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While many lawyers facing disbarment battle tooth and nail to the bitter end, Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser, has agreed to relinquish his D.C. law license without a fight. The ignominious end — or at least, a five-year hiatus — to a decades-long law career stemmed from his 2005 conviction for stealing classified documents from the National Archives while representing Clinton in information gathering for the 9/11 Commission. Last week, the D.C. Board on Professional Responsibility unanimously recommended his disbarment. Because he already consented to the punishment last month, it is only a formality for the D.C. Court of Appeals to disbar Berger, who has been licensed in Washington since 1986. “Three years ago, I pleaded guilty and accepted the penalties sought by the Department of Justice,” Berger said in a statement released last week to Legal Times. “I recognized then that my law license would be affected, and I have decided to voluntarily relinquish my license. While I derived great satisfaction from years of practicing law, I have not done so for 15 years and do not envision returning to the profession.” (Berger may request to have his license restored after five years.) Berger, a former Hogan & Hartson partner in the 1980s who now runs a consulting company with ties to his old firm, didn’t explain why he stole the classified documents, which still remains a mystery. Berger took the documents in October 2003 while working to prepare himself and other Clinton administration witnesses for testimony to the 9/11 Commission. The commission was looking into the Clinton administration’s handling of al-Qaida. Berger was tapped as the Clinton administration’s representative to make sure the commission received the necessary classified materials. In April 2005, Berger pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of removing confidential documents. Prosecutors said he had stolen five copies of classified national security documents from the National Archives and destroyed three of the copies. Under a plea deal, Justice recommended a $10,000 fine and the loss of Berger’s security clearance for three years. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson leveled a $50,000 fine because the recommended fine didn’t “reflect the seriousness of the offense,” she stated. Berger also was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. Judicial Watch, a watchdog group that investigates government corruption, filed an ethics complaint against Berger in 2005 with D.C. Bar Counsel, ultimately leading to his disbarment proceedings. The disbarment most likely won’t affect Berger’s current job as chairman of Stonebridge International, a consulting firm he co-founded in 2001. The firm helps companies expand into foreign markets, including China, India, and Russia. Berger has said he doesn’t use his law degree at Stonebridge. And Berger still has friends, and more business, from Hogan & Hartson. Stonebridge has worked with the D.C. firm in a “strategic alliance,” says Hogan Chairman J. Warren Gorrell Jr. Hogan represents clients on legal issues, while Stonebridge handles consulting work. “We often work together on matters with clients based largely outside the U.S., and this development has no impact on our relationship,” Gorrell says. “Sandy’s been working without his law degree for years.” Berger has spent his career bouncing between public service and private practice. His work in Washington began in 1972 while serving on South Dakota Sen. George McGovern’s presidential campaign. In 1977, he became deputy director of policy planning at the State Department. He then moved to Hogan as a partner in the early 1980s, where he helped expand the firm’s international law practice before leaving for his post as national security adviser to President Clinton.
OTHER RECENT D.C. ETHICS CASES INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING: • I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby Jr.’s days as a lawyer in the District also may be over. Last week, the Board on Professional Responsibility unanimously recommended to the D.C. Court of Appeals that the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney be disbarred because of his convictions for crimes involving moral turpitude. Libby could possibly avoid disbarment if his convictions are overturned on appeal, or if the D.C. Court of Appeals rejects the board’s recommendation. The board acted more quickly than anticipated. Some observers thought a recommendation wouldn’t be made until after Libby’s appeal has been heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. In March, Libby was convicted on two counts of perjury, one count of obstructing justice in a grand jury investigation, and one count of making false statements to federal investigators, in the investigation relating to the outing of former CIA employee Valerie Plame. • The Board on Professional Respon-sibility also has recommended the disbarment of Malcolm Wittenberg — a punishment he so far has eluded in his home state of California. Not so much luck in Virginia, though. Wittenberg is currently of counsel with Dergosits & Noah, a small intellectual property boutique in San Francisco. But in 2001, he worked in Oakland as the head of the intellectual property practice at Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May, which merged with Reed Smith that same year. Wittenberg pleaded guilty in 2001 to insider trading after Securities and Exchange Commission investigators learned that he bought 2,000 shares of stock from a client, Forte Software, just before it was poised to merge with Sun Microsystems. California Bar prosecutors said someone involved in the merger tipped Wittenberg, who then bought Forte stock and netted a $14,000 profit. He also tipped two friends, who also purchased shares. A U.S. district court judge in San Francisco sentenced Wittenberg to three years of probation and a $10,000 fine, even though prosecutors had requested jail time. Two years later, the State Bar Court of California Judge Patrice McElroy ordered that Wittenberg be suspended from practicing law for three years. That order was upheld by a three-judge review panel even though it was acknowledged that Wittenberg had committed a crime of moral turpitude, which depending on the jurisdiction can be an automatic trigger for disbarment. McElroy wrote in her 2003 decision that Wittenberg had “failed to demonstrate remorse and recognition of wrongdoing.” Nevertheless, she concluded disbarment was not “the appropriate degree of discipline to be imposed in this case.” Wittenberg didn’t fare as well in Virginia, where he also was licensed. In 2001, the Virginia Bar Disciplinary Board disbarred him after he failed to respond to the ethics complaint or appear for an evidentiary hearing to determine the necessary punishment for his crime. The case arrived before the D.C. Bar Counsel as a reciprocal case from Virginia. Wittenberg did not respond in the D.C. case or appear for any hearings.
Nathan Carlile can be contacted at [email protected].

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