Ethics

Ex-lawyer convicted on espionage charges seeks reinstatement to bar, says her 'contrition is real'

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A disbarred lawyer convicted on espionage charges in 1998 sought to regain her law license during a hearing in Washington, D.C., this week.

The lawyer, 64-year-old Theresa Squillacote, was released in 2015 and began work as a paralegal in the area of criminal defense. She apologized for her past actions before a hearing committee of the D.C. Bar’s Board on Professional Responsibility, report Law.com, Reuters and the Legal Profession Blog (here and here).

“My contrition is real. My shame is real,” Squillacote said. “I hurt my country. I hurt my profession. I hurt the bar I was a member of and I would like once again to apologize.”

Bar disciplinary officials plan to oppose reinstatement, an assistant disciplinary counsel said in closing remarks.

Squillacote was convicted on charges that included conspiracy to commit espionage and attempted espionage, according to a January 2002 disbarment order. Lawyers in Washington, D.C., can apply for readmission after at least five years, according to Law.com.

She was accused of passing four classified documents from the U.S. Department of Defense to an FBI agent posing as a South African intelligence officer in January 1997, according to an appeals court opinion upholding her conviction.

Squillacote, her husband and a third conspirator had initially worked with “handlers” in East Germany, but Squillacote didn’t get the defense job and the access to documents that it provided until after East Germany collapsed.

Squillacote and her co-conspirators later became involved with the KGB, the then-Soviet Union’s intelligence agency. Hoping to establish an espionage relationship with South Africa, she wrote a letter to a South African government official using a fake name. By that time, she was already under FBI surveillance.

During the hearing this week, a lawyer for Squillacote, Karen Williams of Cozen O’Connor, said her client is a different person than she was in the 1990s, according to Law.com.

“She has rejected her past behavior and is committed to working on safeguarding inmate rights, criminal justice reform and other social justice issues,” Williams said.

Among those supporting Squillacote was Hank Molinengo, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University’s law school, where she completed a masters of law degree in 2020. Law.com covered his testimony.

“I do not condone what she did. I think she should never be allowed to work for the government,” Molinengo said. “She should never have access to classified information. But in terms of being an attorney, if her goal is to help people who are underrepresented, and do human rights-type law, I think she could do that work quite well.”

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