Legal Ethics

9th Circuit Says Calif. Lawyer Must Be Allowed to Continue to Practice in Federal Court in Oregon

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A California lawyer who apparently may not have been allowed to sit for the Oregon state bar exam because he didn’t graduate from a mainstream law school must nonetheless be allowed to practice in federal court in Oregon, a federal appeals court has ruled.

Because Mark Corrinet was previously admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court in Oregon, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that it has jurisdiction to review what was effectively his disbarment, the Metropolitan News-Enterprise reports.

By a 2-1 vote, an appellate panel also said that the district court didn’t provide Corrinet with due process, including proper notice and an opportunity not only for a hearing but to become a member of the Oregon bar, before booting him from federal practice. It appears that Corrinet may have been denied permission to take the Oregon bar exam because he reportedly is not a graduate of a law school accredited by the American Bar Association.

Corrinet said he was admitted to practice in federal court in Oregon in 2002 after a former chief district judge there decided to waive a local rule requiring members of the federal bar to be members of the state bar. In 2009, however, another judge in the district issued a show-cause order and ruled that he did not qualify to remain a member of the federal bar unless he passed the state bar exam.

Agreeing with the attorney that his due process rights were violated, the majority said U.S. District Judge Michael Mosman abused his discretion by giving Corrinet insufficient notice of the hearing and failing to follow the federal district court’s attorney disciplinary process. (As the majority read the local rules, another judge would be required to make the disbarment determination, among other issues.)

Further, “the hearing itself did not provide Corrinet with an adequate opportunity to present his case,” Senior Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote in a majority opinion (PDF) yesterday in which he was joined by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

“It appears from the docket entries and the order of revocation that the district judge informed Corrinet at the hearing that his federal admission would not be revoked if he gained membership in the Oregon State Bar,” the opinion continues. “This is not a satisfactory resolution. If, as Corrinet insists, he could have established a defense of waiver or estoppel, he should have had the opportunity to do so and thereby avoid the more onerous option of taking another bar examination and resolving any disputes with bar officials. Instead, apparently put on the spot and unprepared, Corrinet could only agree to pursue admission to the Oregon State Bar.”

Corrinet represented himself in the appeal.

Judge Sandra Ikuta dissented, saying that federal appeals courts generally lack the power to hear disputes concerning membership in district court bars, and this case was no exception. “While the facts of this case evoke sympathy,” she writes, “they do not give us jurisdiction.”

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