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In Re Ira H. Latimer



PETITION AND APPEAL from refusal of the Committee on Character and Fitness to grant certificate.


Pursuant to leave granted, Ira H. Latimer has filed a petition to practice law in Illinois. He seeks a reversal of the decision of the Committee on Character and Fitness of the First Appellate Court District refusing to certify applicant's fitness for admission to practice before the courts of this State.

After passing the Illinois bar examination applicant filed with the committee an application for admission, together with affidavits as to his good moral character and general fitness to practice law, as required by Rule 58, section IX. Ill. Rev. Stat. 1955, chap. 110, par. 101.58.

Four hearings were held before a subcommittee and seven before the entire committee between December 22, 1954, and October 26, 1956. The report of the committee, sitting as commissioners, reviewed the evidence and concluded with the statement: "that applicant lacks the qualities of candor, veracity, integrity and responsibility which, in the opinion of the Committee, are fundamental components of the good character and fitness necessary for admission to practice in this State."

The committee is an arm of this court. Normally, we will not review the discretion exercised by it, except in the unlikely event that there has been an arbitrary refusal of a certificate. (In re Frank, 293 Ill. 263; In re Anastaplo, 3 Ill.2d 471.) Since applicant contends that certain of his constitutional rights were violated, we have set the petition down for argument and opinion. In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561, 65 S.Ct. 1307; In re Carter, 192 F.2d 15.

Applicant contends there was a violation of various sections of the Illinois constitution, the due-process clause of the fifth amendment, the privilege-and-immunities, due-process and equal-protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment to the Federal constitution, and states the principal question is whether the proceedings satisfy the requirements of due process. We think it in order to review the record with reference to the three categories of the investigation which applicant sets up as violative of his constitutional rights.

First, he says he was denied a fair, prompt and orderly proceeding. It was unfair, says applicant, because his application was given different treatment from the numerous other applications; it was not prompt, since he was subjected to eleven hearings over a period of two years; and it was not orderly, in that no issue was presented and he did not know the charges with which he would next be confronted.

His application stated that he had been accused of dishonesty and a suit for accounting resulted, that he had passed an examination for a Chicago public school teacher's license and upon failure of the school board to issue a license he filed a mandamus suit and that he had been a defendant in other litigation. Six supporting affidavits were filed. One stated that affiant had heard applicant accused of being radical and another included a statement that applicant had assured affiant his contacts with the Communists were slight and were some years ago.

The statements in the application and the supporting affidavits alone were enough to put the committee upon notice that more than a routine inquiry was necessary.

The record discloses a wide and varied career. The applicant attended Chicago Theological Seminary in 1927, the University of Chicago in 1927 and 1928, the University of Paris in 1929 and 1930, Ohio State University in 1930 and 1931, the University of Vienna in 1932 and the University of Chicago from 1933 to 1935. He studied law at De Paul Law School and because of poor scholarship, transferred to Chicago-Kent College of Law. From the latter he was dropped for poor scholarship. He then attended and graduated with an LL.B. degree from John Marshall Law School. In addition to his school activities he was employed by Chicago Civil Liberties Committee, worked in the field of religious education and taught school for short periods of time in China, Arkansas, Memphis and Chicago. He had a real estate broker's license, was an ordained minister, worked as a deputy municipal court clerk, and worked for a lawyer who was suspended from the Illinois bar. Applicant admitted that he worked with the Communist and Socialist parties from 1936 to 1945, that he was a member of the Communist party from 1945 to 1947 but stated that he was thereafter anti-Communist. He testified that he broke with the party because of its line on collaboration with civil liberties and democracy. In reply to a question as to whether he would still be a member of the party had the line not changed, he replied: "Well, if the Communist Party were today in the same position that it was, and there was a united front of communists, socialists, liberals, everybody — but that is not in the picture."

With a career which literally carried the applicant to the ends of the earth, it is not surprising that it took time to complete the investigation. Furthermore, applicant was represented in these proceedings from time to time by four different counsel. Under the circumstances, we cannot say that the hearing was unduly delayed.

We next turn to the charge that the proceedings were not orderly and that applicant never knew what charges he would be called upon to answer. He attempts to interpret Rule 58 to mean that upon filing the application and supporting affidavits, in the absence of complaints (presumably from others), the committee should confine its inquiry to the documents so filed. There is no such stricture in the Rule. It is not only within the committee's power but is its duty to make such inquiries and investigations as seem necessary to pass upon an application for admission. This includes the authority to call witnesses and procure documentary evidence. Obviously, the committee was under no obligation to "prefer charges" in the generally accepted meaning of the phrase. As investigation developed further information bearing upon applicant's character and fitness, he was from time to time given the opportunity to be heard.

Admission cases are not governed by the same rule as disciplinary actions against attorneys, where definite charges are lodged. Under our rules the committee is charged with the duty of inquiry and investigation, not preferring charges, and granting certificates only to such personnel as ...

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