disbarment n : the act of expelling a lawyer from the practice of law
Generally disbarment is imposed as a sanction for conduct indicating that an attorney is not fit to practice law, willfully disregarding the interests of a client, or engaging in fraud which impedes the administration of justice. In addition, any lawyer who is convicted of a felony is automatically disbarred in most jurisdictions.
In the United States legal system, disbarment is specific to regions; one can be disbarred from some courts, while still being a member of the bar in another jurisdiction. However, under the American Bar Association's Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which have been adopted in most states, disbarment in one state or court is grounds for disbarment in a jurisdiction which has adopted the Model Rules.
Disbarment is quite rare. Instead, lawyers are usually sanctioned by their own clients through civil malpractice proceedings, or via fine, censure, suspension, or other punishments from the disciplinary boards. To be disbarred is considered a great embarrassment and shame, even if one no longer wishes to pursue a career in the law; it is akin, in effect, to a dishonorable discharge in a military situation.
Because disbarment rules vary by area, different rules can apply depending on where a lawyer is disbarred. Notably, the majority of US states have no procedure for permanently disbarring a person. Depending on the jurisdiction, a lawyer may reapply to the bar immediately, after five to seven years, or be banned for life.
Notable disbarmentsThe 20th Century saw one former U.S. president and one former U.S. vice-president disbarred, and another president resign from the bar rather than face disbarment.
Former Vice President Spiro Agnew, having pleaded no contest (which subjects a person to the same penalties as a guilty plea) to charges of bribery and tax evasion, was disbarred from Maryland, the state of which he had previously been governor.
Former President Richard Nixon was disbarred from New York in 1976 for obstruction of justice related to the Watergate scandal.
In 2001, former President Bill Clinton resigned from the Supreme Court bar rather than face near-certain disbarment. In a separate, but related action, the Arkansas bar moved to disbar Clinton, but offered a deal that saw him suspended for five years. Because he was allowed to reapply to the bar after the suspension ended in 2006, his punishment is not considered disbarment. Because disbarment is not always permanent
In 2007, Mike Nifong, the District Attorney of Durham County, North Carolina who presided over the 2006 Duke University lacrosse case, was disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct related to his handling of the case.
Currently, Jack Thompson, an attorney in Florida that is a major crusader against violence in video games, is currently being considered for disbarment by the state of Florida's Supreme Court for a large number of innapropriate conduct complaints, including 27 violations of rules of the Florida Bar.
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