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Los Angeles�Attorneys for the State Bar of California are taking the unusual step of appealing the reinstatement of a once-acclaimed civil rights lawyer. The bar has appealed a decision of its judges to reinstate A. Thomas Hunt, once a pioneering advocate for women and minorities whose troubles led to clients’ complaints, his resignation from the bar and criminal charges. The 2003 decision to reinstate Hunt came from the State Bar Court, the only court of its kind in the nation, established in 1989 to relieve the California Supreme Court of its overwhelming burden of lawyer-discipline cases. But the bar’s own lawyers are asking the state’s highest court to reverse the ruling on the ground that Hunt, who resigned under fire more than 10 years ago, has failed to prove he is fit to resume practice. In the Matter of A. Thomas Hunt, No. S121982. “The Supreme Court has often said that someone in that circumstance has to prove an extended period of exemplary conduct to prove his rehabilitation,” said Alan Gordon, deputy trial counsel for the California bar. “Mr. Hunt has fallen far short of that burden.” Neither Hunt nor his Los Angeles attorney, Mark Werksman, could be reached for comment. Werksman has said that Hunt has paid heavily for his misconduct and called the state bar lawyers “ardent, adamant and unrelenting” in their effort against his reinstatement, according to press reports. A Harvard Law School graduate, Hunt rose to prominence in Los Angeles in the 1970s and 1980s as an advocate for women and minorities in discrimination class actions. His victories on behalf of groups that included school teachers, dock workers and racetrack workers were notable until the early 1990s, when, he has said, he became plagued by alcoholism and depression. In 1991, the California bar suspended him for 16 months for failure to pay dues, a fact he failed to disclose to his clients. Resignation under a cloud Hunt resigned from the bar in 1993 with ethics charges pending and clients complaining he had taken their money but failed to complete the work. According to court documents, the California bar’s client security fund has repaid approximately $24,000 of the retainer fees. One client was Howard Bennett, a retired school teacher who lost a 1992 age discrimination suit when Hunt failed to appear in court. Bennett sued Hunt for malpractice and persuaded the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office to pursue felony grand theft charges. After two trials in 1995 and 1996, Superior Court judges reduced the counts to misdemeanors and dismissed them, in part because the statute of limitations had elapsed. Bennett won a $1.5 million default judgment in his malpractice case, but Hunt thwarted collection efforts and launched a series of lawsuits against his former client. While Hunt sued Bennett for malicious prosecution, Hunt’s wife, paralegal Eleanor Shellard, sued the retiree for libel. The couple leveled seven court actions against Bennett, who had formed a club of other former clients in a public crusade against Hunt. Although those cases ultimately were dismissed, their threat, coupled with Hunt’s declaration of bankruptcy, forced the 70-year-old Bennett to settle for a fraction of the judgment four years ago. State bar attorneys now are arguing to the California Supreme Court that Hunt’s actions indicate a lack of remorse or a sense of the gravity of his failures. “The restitution to victims is not complete in this case,” Gordon said. And a court rule requires a resigned attorney to notify clients of his resignation and send an affidavit to the State Bar Court, which Hunt failed to do until his deposition was taken on the eve of trial, Gordon said. Clear rehabilitation? Yet a judge for the independent State Bar Court, which is appointed and monitored by the California Supreme Court, ruled in July 2003 that Hunt had presented convincing evidence of his rehabilitation and recommended his reinstatement. The three-day hearing drew testimonials from prominent lawyers and some former clients who had benefited from Hunt’s earlier success. The bar’s office of chief trial counsel sought redress from the court’s review department, but was rebuffed again last December, when the three-judge panel agreed with the hearing judge. Review Department Judge Judith Epstein, conceding that Hunt had harmed clients whose cases he abandoned, pointed to his efforts to overcome alcoholism and the service he had provided for “the under-represented in our society” in his heyday. “We don’t think justice was done. A mistake has been made,” said Mike Nisperos, chief trial counsel for the California bar. In January, Nisperos’ office petitioned the state Supreme Court to review the matter, an action that he said his office takes in only a few cases each year. Palermo’s e-mail address is [email protected].

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