Coral Gables, Fla., attorney and anti-porn crusader Jack Thompson should be disbarred and not allowed to apply for readmission for at least 10 years, the Florida Bar recommended at a hearing Wednesday. Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dava Tunis, the referee overseeing a Bar grievance case against Thompson, has already recommended that he be found guilty of 27 Bar rule violations. Tunis held a hearing Wednesday to help her determine what penalty she will recommend the Florida Supreme Court impose against Thompson.
"It's a privilege to practice law in the state of Florida, it is not a right," Bar counsel Sheila Tuma told Tunis. "If you look at case law in the state of Florida, enhanced disbarrment is appropriate."
A typical disbarment generally allows an attorney to reapply for admission to the Bar after five years.
Tuma explained the decision to recommend an enhanced disbarment, saying that Thompson demonstrated continued misconduct, a pattern of misconduct and persistently failed to admit any wrongdoing. This latest chapter in Thompson's fight with the Florida Bar was brief and contentious -- Thompson was not in the courtroom to hear Tuma's recommendations. Thompson contends he is the target of a wide-reaching conspiracy to get him disbarred. Throughout the battle, he insists, the Bar has sought to silence him in violation of his First Amendment rights.
As the Wednesday hearing began, Thompson rose to object to the proceedings in a testy exchange with the judge, whom he has attempted to get removed from his case.
Tunis stopped him and refused to let him speak. "What I do not want is for you to be making a speech at the beginning of what is essentially a disciplinary hearing where I'm supposed to hear aggravating and mitigating factors," Tunis said. "If you have something in writing I would gladly accept it."
She invited him to submit his objections in writing. In response, Thompson said he had a right to state for the record his objection to the hearing. He then distributed his written objections to lawyers, to a court reporter and to a newspaper reporter and departed the courtroom. He called the proceedings against him a "star chamber" and "kangaroo court."
"I have put up with your serial breaches of Florida laws, of the Canons of Judicial Conduct and of the Constitution and of common decency for a year and a half now," he wrote. "When this is done, and when you recommend my disbarrment and when the Supreme Court does disbar me ... the tables will be turned. It will then be my time at bat and a jury of normal people in this county will undo all that you have done." "I wish you a very good day because I'm done here," Thompson told the judge before leaving.
Tuma, the Bar counsel, proceeded to offer the Bar's recommendations to the court.
"I can't object to the legitimacy of the proceedings and then participate in them," Thompson said in an interview outside the courtroom. Thompson said he would challenge any rulings by Tunis in state or federal court.
Tunis recommended in May that Thompson be found guilty of 27 violations of Florida Bar rules. In a five-page report, Tunis concluded that Thompson made false statements to tribunals, disparaged and humiliated litigants and other lawyers, improperly practiced law outside the state of Florida and made inaccurate statements about the qualifications or integrity of a judge. The report lacked details about the violations and an explanation of how the judge reached her findings. Bar counsel Tuma was only somewhat more specific at Wednesday's hearing. Tunis has until Sept. 3 to submit a more in-depth report with her recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court, which would then decide Thompson's fate.
Tunis reviewed complaints based on Thompson's appearance in an Alabama case and allegations filed with the Bar by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ronald Friedman; Circuit Judge James Moore of Fayette County, Ala.; and attorneys from the law firms of Tew Cardenas and Blank Rome. The Bar complaints say Thompson sent letters, e-mails, faxes, news releases and court filings peppered with misstatements and falsehoods in violation of the Bar rules of professional conduct. At the hearing Wednesday, Tuma also submitted an affidavit from Lawrence Kellogg, a partner with Tew Cardenas, that she said indicated Thompson has sent that firm more than 100 e-mails criticizing Kellogg and partner Alberto Cardenas since December. The affidavit was not made available immediately to the public.
Tuma said Thompson's behavior isn't likely to stop unless he is disbarred. "Respondent's conduct or misconduct in this case and throughout these proceedings clearly prove he's unable to conduct himself in a manner consistent with the rules of the Florida Bar," Tuma said.
After Tunis issued her report in May, Thompson filed a motion with the Supreme Court to strike her recommendations as vague and for their lack of event-specific findings. He also alleged Tunis failed to follow the Bar's protocol in filing her report. The court has not acted on the issue.
Thompson has tried unsuccessfully to get Tunis removed from his case. He has challenged her authority to oversee his case based on differences in the signatures on her 2000 loyalty oath. An investigation by the state attorney's office found that her signature was forged, but the judge has since signed a new loyalty oath.
Thompson contends the forgery invalidates all her rulings, but the court contends that Tunis' authority flowed from her oath of office not her loyalty oath. The state attorney's office did not address the issue.
Thompson also filed a federal lawsuit against the Bar, arguing it has overstepped its bounds regarding its discipline of him. In March, the Supreme Court issued an order preventing him from filing documents with the high court without the signature of another Florida Bar member. The court's clerk has since refused to accept documents filed by him in the case. Thompson countered the high court's decision violates his Sixth Amendment right to choose his own legal representation.