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An attorney representing a disbarred 74-year-old lawyer called the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling that his client can’t apply for reinstatement to the bar for 10 years a “death sentence.” “I think it’s a little harsh,” said Boston lawyer Willie J. Davis, who represented Reuben S. Dawkins in his appeals to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) regarding his disbarment. “It’s really a death sentence for this man.” In a decision issued Monday, the SJC upheld two earlier single justice decisions regarding Dawkins’ challenge to the Board of Bar Overseers’ (BBO) disciplinary action against him. The single justices found that the BBO had acted appropriately in denying Dawkins’ petition for reinstatement because he failed to meet the board’s “heavy burden” of proving fitness to return to the bar. The SJC agreed. The personal injury lawyer has a long history of discipline before the Board of Bar Overseers, said Nancy E. Kaufman, first assistant bar counsel for the BBO. He was disbarred for, among other things, “intentional misuse of client funds” and “serious neglect of client matters.” Dawkins was suspended for six months beginning in April 1992. When he applied for reinstatement six months later, the BBO imposed a five-year suspension because of further ethical violations. During his suspensions, Dawkins was still presenting himself as a practicing attorney, including continuing to run ads in the Yellow Pages, Kaufman said. Davis, however, said that although the ads continued to run, Dawkins did not pay for them and had tried to get them to stop running. SJC Justice Neil J. Lynch on Nov. 23, 1998, denied Dawkins’ second petition for reinstatement and imposed the 10-year disbarment period, effective at the time of Justice Lynch’s decision. That means Dawkins will not be able to apply for reinstatement until he is age 82. In his appeal to the SJC, Dawkins argued that because of his age, he also felt the 10-year period was a “death sentence,” dashing any hope for a return to the profession. But, the court disagreed, citing that as an attorney who practiced for many years, Dawkins should have known better. “The fact that an attorney engages in misconduct later in life does not shield him or her from a necessary and appropriate sanction,” the SJC wrote. When reviewing Dawkins’ misdeeds and his failure to meet the requirements of reinstatement, the SJC did not find it necessary to recite the evidence in detail in its decision. “Suffice it to say this was not a close case,” the justices wrote. The BBO found, among other things, that Dawkins was not forthcoming on his reinstatement questionnaire; that he had no real understanding of the misconduct that led to his indefinite suspension; no real awareness of the harm he had caused his clients; his failure to reimburse the Clients’ Security Board for what it had paid a former client; and giving the appearance of practicing law during his suspension, according to the SJC decision. While the Board of Bar Overseers sees no problem with the discipline it handed out to Dawkins, his attorney said all the good work his client has done was never factored in. “I just feel bad for the guy. He’s done so much for so many people over the years,” Davis said. “He’s a throwback, like one of those doctors who made house calls.” Dawkins was hoping to get reinstated, even if it meant working with another attorney as a condition, said Davis. Dawkins is currently unemployed and living on Social Security benefits, he said.

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