When it comes to child pornography, contributing writer Pamela MacLean
is something of a hardliner. As she sees it, there's no moral distinction to be made between those who possess sexual images of children and those who either sell or produce them; they are all, she says, "supporting an industry that is destroying children's lives." However, for this month's cover story ("Unfit to Practice?"), MacLean confronted a somewhat different issue: Should a lawyer convicted of possessing child pornography be disbarred without the benefit of a State Bar hearing?
This is the very question the California Supreme Court now has the chance to address in a case that pits State Bar prosecutors against a suspended JAG attorney named Gary Douglass Grant who, over a six-year period downloaded tens of thousands of pornographic images onto his home computers - a tiny fraction of which depicted minors. Grant pleaded guilty to one criminal count of possessing child pornography - a felony. Soon thereafter State Bar prosecutors recommended that he be summarily disbarred, arguing that such a conviction constitutes "moral turpitude per se." But in a surprising twist, the State Bar Court's Review Department ordered a trial, and on appeal suspended him for just two years. The bar's Office of Chief Trial Counsel has requested Supreme Court review.
"Practicing law is a privilege," MacLean observes, "so on principle I have no problem with the State Bar ending Grant's career. However, I struggle with the due process part of this." (See her debut column on the Ninth Circuit.)
Also this month, Lisa Davis
looks at a long-running legal battle between the rich and the very rich over the fate of a charter school in the upscale Silicon Valley suburb of Los Altos ("Schoolyard Fight"). It's an odd situation, to say the least. Charter schools, as originally envisioned, were supposed to provide an alternative to failing public schools in low-income neighborhoods. But, as Davis points out, wealthier communities have been jumping on the bandwagon in order to offer students more academic choices. For the school districts where charters spring up, this means sharing limited public resources with institutions over which they may have no control. In Los Altos specifically, the all-out war that broke out between the two camps has over nine years run up more than $5 million in legal expenses.
To Davis, this is absurd. "As an education reporter, I've spent a lot of time in school districts that have significantly more urgent problems ... districts that are struggling to keep the lights on; where the roofs leak; and where children come to school with not enough sleep because they live in two-bedroom apartments with eleven or more people. In Los Altos an obscene amount of money is being spent on lawyers because the adults can't work out a problem."
And finally, as part of our Legally Speaking series, we include an excerpt from my recent conversation with James Bopp Jr. ("Killing Campaign Finance Reform"). Prominent in conservative circles, the Terre Haute, Indiana, attorney was the key plaintiffs lawyer behind the Citizens United
case, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision three years ago that gives corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money on political candidates.