger in Stephens v. Hill, seem to imply that the summary jurisdiction will not be exercised where the charges made against an attorney affect only his general character as such, and do not amount to malpractice in a particular cause. But subsequent decisions are to the effect that it is
This case is important as showing the latest consideration of the question by the English courts, and by the most eminent judges of those courts.
The rule to be deduced from all the English authorities seems to be this: that an attorney will be struck off the roll if convicted of felony, or if convicted of a misdemeanor involving want of integrity, even though the judgment be arrested or reversed for error; and also (without a previous conviction) if he is guilty of gross misconduct in his profession, or of acts which, though not done in his professional capacity, gravely affect his character as an attorney: but in the latter case, if the acts charged are indictable, and are fairly denied, the court will not proceed against him until he has been convicted by a jury; and will in no case compel him to answer under oath to a charge for which he may be indicted.
This rule has, in the main, been adopted by the courts of this country; though special proceedings are provided for by
But where the acts charged against an attorney are not done in his official character, and are indictable, and not confessed, there has been a diversity of practice on the subject: in some cases it being laid down that there must be a regular indictment and conviction before the court will proceed to strike him from the roll; in others, such previous conviction being deemed unnecessary.
The former view is taken, or seems to be assumed, in the cases we will now cite.
In an anonymous case, reported in 2 Halst. (N.J.) 162 (1824), where the charge was larceny, the court refused the rule to strike off the roll, because the offence was indictable, and there had been no conviction.
In The State v. Foreman, 3 Mo. 412, the court refused to disbar an attorney for passing counterfeit money, knowing it to be counterfeit, and escaping from prison before being convicted therefor; the ground of refusal being that it was not a case within the Missouri statute, which required a conviction. Of course, being governed by the statute, this case is not in point.
In Ex parte Fisher, 6 Leigh (Va.), 619 (1835), Fisher commented to a jury in a manner which the judge deemed grossly
In The State v. Chapman, 11 Ohio, 430, an attorney had been charged with theft, and brought an action of slander therefor; the defendant pleaded the truth in justification, and obtained a verdict establishing his defence. Upon this, a rule was granted against the attorney to show cause why he should not be struck off the roll. He proved explanatory circumstances; and the court held that the verdict in the civil action was not sufficient to establish the charge of larceny, and discharged the rule.
In Beene v. The State, 22 Ark. 149, where the defendant had made an unwarrantable and atrocious personal attack upon the circuit judge for his action as judge; on application of the county bar to strike his name from the roll, the rule was granted; but the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the order, on the ground that the proceedings were irregular, and not in pursuance of the statute, which required regular charges to be exhibited, verified by affidavit, and a time fixed for hearing. The court also held that where the offence is indictable, there must be a regular conviction before the party can be struck off the roll; if not indictable, he was entitled to be tried by a jury. This case seems to have been decided upon the statutes of Arkansas.
In Ex parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa. St. 220, the respondents published a libel against the judges of the Quarter Sessions of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, accusing them of political motives in allowing a defendant to be acquitted. On being cited to show cause why they should not be struck off the roll, they took the ground, amongst other things, that they were charged with an indictable offence, and were entitled to a trial by jury. The court having made the rule absolute, they appealed, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed the order. Chief Justice Sharswood, in delivering the opinion of
The cases now cited do undoubtedly hold, that where the offence charged is indictable and is committed outside of the attorney's professional employment or character, and is denied by him, a conviction by a jury should be had before the court will take action for striking his name from the roll.
There are other cases, however, in which it is held that a previous conviction is not necessary.
In Ex parte Burr, 1 Wheeler, Criminal Cases, 503, s.c. 2 Cranch C.C. 379, the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia struck Burr off the roll on charges made by Mr. Key, of various instances of malpractice, and also of dishonest conduct, in procuring deeds of property from persons in distress, &c. Burr objected, amongst other things, that he was entitled to a trial by jury. The court examined witnesses, who were cross-examined by the defendant, and Chief Justice Cranch delivered an elaborate opinion, concluding by making the rule absolute for disbarring the accused, holding that proceedings by attachment, as for contempt and to purify the bar of unworthy members, are not within those provisions of the Constitution which guarantee a trial by jury. This case was brought
Fields v. The State, Mart. & Y. (Tenn.) 168, was the case of a constable (but placed upon the same ground as that of attorneys), and the charge was, extortion. The Supreme Court of Tennessee, by Catron, J., held that a previous conviction was not necessary to enable the court below to suspend from office; that the constitutional privilege of trial by jury for crime does not apply to prevent courts from punishing its officers for contempt, and to regulate them or remove them in particular cases; that removal from office for an indictable offence is no bar to an indictment; that it is a proceeding in its nature civil, and collateral to any criminal prosecution by indictment; and that, even if acquitted by a jury, the party could be removed if the court discovered from the facts proved on the trial that he was guilty of corrupt practices.
In the subsequent case of Smith v. The State, 1 Yerg. (Tenn.) 228, the charge was that the attorney had accepted a challenge in Tennessee to fight a duel, and had fought with and killed his antagonist in Kentucky, where an indictment had been found against him. He demurred to the charge, and judgment was given against him on the demurrer, that his name be struck from the roll. The Supreme Court of Tennessee held the charge to be sufficient; but that, instead of receiving a demurrer, the Circuit Court should have proceeded to take the proofs to ascertain the truth of the charge. The court, by Catron, J., said: "The principle is almost universal in all governments, that the power which confers an office has also the right to remove the officer for good cause; the county court; constables, &c.; the senate; officers elected by the legislature and people; in all these cases the tribunal removing is of necessity the judge of the law and fact; to ascertain which,
Here, it will be observed, there was no conviction; nothing but an indictment found in another State; and yet the Supreme Court of Tennessee held that the court below might lawfully proceed with the case.
In Perry v. The State, 3 Greene (Iowa), 550, there were charges of misconduct as an attorney, and of perjury. The charge was dismissed for want of certainty; but as to the charge of false swearing, which it was contended could not be set up without a previous conviction, the court said that a conviction was not necessary.
In re John Percy, 36 N.Y. 651, an attorney was struck off the roll on the ground that his general reputation was bad, that he had been several times indicted for perjury, one or two of the indictments being still pending, and that he was a common mover and maintainer of suits on slight and frivolous pretexts. The order was affirmed on appeal. Some of the offences charged in this case were of an indictable character, and one point raised on the appeal was, that the court has no right to call upon an attorney to answer such charges, because it compels him to give evidence against himself. But to this the court answered that he is not compelled to be sworn, but may introduce evidence tending to show his innocence.
In Penobscot Bar v. Kimball, 64 Me. 140, an attorney was
In Delano's Case, 58 N.H. 5, an attorney, being collector of taxes for the town, appropriated the money to his own use, intending to return it; but failing to do so, he was struck from the roll. The offence in this case was clearly of an indictable character, and no conviction had been obtained against him in a criminal proceeding.
In Matter of George W. Wool, 36 Mich. 299, a bill in equity having been filed against an attorney charging him with procuring a deed to himself by forgery or substitution of a paper, and a decree having been made against him, the court entered an order to show cause why he should not be struck from the roll, allowing him to present affidavits in exculpation; but no sufficient cause being shown against the rule, it was made absolute. Here was an indictable offence, and no previous conviction; yet the court, upon the evidence it had before it, struck the party's name from the roll.
In Ex parte Walls, 64 Ind. 461, the charge was of forging an affidavit to obtain a change of venue in a cause pending in the court. Special proceedings were had under the statute of Indiana, and the party was struck off the roll. On error brought, it was objected that he should have been first regularly convicted of the crime by a prosecution on the part of the state. The court held that this is only true when the object is to inflict punishment, but not when it is to disbar the party, any more than when forgery is proved as a defence in a civil suit; that whilst a conviction would have authorized a disbarment, the proceeding to disbar might precede the criminal prosecution. This case, it is true, was for malpractice as an attorney, and, therefore, may not be strictly in point; but the ground taken by the court was general, and applicable to all cases for which an attorney may be disbarred.
From this review of the authorities in this country it is apparent, that whilst it may be the general rule that a previous conviction should be had before striking an attorney off the roll for an indictable offence, committed by him when not acting in his character of an attorney, yet that the rule is not an inflexible one. Cases may occur in which such a requirement would result in allowing persons to practise as attorneys, who ought, on every ground of propriety and respect for the administration of the law, to be excluded from such practice. A criminal prosecution may fail by the absence of a witness, or by reason of a flaw in the indictment, or some irregularity in the proceedings; and in such cases, even in England, the proceeding to strike from the roll may be had. But other causes may operate to shield a gross offender from a conviction of crime, however clear and notorious his guilt may be, — a prevailing popular excitement; powerful influences brought to bear on the public mind, or on the mind of the jury; and many other causes which might be suggested; and yet, all the time, the offender may be so covered with guilt, perhaps glorying in it, that it would be a disgrace to the court to be obliged to receive him as one of its officers, clothed with all the prestige of its confidence and authority. It seems to us that the circumstances of the case, and not any iron rule on the subject, must determine whether, and when, it is proper to dispense with a preliminary conviction. If, as Lord Chief Justice
The provisions of the Constitution, which declare that no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, and that the trial of all crimes, except in cases of impeachment, shall be by jury, have no relation to the subject in hand. As held by the Supreme Court of Tennessee in Fields v. The State (and the same view is expressed in other cases), the constitutional privilege of trial by jury for crimes does not apply to prevent the courts from punishing its officers for contempt, or from removing them in proper cases. Removal from office for an indictable offence is no bar to an indictment. The proceeding is in its nature civil, and collateral to any criminal prosecution by indictment. The proceeding is not for the purpose of punishment, but for the purpose of preserving the courts of justice from the official ministration of persons unfit to practise in them. Undoubtedly, the power is one that ought always to be exercised with great caution; and ought never to be exercised except in clear cases of misconduct, which affect the standing and character of the party as an attorney. But when such a case is shown to exist, the courts ought not to hesitate, from sympathy for the individual, to protect themselves from scandal and contempt, and the public from prejudice, by removing grossly improper persons from participation in the administration of the laws. The power to do this is a rightful one; and, when exercised in proper cases, is no violation of any constitutional provision.
It is contended, indeed, that a summary proceeding against an attorney to exclude him from the practice of his profession on account of acts for which he may be indicted and tried by a jury is in violation of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which forbids the depriving of any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. But the action of the court in cases within its jurisdiction is due process of law. It
It is a mistaken idea that due process of law requires a plenary suit and a trial by jury, in all cases where property or personal rights are involved. The important right of personal liberty is generally determined by a single judge, on a writ of habeas corpus, using affidavits or depositions for proofs, where facts are to be established. Assessments for damages and benefits occasioned by public improvements are usually made by commissioners in a summary way. Conflicting claims of creditors, amounting to thousands of dollars, are often settled by the courts on affidavits or depositions alone. And the courts of chancery, bankruptcy, probate, and admiralty administer immense fields of jurisdiction without trial by jury. In all cases, that kind of procedure is due process of law which is suitable and proper to the nature of the case, and sanctioned by the established customs and usages of the courts. "Perhaps no definition," says Judge Cooley, "is more often quoted than that given by Mr. Webster in the Dartmouth College case: `By the law of the land is most clearly intended the general law; a law which hears before it condemns; which proceeds upon inquiry, and renders judgment only after trial. The meaning is that every citizen shall hold his life, liberty, property, and immunities, under the protection of the general rules which govern society.'" Cooley's Const. Lim. 353.
The question, what constitutes due process of law within the meaning of the Constitution, was much considered by this court in Davidson v. New Orleans, 96 U.S. 97; and Mr.
We have seen that, in the present case, due notice was given to the petitioner, and a trial and hearing was had before the court, in the manner in which proceedings against attorneys, when the question is whether they should be struck off the roll, are always conducted.
We think that the court below did not exceed its powers in taking cognizance of the case in a summary way, and that no such irregularity occurred in the proceeding as to require this court to interpose by the writ of mandamus. The writ of mandamus is, therefore,
MR. JUSTICE FIELD dissenting.
I am unable to concur with my associates in their disposition of this case, and I will briefly state the grounds of my dissent.
I appreciate to the fullest extent the indignation of the district judge at the lawless proceedings of the mob in his district in forcibly taking a prisoner from jail and putting him to death. There is no language of reprobation too severe for such conduct; for, however great the offence of the prisoner, the law prescribed its punishment and appointed the officers by whom it was to be executed. The usurpation of their duties, and the infliction of another punishment, were themselves the greatest of crimes, for which the actors should be held amenable to the violated laws of the State.
I join, also, with the learned justice of this court who expresses
The question here is, not what indignation may justly be expressed for the alleged offence of the victim, or for that of his assailants; nor what should be done with a person thus guilty of participating in and encouraging the lawless proceedings of the mob: but in what way is his guilt to be determined; when does the law declare him guilty, so that the court may upon such established guilt proceed to inflict punishment for the offence and remove him from the bar.
I do not think that the Circuit Court of the United States could declare the petitioner in this case guilty of a crime against the laws of Florida upon information communicated to its judge on the streets, and thereupon cite him to show cause why he should not be stricken from the roll of attorneys of the court and be disbarred from practising therein.
And though the declaration of the court, upon what was assumed to have been the conduct of the petitioner, contained in the recital of the order directing the citation, be treated, contrary to its language, merely as a charge against him, and not as a judgment upon his conduct, I cannot think that the court had authority to formulate a charge against him of criminal conduct not connected with his professional duties, upon the verbal statements of others, made to its judge outside of the court and without the sanction of an oath. And I cannot admit that upon a charge thus formulated the petitioner could be summarily tried. In no well-ordered system of jurisprudence, by which justice is administered, can a person be tried for a criminal offence by a court, the judge of which is himself the accuser.
The first proceeding disclosed by the record is the following order:—
"CIRCUIT COURT OF THE U.S., SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA, MARCH
"Whereas it has come to the knowledge of this court that one J.B. Wall, an attorney of this court, did, on the sixth day of this present month, engage in and with an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, he advising and encouraging thereto, to take from the jail of Hillsborough County, and hang by the neck until he was dead, one John, otherwise unknown, thereby showing such an utter disregard and contempt for the law and its provisions, which, as a sworn attorney, he was bound to respect and support, as shows him to be totally unfitted to occupy such position: It is hereby ordered that said J.B. Wall be cited to appear and show cause, by eleven o'clock Wednesday, the eighth instant, why his name should not be stricken from the roll of attorneys, and he be disbarred and prohibited from practising herein.
How these matters came to the knowledge of the court is not here disclosed, but in the return of the judge to the alternative writ of mandamus from this court we are enlightened on this point. He states that on the 6th of March, 1882, on the adjournment of the court for dinner, in passing from the court-house he saw a person brought to the jail by two officers; that on his return to the court-house, a little over an hour afterwards, he saw the dead body of the prisoner hanging from a tree in front of the court-house door, whereby he became personally informed of the commission of a most serious offence against the laws. He also states that on the same afternoon "he was informed of the active participation in said crime of one J.B. Wall, an attorney of said court, by an eye-witness in whom the most implicit confidence could be placed, but who declined to make any charge or affidavit of such fact on account of a fear of said Wall's influence and the local feeling it would cause against him, the said witness; that not only from the direct statements of eye-witnesses, but from numerous other sources, reliable information of like import was received; whereupon said J.B. Wall, the petitioner, was, on the said seventh day of March, during a session of the Circuit Court of the United States, in open court, charged in writing by the
Here we have the words of the judge himself, that he acted upon the statements of parties, whose names are not given, nor is their language. His own conclusions as to their import, credibility, and weight are all that is furnished. The statements thus made to him were not evidence before the court for any purpose whatever; and would not justify its action upon any subject over which it has jurisdiction. Suppose that he was called to the stand, and asked why he had made the charge against the petitioner, and what his knowledge was on the subject. He could only have answered, "I can state nothing of my own knowledge; I can merely repeat what others have said to me; they decline to make any charge themselves; they will not confront the accused; but I have implicit confidence in their statements, though they will not verify them by oath." And yet, upon these outside, ex parte, unsworn sayings of others, who will not face the accused and whose words are not given, he directs an order to be entered in the Circuit Court reciting — not that the petitioner is charged by others, — not that it appears by the sworn reports of eye-witnesses, — but that "it has come to the knowledge of the court" that the petitioner had engaged in "an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, he advising and encouraging" the same, to take a person from the county jail and hang him by the neck until he was dead, thus showing an utter disregard and contempt for the law and its provisions, and himself to be totally unfitted to occupy the position of an attorney of the court.
This is not a charge against the petitioner either in form or language, but a declaration of his guilt in advance of a hearing, founded upon what is termed "knowledge of the court." For this declared guilt he is summoned to show cause why he should not be disbarred. According to the return of the judge, the recital in the order is not correct. No such matter as is there stated ever came, in any legal way, to the knowledge of the court. Information which he gathered in conversation
The petitioner appeared upon the citation, and objected to the authority and jurisdiction of the court to issue the rule and require him to answer it, first, because the rule did not show that the matters there charged took place in the presence of the court, or were brought to its knowledge by petition or complaint in writing, under oath; and, second, because he was charged in the rule with a high crime against the laws of Florida, not cognizable by the court, and for which, if proven, he was liable to indictment and prosecution before the State court.
The petitioner also denied counselling, advising, encouraging, or assisting an unlawful, tumultuous, and riotous gathering, or mob, in taking the person named from the jail of the county and causing his death by hanging, or that he had been guilty of any unprofessional or immoral conduct which showed him to be unfit for the position of an attorney of the court.
The court overruled the objections, and called a witness to prove the participation of the prisoner in the crime alleged. The testimony of this witness, which was reduced to writing, is contained in the record. It is to the effect that he saw the petitioner and others go to the sheriff's house on the 6th of March, and, having heard that a sheriff's posse had been summoned to protect the jail, he thought, by their orderly manner, that they were the posse going for instructions; that when they came out he heard one of the party remark, "We have got all of you we want;" that he then thought something was wrong, and followed them, and saw them coming out of the jail with the prisoner; that the petitioner was with the prisoner, walked beside him, and, witness thinks, had hold of him until they crossed the fence, that after that he did not see the petitioner any more until the matter was all over. The witness further
"That the evidence, although of but a single witness, for grounds already stated, was to your respondent positively conclusive beyond a reasonable doubt that said J.B. Wall had been guilty of active participation in a most immoral and criminal act, and a leader in a most atrocious murder, in defiance and contempt of all law and justice, and thereby shown himself unfitted to longer retain the position of an attorney in any court over which your respondent might have the honor to preside."
Nothing could more plainly illustrate the wisdom of the rule that the accuser should not be the judge of the accusation. The judge very naturally felt great indignation at the lawless proceedings of the mob in hanging the prisoner, and, as he states, had heard reports inculpating the petitioner as a participant therein. His indignation, whether arising from such reported participation or otherwise, must have possessed him when he had the petitioner before him, for nothing else can explain the extraordinary conclusion he reached upon the testimony taken. That testimony shows merely a mingling of the petitioner with the crowd engaged in the unlawful purpose; it does not necessarily show his participation in the execution of that purpose. There was no evidence that he encouraged the proceedings. There was no evidence as to what he did say to the crowd. He may have advised against their action. The witness said nothing on the subject, nor did he see the petitioner after the crowd reached the fence. The petitioner was not seen at the execution, nor is there any evidence that he was present; and yet, the vague testimony of this excited witness, as to matters entirely consistent with innocence, is held by the judge "to be positively conclusive
There are some other things also in the return of the judge which are outside of the record of proceedings in the Circuit Court, and inconsistent with them, as that the petitioner demanded that proof should be made of the matter charged. His main position was that the court had no jurisdiction to require him to answer at all, because charged in the rule with a crime against the laws of Florida, not cognizable in that court, and for which, if proven, he was liable to indictment and conviction in the State court, — a position inconsistent with a demand of proof of the charge.
Objection is taken here — though not taken in the court below — to the form of the petitioner's denial to what is termed the charge of the judge, it being called by my brethren a negative pregnant. This is, indeed, a singular objection, in view of the fact that there was, in truth, as already said, no formal charge againt the petitioner. The court assumed, and declared that it had come to its knowledge, that he was guilty of a public offence which unfitted him to be an attorney, and called upon him to show cause why he should not be disbarred for it. If the court had such knowledge a denial by him was useless, and the taking of testimony on the subject an idle proceeding. He might have replied to the judge who constituted the court: "Who made you a judge to affirm my guilt, in advance of hearing, upon street rumors? I decline to answer you at all, you having thus prejudged and condemned me." With what propriety could the court have then proceeded? What legal reason could it have given for its action? I am unable to perceive that it could have given any.
Treating, however, the preannounced judgment of the court as a charge, the answer of the petitioner might have been more general than it was. It was sufficiently specific to meet all the rules of pleading in criminal cases; and I do not think that the nicety exacted in an answer to a bill of discovery in a chancery suit was required. It was enough that the answer was a denial of the offence alleged, and could in no way be tortured into any admission of guilt.
If one court can, upon information communicated to its judge, in any other than a legal way, that a public offence has been committed by an attorney, call upon him to show satisfactorily that the charge is unfounded or be disbarred, so may all courts which have the power to admit attorneys; and, of course, this court. And what a spectacle would be presented if, upon reports like those in this case, or even upon written charges, that attorneys in different parts of the country have committed murder, burglary, forgery, larceny, embezzlement, or some other public offence, they could be cited here to answer summarily as to such charges without being confronted by their accusers, without previous indictment, without trial by jury, and, of course, without the benefit of the presumptions of innocence which accompany every one until legally convicted. With what curious and wondering eyes would such proceedings be watched, when A. should be summoned from one part of the country on a charge of murder, B. from another part of the country on a charge of burglary, C. from another part on a charge of larceny, D. from still another on a charge of having violated his marriage vows, and others on charges embracing
In the test oath case from Missouri we have an illustration of an attempt to evade a constitutional inhibition, and of its futility. That State had in 1865 adopted a new constitution, which prescribed an oath to be taken by persons filling certain offices and trusts and pursuing various vocations within its limits. They were required to deny that they had done certain things, or by act or word had manifested certain desires and sympathies. The oath, divided into its separate parts, embraced thirty distinct affirmations respecting the past conduct of the affiant, extending even to his words, desires, and sympathies.
Every person unable to take this oath was declared by the Constitution incapable of holding in the State "any office of honor, trust, or profit under its authority, or of being an officer, councilman, director or trustee, or other manager of any corporation, public or private, now existing or hereafter established by its authority, or of acting as a professor or teacher in any educational institution, or in any common or other school, or of
And every person, at the time the Constitution took effect, holding any of the offices, trusts, or positions mentioned, was required, within sixty days thereafter, to take the oath; and, if he failed to comply with this requirement, it was declared that his office, trust, or position should ipso facto become vacant.
No person, after the expiration of the sixty days, was permitted, without taking the oath, "to practise as an attorney or counsellor-at-law," nor after that period could "any person be competent, as a bishop, priest, deacon, minister, elder, or other clergyman, of any religious persuasion, sect, or denomination, to teach, or preach, or solemnize marriages."
Fine and imprisonment were prescribed as a punishment for holding or exercising any of "the offices, positions, trusts, professions, or functions" specified, without having taken the oath; and false swearing or affirmation in taking it was declared to be perjury, punishable by imprisonment in the penitentiary.
A priest of the Roman Catholic Church was indicted in a Circuit Court of Missouri and convicted of the crime of teaching and preaching as a priest and minister of that religious denomination, without having first taken the oath, and was sentenced to pay a fine of $500, and to be committed to jail until the same was paid. On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State the judgment was affirmed, and the case was brought on error to this court. It was plain that if the power existed in the State to exact from parties this oath respecting their past conduct, desires, and sympathies, as a condition of their being permitted to continue in their vocations, or to hold certain trusts, it might be used, and, on occasions of excitement to which all communities are subject, would be used to their oppression and even ruin. The State might require such oath for any period of their past lives, might call upon them to affirm whether they had observed the Ten Commandments, or had discharged any particular civil or moral duty, or had entertained any particular sentiments, or desires, or sympathies, as a condition of their being allowed to engage in one of the ordinary pursuits of life, in a profession, trade, or business. It might impose conditions which individuals and whole classes in
A large portion of the people of Missouri were unable to take the oath. It was, therefore, contended that the clauses of its Constitution which required priests and clergymen to take and subscribe the oath as a condition of their being allowed to continue in the exercise of their professions, and preach and teach, operated upon those who could not take it as a bill of attainder within the meaning of the provision of the Federal Constitution prohibiting the States from passing bills of that character. With respect to them the clauses amounted to a legislative deprivation of their rights.
It was also contended that in thus depriving priests and clergymen of the right to preach and teach, the clauses imposed a penalty for some acts which were innocent at the time they were committed, and increased the penalty for other acts which at the time constituted public offences, and in both particulars violated the provision of the Federal Constitution prohibiting the passage by the States of an ex post facto law.
On the other hand, it was contended that the provisions of the Constitution of Missouri exacting the oath mentioned, merely prescribed conditions upon which members of the political body might exercise their various callings; that bills of pains and penalties, which are included under the head of bills of attainder, and ex post facto laws, are such as relate exclusively to crimes and their punishments; that they are in terms acts defining and punishing crimes and designating the persons to be affected by them, and do not bear any resemblance to the provisions of the Constitution of Missouri.
There was much force in the objections thus urged to the position that the clauses in the Missouri Constitution constituted a bill of attainder and an ex post facto law; and had the court looked to the form rather than to the substance of things, they must have prevailed. But the court did not thus limit its view. It regarded the constitutional guarantees as applying wherever private rights were to be protected against legislative deprivation, whatever the form of the legislation. And
I have been thus particular in the statement of the Cummings case, for it seems to me that the rule of construction there applied should be extended so as to protect the citizen from answering in any form, or being punished in any way, for an infamous offence, except, as the Constitution prescribes, on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury. Here, under the form of a civil proceeding, a party is summoned to answer, and is punished for an alleged criminal offence, to try which the Circuit Court has confessedly no jurisdiction, and which is in no way connected with his professional conduct. The protection of the Constitution should not be thus lost, though the punishment be not one prescribed by statute, but one resting in the discretion of the court. I know, of course, that this court has, with the exception of two of its members, been entirely changed in its personnel since the Cummings case was decided. I am the only living member of the majority of the court which, sixteen years ago, gave that judgment. I would fain hope, however, that this change may not lead to a change in the construction of clauses in the Constitution intended for the protection of personal rights, even though its present members,
What, then, are the relations between attorneys and counsellors-at-law and the courts; and what is the power which the latter possess over them; and under what circumstances can they be disbarred? There is much vagueness of thought on this subject in discussions of counsel and in opinions of courts. Doctrines are sometimes advanced upholding the most arbitrary power in the courts, utterly inconsistent with any manly independence of the bar. The books, unfortunately, contain numerous instances where, for slight offences, parties have been subjected to oppressive fines, or deprived of their offices, and, consequently, of their means of livelihood, in the most arbitrary and tyrannical manner. The power to punish for contempt — a power necessarily incident to all courts for the preservation of order and decorum in their presence — was formerly so often abused for the purpose of gratifying personal dislikes, as to cause general complaint, and lead to legislation defining the power and designating the cases in which it might be exercised. The act of Congress of March 2, 1831, c. 99, limits the power of the courts of the United States in this respect to three classes of cases: first, where there has been misbehavior of a person in the presence of the court or so near thereto as to obstruct the administration of justice; second, where there has been misbehavior of any officer of the court in his official transactions; and, third, where there has been disobedience or resistance by any officer, party, juror, witness, or other person to any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command of the court. The power, as thus seen, — so far as
The power to disbar attorneys in proper cases, though not, perhaps, affected by this law, is not to be exercised arbitrarily or tyrannically. Under our institutions arbitrary power over another's lawful pursuits is not vested in any man nor in any tribunal. It is odious wherever exhibited, and nowhere does it appear more so than when exercised by a judicial officer toward a member of the bar practising before him.
Attorneys and counsellors-at-law — and the two characters are in this country generally united in the same person — are officers of the court, admitted to be such by its order upon evidence that they possess sufficient learning to advise as to the legal rights of parties, and to conduct proceedings in the courts for their prosecution or defence, and that they have such fair private characters as to insure fidelity to the interests intrusted to their care. The order of admission, as said in the Garland case, is the judgment of the court that they possess the requisite qualifications of learning and character, and are entitled to appear as attorneys and counsellors and to conduct causes therein. Thenceforth they are responsible to the court for professional misconduct and entitled to hold their offices during good behavior. 4 Wall. 333, 387.
Their office, as was also said in the same case, is not held as a matter of grace and favor. The right which it confers is something more than a mere license, revocable at the pleasure of the court. It is a right of which they can be deprived only by its judgment for moral or professional delinquency.
The oath which every attorney and counsellor is required to take on his admission briefly expresses his duties. It is substantially this: that he will support the Constitution of the United States, and "conduct himself as an attorney and counsellor of the court uprightly and according to law." This implies not only obedience to the Constitution and laws, but that he will, to the best of his ability, advise his clients as to their
When the charge against the attorney is of misconduct in his office, and that involves, as it sometimes may, the commission of a public offence, for which he may be prosecuted criminally, the inquiry should proceed only so far as to determine the question of professional delinquency, and he should be left to the proper tribunals for the punishment of the crime committed.
It is because of this limitation upon the extent of judicial inquiry into such matters that a proceeding for purely professional misconduct against an attorney may be taken in any way which will sufficiently apprise him of the grounds upon
When the proceeding to disbar an attorney is taken for misconduct outside of his profession, the inquiry should be confined to such matters, not constituting indictable offences, as may show him unfit to be a member of the bar; that is, as not possessing that integrity and trustworthiness which will insure fidelity to the interests intrusted to him professionally, and to the inspection of any record of conviction against him for a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude. It is not for every moral offence which may leave a stain upon character that courts can summon an attorney to account. Many persons, eminent at the bar, have been chargeable with moral delinquencies which were justly a cause of reproach to them; some have been frequenters of the gaming-table, some have been dissolute in their habits, some have been indifferent to their pecuniary obligations, some have wasted estates in riotous living, some have been engaged in broils and quarrels disturbing
A conviction of a felony or a misdemeanor involving moral turpitude implies the absence of qualities which fit one for an office of trust, where the rights and property of others are concerned. The record of conviction is conclusive evidence on this point. Such conviction, as already said, can follow only a regular trial upon the presentment or indictment of a grand jury. It cannot follow from any proceeding of the court on a motion to disbar, for the reason already given, that no one can be required to answer for such an offence except in one way. If a party indicted is, upon trial, acquitted, the court cannot proceed to retry him for the offence upon such a motion. He may answer, after acquittal, that he never committed the offence, and that no tribunal can take any legal proceeding against him on the assumption that he had been wrongfully acquitted. And what the court cannot do after acquittal it cannot do by such a proceeding before trial. If the court, after acquittal, can still proceed for the alleged offence, as a majority of my brethren declare it may, and call upon him to show that he is not guilty or be disbarred, there is a defect in our Constitution and laws which has, up to this day, remained undiscovered. Hitherto it has always been supposed that the record of acquittal of a public offence, after a trial by a jury, was conclusive evidence, at all times and in all places, of the party's innocence. This doctrine, until to-day, has been supposed to be immovably embedded in our jurisprudence.
There are many cases in the books where the view I have taken of the authority of the court over attorneys and counsellors-at-law is recognized and acted upon. In a case in the Supreme Court of New Jersey, 2 Hals. (N.J.) 162, reported without a name out of respect to the friends of the party implicated,
The case was then taken under advisement, and at a subsequent day the court said, speaking by the Chief Justice: "We have reflected upon this case, and do not see how we can do anything in it, because the court seems to be confined to cases of malpractice or to crimes which are in the nature of crimen falsi, and of which there has been a conviction." Justice Ford, of the court, added: "An attorney may be struck off the roll, first, for a breach of the rules of the court; second, for breach of any of his official duties; third, for all such crimes and misdemeanors as affect his moral character. But in this third class of cases we cannot proceed in the ordinary way; there ought always to be a previous conviction before this court can interfere. All the cases cited sanction this distinction, except the case from the District of Columbia, which is anomalous." The rule was, therefore, refused.
"No question can be made of the power of a court to strike a member of the bar from the roll for official misconduct in or out of court. By the seventy-third section of the act of April 14, 1834, it is expressly enacted that `if any attorney-at-law shall misbehave himself in his office of attorney he shall be liable to suspension, removal from office, or to such other penalties as have heretofore been allowed in such cases by the laws of this Commonwealth.' We do not mean to say — for the case does not call for such an opinion — that there may not be cases of misconduct not strictly professional which would clearly
A similar doctrine obtains in the courts of England. Thus, in a case in 5 Barn. & Adol. 1088, the Solicitor-General of England moved the Court of King's Bench for a rule calling on two attorneys of the court to show cause why they should not be struck off the roll, on affidavits charging them with professional misconduct in certain pecuniary transactions. Lord Denman, the Chief Justice, replied: "The facts stated amount to an indictable offence. Is it not more satisfactory that the case should go to a trial? I have known applications of this kind, after conviction, upon charges involving professional misconduct; but we should be cautious of putting parties in a situation where, by answering, they might furnish a case against themselves, on an indictment to be afterwards preferred. On an application calling upon an attorney to answer the matters of an affidavit, it is not usual to grant the rule if an indictable offence is charged." The court, however, desired the Solicitor-General to see if any precedent could be found of such an application having been granted. The Solicitor-General afterwards stated that he had been unable to find any, and the rule was discharged. My brethren are mistaken in supposing that in this case the attorneys were required to answer under oath the charges made.
In re ____, 3 Nev. & P. 389, a motion was made to the Court of Queen's Bench to strike an attorney off the roll on an affidavit alleging a distinct case of perjury by him. The attorney had sworn to the sum of £374 as the expenses of witnesses, which was reduced before the master to £47. It was
To the same purport are numerous other adjudications, and their force is not weakened by the circumstance that it is also held that it is no objection to the exercise of the summary jurisdiction of the court that the conduct constituting the delinquency, for which disbarment is moved, may subject the party to indictment. When such is the case he is not required to answer the affidavits charging the official delinquency, for no one can be compelled to criminate himself, and the court confines its inquiry strictly to such acts as are inconsistent with the attorney's duty in his profession. It looks only to the professional conduct of the attorney, and acts upon that.
In Stephens v. Hill, which was before the Court of Exchequer, a distinction was drawn between the misconduct of an attorney outside of a proceeding in court which might subject him to an indictment, and such misconduct committed by him in a proceeding in court. For the former no motion to disbar would be entertained; for the latter the motion would be heard. There an attorney for the defendants had persuaded a material witness for the plaintiff to absent himself from the trial of the cause, and had undertaken to indemnify him for any damage he might sustain for so doing. Upon affidavits disclosing this matter, application was made to disbar the attorney. It was objected that the court would not exercise its summary jurisdiction when the misconduct charged amounts to an indictable offence, as was the conspiracy in which the attorney was engaged. But the Chief Baron, Lord Abinger, answered that he never understood that an attorney might not be struck off the roll for misconduct in a cause in which he was an attorney merely because the offence imputed to him was of
There is no case I have been able to find, after a somewhat extended examination of the reports, where, for an indictable offence, wholly distinct from the attorney's professional conduct, the commission of which was not admitted, he has been compelled, in advance of trial and conviction, to show cause why he should not be disbarred, except one in Tennessee for accepting a challenge to fight a duel and killing his antagonist. Smith v. The State, 1 Yerg. (Tenn.) 228. This case is exceptional, and finds no support in the decisions of the courts of other States. There is no case at all like the one at bar to be found in the reports of the courts of England or of any of the States of the Union.
In the numerous cases cited in the opinion of my brethren, the matter which was the subject of complaint, and the ground of the action of the court, related to the conduct of the party in his professional business or in business connected with or growing out of his profession. Thus, the advertisement of an
In illustration of this statement I will make a brief reference to some of the cases cited by my brethren and upon which they seem chiefly to rely. That of Stephens v. Hill, in the Court of Exchequer, already explained, confirms what I have said. There, while holding that the fact that the matter complained of might subject the attorney to an indictment would
In Re Blake, 3 El. & El. 34, the court held that its summary jurisdiction over its attorneys is not limited to cases in which they have been guilty of misconduct, such as amounts to an indictable offence, or arises in the ordinary course of their professional practice, but extends to all cases of gross misconduct on their part, in any matter in which they may, from its nature, be fairly presumed to have been employed in consequence of their professional character. In that case money had been lent to an attorney, previously known and employed as such, upon his note, and a deed of assignment of a mortgage on an estate in Ireland, by which a greater amount was secured to him. The estate getting into the Irish Encumbered Estates Court, the attorney borrowed the deed from his creditor for the purpose, as alleged, of supporting his claim in that court, but in reality in order to obtain the payment of the amount secured to him. Having established his right to that payment, he returned the deed to the creditor, and afterwards received the whole amount secured and appropriated it to his own use. It is with reference to these facts that Chief Justice Cockburn uses the language quoted by my brethren. He said that although Blake applied to the lender in the first instance, as an attorney, he thought the transaction had ultimately resolved itself into a mere loan between them as individuals. But the transaction had evidently grown out of their former relation as attorney and client. Mr. Justice Crompton, in concurring with the Chief Justice, said: "In the present case, I cannot say that Blake's fraud was not committed in a matter connected with his professional character. If he did not act in it as an attorney, he at all events took advantage of his professional position to deceive Beevirs" (the lender).
In Re Hill, Law Rep. 3 Q.B. 543, an attorney, acting as a
In Penobscot Bar v. Kimball, 64 Me. 140, the attorney had been convicted of forging a deposition used by him in a suit against his wife for a divorce; and though pardoned for the crime, the fraud upon the court remained, and for that and for other disreputable practices and professional misconduct, rendering him "unfit and unsafe to be intrusted with the powers, duties, and responsibilities of the legal profession," he was disbarred.
In Delano's Case, 58 N.H. 5, where an attorney was disbarred by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire for wrongfully appropriating to his own use money of a town received by him as a collector of taxes, the commission of the offence was admitted. This is evident from the statement of the court in its opinion that "he and his wife and family did what they could to make good the loss to the town, but with only partial success."
In Perry v. The State, 3 Greene (Iowa), 550, the false swearing charged as one of the grounds of complaint against the attorney was committed in a cause managed by him, in which he voluntarily appeared as a witness, thus practising a
In Ex parte Walls, 64 Ind. 461, the attorney had forged an affidavit to obtain a change of venue, and had thus grossly imposed upon the court. For this imposition, independently of the crime committed, he was properly disbarred.
In Ex parte Burr, 2 Cranch C.C. 379, the charges against the attorney were for malpractice in his profession, in advising a person in jail, who was either a recognized witness or a defendant for whom some person was special bail, to run away; instituting suits against parties, and appearing for parties without authority; bringing vexatious and frivolous suits, many of them for persons utterly insolvent; purchasing a lot at a trustee's sale of an insolvent's estate under unfair circumstances; making fictitious claims and bringing suits with a view to extort money; and taking a bill of sale from one about to be distrained for rent to prevent such distress. These charges having been sustained, the attorney was rightly suspended from practice for one year.
In Re John Percy, 36 N.Y. 651, there were several charges against the attorney, such as that his general reputation was bad; that he had been several times indicted for perjury, one or more of which indictments were pending; that he was a common mover and maintainer of suits on slight and frivolous pretexts; and that his personal and professional reputation had been otherwise impeached in a trial at the circuit. But the court appears to have based its action upon the character of the attorney as a vexatious mover of suits on frivolous grounds. "He was crowding the calendar," said the court, "with vast numbers of libel suits in his own favor, and in the habit of indicating additional libel suits upon the answers to those previously brought by him. In one instance, at least, he had sued his client in a justice's court, and when beaten upon trial, instead of appealing from the judgment he commenced numerous other suits against him in different forms for the same cause, when he must have known that the demand was barred by the first judgment rendered. The only inquiry is whether, in such a case, the court has the power to protect the public by preventing such persons from practising as attorneys and counsellors
None of these cases, as is manifest from the statement I have made, covers that of an indictable offence, wholly distinct from the attorney's professional conduct. None of them countenances the extraordinary authority of the courts over attorneys and counsellors asserted by my brethren. And, indeed, if the law be that a Circuit Court of the United States, upon whisperings in the ear of one of its judges on the streets, or upon information derived from rumor, or in some other irregular way, that an attorney has committed a public offence, having no relation to the discharge of his professional duties, can summon him to answer for the offence in advance of trial or conviction and summarily punish him, it is time the law was changed by statute. Such a power cannot be safely intrusted to any tribunal. It might be exercised under the excitement of passion and prejudice, as the records of courts abundantly show. Its maintenance would tend to repress all independence on the part of the bar. Men of high honor would hesitate to join a profession in which their conduct might be subjected to investigation, censure, and punishment from imputations and charges thus secretly made.
Seeing that this must be the inevitable result of such an unlimited power of the court over its attorneys, my brethren are careful to express the opinion that it should seldom be exercised, when the offence charged against the attorney is indictable, until after trial and conviction, unless its commission is admitted.
But the possession of the power being conceded, and its exercise being discretionary, there is in the hands of an unscrupulous, vindictive, or passionate judge, means of oppression and cruelty which should not be allowed in any free government.
To disbar an attorney for an indictable offence not connected with his professional conduct, before trial and conviction, is also to inflict an additional wrong upon him. It is to give the moral weight of the court's judgment against him upon the trial on an indictment for that offence.
I am of opinion, therefore, that the prayer of the petitioner should be granted, and a peremptory mandamus directed to the Circuit Court to vacate the order of expulsion and restore him to the bar. The writ is the appropriate remedy in a case where the court below, in disbarring an attorney, has exceeded its jurisdiction. Ex parte Bradley, 7 Wall. 364; Ex parte Robinson, 19 id. 505.