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Legal Ethics

17 Years After Passing Bar Exam, Ex-Con Gets His NY Law License

Posted Mar 21, 2012 11:10 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Persistence paid off for a City University of New York law graduate who passed the state bar exam in 1994.

Although Neal Wiesner had repeatedly been denied his law license on character and fitness grounds, due to his criminal conduct during the 1980s, a New York appeals court this week gave him the green light to practice, reports the Legal Profession Blog.

Testimony by witnesses was a significant factor in its decision that Wiesner is rehabilitated, explained the Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, in an opinion (PDF) on Monday. (Wiesner's name is spelled in two different ways within the opinion, but Wiesner appears to be the correct version.)

"[W]e cannot reach into the internal workings of petitioner's mind to gauge his character, but must generally rely on his conduct as an accurate manifestation thereof," the court wrote. "Crediting his witnesses and taking into account his postrelease conduct and achievements, the manner in which he makes himself available to help individuals and his contributions to the betterment of society—matters to which all witnesses have attested—as well as the absence of conduct contrary to the ethics governing the legal profession over an extensive period of time, it is manifest that petitioner has rehabilitated himself to such an extent that he satisfies the character and fitness requirement."

A dissenting justice said that Wiesner should not be admitted until he has fully accounted for his criminal past. In addition to running a profitable business in the early 1980s that appeared to be legal but was actually, the court says, an "illegal enterprise for distribution of Quaaludes," Wiesner became despondent as his life deteriorated and in 1983 was involved in a domestic incident with a former girlfriend that resulted in his conviction and imprisonment for attempted murder and other charges.

"He has not established his complete rehabilitation and will not be able to do so until his testimony fully acknowledges, and either admits, explains, or challenges the evidence contained in the trial transcript as to his past criminal conduct, rather than simply skirting around it," the dissenting justice writes in a lengthy opinion. "The majority has, in effect, accepted a new, watered-down standard for admission. It accepts that the mere passage of a lengthy period of time after an applicant completes a term of imprisonment for a serious felony conviction, during which period the applicant lives an unblemished life, combined with a murky expression of remorse and little acknowledgment of his wrongdoing, is enough to warrant admission to the bar. I do not believe that has ever been the standard for bar admission in New York, nor should it be now."

Wiesner, who is in his fifties, had previously been admitted in New Jersey and in federal court, notes the New York Law Journal.

The New York Post and Reuters also have stories.


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