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It’s been a quarter of a century since a strung-out Eben Gossage killed his sister with a hammer and stabbed her 45 times with a pair of scissors. But it was a slew of misdemeanor parking and traffic convictions that led the California Supreme Court August 14 to bar the scion of an elite San Francisco family from practicing law. In a unanimous per curiam opinion the justices said Gossage, the son of a prominent San Francisco advertising executive, had continued to demonstrate a disrespect for the law long after he had kicked his drug and alcohol addiction and enrolled in law school. While not setting a strict time line for how long an applicant must show rehabilitation before applying for Bar membership, the court concluded that the misdemeanor convictions Gossage racked up while in college and as a student at Golden Gate University School of Law proved that he wasn’t yet ready to join the profession. “At worst, Gossage’s conduct during this time suggests a hopeless refusal or inability to conform to societal rules when considered in light of the moral turpitude and lawlessness he displayed over the preceding 10-year period,” the court held. “At best, any rehabilitative trend is not complete, and the risk is still too high that he will disregard legal and ethical obligations if allowed to practice law.” Gossage, now a real estate developer and the owner of a Sausalito marina, said the state Supreme Court’s opinion didn’t diminish his respect for the system and will not deter him in his quest to practice law. While the court’s opinion made no mention of when Gossage could reapply for admission, State Bar attorney Andrea Wachter told the court in June that the Bar would be willing to reconsider his application after a nine-year period of rehabilitation. Since Gossage’s last conviction was in 1993, she said he could either wait two years before reapplying for admission or start the entire process over immediately by retaking the bar exam. Wachter was out of the office Monday and couldn’t be reached for comment on the court’s decision. Gossage said he’ll continue to pursue his goal of becoming an environmental litigator, whether that means starting over by retaking the bar exam or reapplying when the time is appropriate. “I’m sorry about the amount of time and that my acts in the past showed a lack of rehabilitation, but I’ll apply again,” he said. Gossage’s attorney Ephraim Margolin echoed his client’s sentiments and said he was disappointed that the court gave so much weight to what he called “negligent conduct.” “The opportunity is to send a message to the public that we support and help people who manage to kick criminal behavior,” Margolin said. “Instead they said, ‘not yet.’” Gossage’s strange saga, which has taken him from a privileged childhood in Pacific Heights to a cell at San Quentin and finally to law school, has been marked by run-ins with the law. Using drugs and alcohol as a teenager, Gossage had a $100-a-day heroin habit by the time he killed his 19-year-old sister in 1975. After spending three years in prison for voluntary manslaughter he continued to accumulate numerous felony convictions for heroin possession, drunken driving and theft. In 1983, after his last stint in San Quentin for trying to lift a watch from the Mark Hopkins Inter-Continental Hotel, he enrolled at Sonoma State University and later at Golden Gate. But it was during this six-year period as a student that Gossage violated traffic laws on eight separate occasions and sustained several misdemeanor convictions for mishandling the matters in court. After Gossage passed the bar exam in 1993, the Committee of Bar Examiners opposed his bid on the grounds that his traffic violations revealed irresponsibility and an indifference to societal norms. Gossage successfully appealed to the State Bar Court, where the hearing judge sided with him. The Committee of Bar Examiners appealed that decision to the review department, but Gossage prevailed in a 2-1 decision. Along the way, Gossage was backed by such political heavyweights as state Senate President Pro Tem John Burton and San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who testified on his behalf at the State Bar Court hearing. But the state Supreme Court concluded in, Case No. S068704, that Gossage’s most recent offenses are reminiscent of his past conduct. The court was also upset that out of his 17 criminal convictions, Gossage mentioned only four on his application. The justices said that because Gossage has not overcome the heavy burden of proving his own rehabilitation, he isn’t presently fit to practice law. “I’m just going to have to work harder,” Gossage said, “to prove that I have a good moral character.”

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